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Jim Lahey’s miracle bread recipes

There’s no kneading and practically no work: these loaves are the slow food of your dreams


 

Jim Lahey’s miracle bread recipesAt first glance, My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method, by American baker Jim Lahey (with Rick Flaste), appears to be peddling yet another made-in-America miracle, akin to one of those eye-catching Cosmo covers on how to eat pasta eight times a day and lose 90 lb. But hang on. There are a few things you should know: one, Lahey is the owner of the extremely well-reputed Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan; and two, I’ve tried his method and found it to be as effortless as advertised. Lastly, be advised that it works, and then some.

This is the thing. For most home cooks, bread-making is a drawn-out, messy and often tedious affair. There are many steps and even at its most basic it goes something like so: mix flour, salt, water with yeast or a starter, knead for 10 minutes or so, let rest, let rise, knead again, let rise, knead a little more, shape, let rise again and, finally, bake and hope for the best.

And this by contrast is the cycle of the Lahey method. To start, quickly stir together flour, salt, water and a tiny bit of yeast, cover, and then abandon for 12 to 18 hours. Upon noticing that it is a new day, transfer gooey mix to a floured dishtowel and cover. Preheat oven with a lidded pot inside. Transfer wet dough to pot, bake for a bit, uncover pot and bake some more. And presto.

That’s it, but that’s not all. For what is actually noteworthy and impressive about the Lahey method is not its facility but rather its results. For Lahey is very much not in the Wonder bread business. He is an artisanal baker—at any rate, he was, but as he explained to me over the telephone from his New York bakery, “now that Wendy’s has artisan bread, I’m calling myself a ‘craft baker’ instead.” In any case, formerly-known-as-artisanal craft bread is what you get.

“You got this sort of ‘Aha!’ feeling when you took it out of the oven, didn’t you?” Lahey asked, rhetorically. “That’s what I want!”

And sure, it’s what I want too. But to come clean I did not feel I had any particular business achieving it. For like most home cooks I almost never bake; in fact, my first go at Lahey’s “pane integrale” was my first-ever loaf of bread. And yet there it all was: a crisp and seemingly layered crust, a moist, meaty, and elastic crumb (as the interior is properly called) with a pleasant, rustic variance in the size of its air pockets, and what’s more it was equipped with an enticing sweetness, a certain nuttiness and a barely perceptible hint of sourness for balance.

The crust is the direct result of the unusual practice of baking the dough in a sealed pot—or if you will, an oven within an oven. For this method ensures that the bread begins to bake engulfed in steam, which is necessary to prevent the crust from beginning to form before the bread has completely risen. Bakers generally ensure this effect either with a modern steam-injection oven (say, $5,000 minimum and $40,000 for a nice one) or by the sheer volume of bread they put in their ovens in one go (140 loaves at a time at Sullivan Street), and neither solution is especially convenient for the home cook. Worse, the customary methods of replicating steam injection in the home oven are regrettably risky, as they can easily lead to nasty burns, exploding oven lights, you name it. Baking your bread instead in a pot, and then removing the lid to let it brown is inspired—safe, foolproof, cheap and effective.

The surprising depth of flavour can be just as easily explained. It is a direct product of the long and slow fermentation process of the minimal-yeast Lahey process. And just like baking bread in a pot was an epiphany derived from the methods of the distant past (in particular, the ceramic baking vessels of the ancient Egyptians), this one finds its roots in the typical, slow fermentation process that was essential to bread-making until in 1859 Louis Pasteur discovered that the important, active agent in the leaven—or raising agent—responsible for raising the dough was in fact yeast.

The isolation of yeast made possible an accelerated fermentation process, but speed also removes subtlety from the taste equation. Slowing it down again means gluten strands form more slowly and give the bread greater elasticity. And the lengthy fermentation results in complex layers of flavour. All this through no effort of your own.

“The point of the book is to get people motivated and excited about baking bread,” Lahey said to me. “And to get them to explore it in a creative way.” And why wouldn’t you, when the formula is so simple and the results so compelling? This bread is the slow food of your dreams: great results, but the slow happens on someone else’s—okay, the yeast’s— time clock. There is no need to sell the advertising firm and move to some rural hovel because that’s all you can afford after buying the 700 acres you need to generate three kilos of flour from the obscure and miserably unproductive heirloom wheat some hippie convinced you to save from extinction. Nope. All you have to do is put in your 10 minutes in the kitchen, and let the yeast take care of things as your busy, fulfilling life unfolds as it should. Then you get home from work, pop it in the oven, pull it out, tell the admiring crowd it took 24 hours to pull off, and bask in the credit. Thanks, Jim.


 

Jim Lahey’s miracle bread recipes

  1. Baking bread, even kneaded bread, is not all that hard. I bake pretty much all of the bread my family eats, sourdough too, and it goes like this:

    Day One:

    In the evening, take your sourdough starter out of the fridge and feed.

    Day Two:

    The next morning, prepare your dough. I use 180g rye and 320g wheat flower, with about a cup full of very active starter. Salt, water; about 300ml for a (roughly) 60% hydration of the dough. Add everything to your mixer and knead while you're taking a shower. Take the resulting dough ball and put into an oiled bowl, cover and refrigerate. Go to work.

    In the evening, remove dough from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Fold and stretch three times, then let rise in a banneton for two hours. After the first hour, pre-heat the oven to 500º. Bake for 45 minutes or until the bread has an internal temperature of 200º.

    Done.

  2. For those of us who don't know 12 or 18 hours in advance that we need bread, try out 2 no knead bread alternatives. Check out Mark Bittman's NY Times blog for how his readers have got Lahey's bread down to 4 hours. Also check out the "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes" website for how you can keep a bucket of dough in the fridge and have bread ready in about 70 minutes. The 5 minute bread also can be baked in the hot covered pot like the Lahey method.

  3. I bought the book on the strength of the Macleans article and I LOVE the bread. I have no bread-making experience (well, pizza dough LOL) and it really works. It is a HUGELY FORGIVING RECIPE. My dough didn't rise enough (probably because I was shaking the table bouncing my daughter up and down until my husband pointed out that that might not be good for the dough rising on it). I used a stainless steel pot, not cast iron or ceramic. I didn't let it cool for the full recommended hour. Frankly, the bread is delicious. I stopped buying artisan bread because I couldn't afford it anymore (I like to eat a half a loaf a day and at 4 or 5 dollars a pop that is out of my price range). Now I can just make it myself. Empowerment! Thanks Macleans and Jim Lahey!

    • Hi Lia, I would like to know where you purchase Jim Laheys cookbook. I went on-line to Coles, Chapters etc. and I couldn't find it. Thank you Jan Hancock

      • hi Jan. I recently read the Macleans article on this wonderful bread and I tried it by following the video. I did find the book in Chapters in Kelowna, BC. Check again with your local Chapters. Joanne

  4. Try Chuck's No-Knead Bread from Chuck's Day Off on the canadian Food Network.
    It's easy to make and great to eat!!

  5. I"ve been making Lahey's No Knead bread since Bittman first promoted it years ago.
    Yes, it's quite successful, though one limitation is that you are basically locked into a round rustic loaf style –the dough is too wet to form into baquette or batard or other long shapes.

    I'll have to scan the book at a bookshop before considering its purchase, because I can't imagine how anyone could stretch two no-knead recipes (one for bread and one for pizza dough) into anything near the length of a book.

  6. Went to Sullivan Street Bakery years ago, after seeing Jim on Martha's Show. He was there, answered my questions, showed me through the bakery. If in NY, you must try his Pizza Biano…. Can't wait to get the book, have baked the no-knead for years, and it's always great.

  7. I read this article, then bought the book. The recipe works like a charm. I have been adding more and more whole grains, to make it a bit healthier, and posted this whole grain version.Thanks for introducing me to this recipe! Everyone loves it when I bring a loaf to a pot luck or dinner.

  8. I read this article, then bought the book. The recipe works like a charm. I have been adding more and more whole grains, to make it a bit healthier, and posted this whole grain version at whatididtosurvive.com .Thanks for introducing me to this recipe! Everyone loves it when I bring a loaf to a pot luck or dinner.

  9. Hey Mr Lahey, Sorry about all the friggin bullshit last night, but you’ve gotta take it easy on the liquor, sir. You know where to find me if you want to work on things. A man’s gotta eat one way or another.

    P.S. You better give me back my friggin cowboy boots!

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