Making Minimalist Mark Bittman's No Knead Bread

Dear New York Times Food Minimalist Mark Bittman,

I made your new bread recipe over the weekend.
Making Bittmans Bread

You've managed to stay on The New York Times most emailed list for a week! You're at #12 today, but earlier in the week, both the recipe and your article were in the top 5, even as the Democrats took Congress. Imagine if this was a slower news week and the recipe and the article counted as the same piece? You'd still be #1! I say you're getting the following you deserve. Take that Florence Fabricant and Frank Rich!

Now for the not so good news: I'm sorry to say you (or at least you recipe) and I did not get off to a good start with this No-Knead Bread recipe.

I made a special trip to the grocery store to get fresh yeast. Your recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast, but the grocery store had only "highly active rapid rise" and "active dry". I printed out your recipe and brought it with me to the store since I knew there was more than one kind of yeast at the store, but neither of these were labeled "instant." I chose "active dry" since that's what I usually buy. Was I right?

What kind of yeast was I supposed to use?

I got home from the store and stirred everything togehther. It looked "shaggy", just like you eloquently said it would. That made me feel more confident in my breadmaking abilities.

Bittman's shaggy bread dough

After the long rise, it was bubbly just like you said. Why didn't the recipe call for sugar? Don't some people say the yeast "eats" the sugar?

After the rise, Bittman's bread

I coated with cornmeal and waited through the second rise, while I made our turkey dinner. (We also had brussle sprouts with bacon and a dash of apple cider vinegar, amazing mashed potaotes -- heavy cream is my trick. I didn't have enough broth, so we couldn't have stuffing. Drat!) I taste as I cook. I usually love the flavor of raw bread dough, but this dough had much less flavor than most -- is that becasue your recipe calls for so much yeast and no sugar?

After this second rise, you said: When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. That didn't happen :-( That might be becasue I didn't use the right yeast, or my kitchen isn't warm enough or maybe becasue I accidently smushed it once while I was racing around getting the turkey together?

To be honest with you, Mark Bittman, I got kind of sick of it. I didn't want to date the bread, I wanted to eat it and it had been hanging around for almost a whole day by this point. After the turkey came out of the oven, I heated up the oven to 450, got my red Le Creuset hot and chucked it in the oven.

Here, I made two more mistakes: I'm still getting used to my digital oven and I might have turned it off by mistake, instead of warming the oven. I also used my largest dutch oven -- too large I think now that I re-read your recipe. " 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic)" you say in the recipe. Is there a way to quickly tell what size your Le Creusets are, Mark?

In the middle of our turkey dinner, I made a half hearted attempt to re-heat the oven and rescue this poor bread, while CQ and R* went on eating dinner.

My bread came out ugly and flat -- blame the too-big-pan, the messed up rise, the wrong temp in the oven and maybe even the yeast -- but here's the kicker: it was still edible! I pulled that bread out of the oven while I served out some hot chocolate and I'll be damned: the crust was amazing, just like you promised. The crust had this delicate crackle. The insides of the bread were so-so, a little too spongy and not full risen. The loaf was so ugly that I didn't even take a picture to show you, I was too embarased since you said "the method is complicated enough that you would need a very ambitious 8-year-old." I am 22.5 years older than your 8 year old and still found a way to mess it up.

But let's get back to that crust. That "enviable, crackling crust, the feature of bread that most frequently separates the amateurs from the pros." Mark, the crust is killer and somehow I acheived it. I woke up in the middle of the night last night and chowed down on my flat ugly loaf, enjoying all that crust.

You said it might take a few times to get it exactaly right. I'm going to give it another try soon. Can you please take a look at these pictures, see if I'm doing anything else wrong? And let me know about the yeast!

Your loyal reader and fan,



Anonymous Cascabel said...

I would have loved to see your bread :-) By the way I did my third batch today - with sourdough and a little bit of whole rye flour and it turned out great :-)

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Erika said...

I want to try it next! But, Chris I still need Dutch Oven advice to be able to use it for the bread--it's still in the box. What do I have to Do to it before I can use it?? Thanks :)

2:02 PM  
Blogger laura dot said...

I had a choice between instant and traditional yeast, but I think that instant yeast is the same as "rapid-rise". That might be why your bread was not tall.

My cast iron pot is 4qts. I figured this out by filling it with water. I have a 4 cup measuring cup and 4 cups is 1 qt. It looks just like the one in the video.

One last thing, my dough never got to the stage where it "will not readily spring back when poked with a finger" - but I only let it rise 1 hr after I made the ball. I was very hungry. I could not wait another hour. But this did not seem to hurt the results.

I hope you have better luck with your next batch.

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Alexandra in Paris, France said...

I have made the bread twice, with a mixture of plain white flour and mixed grain bread flour, and it is very very good. I too found that during the second rising (2 1/2 hours) the dough did not double in size, but the final result doesn't seem to suffer. I measured the oven temperature exactly and found that the longest cooking time produced a better crust and an equally delicious interior. Love it!

3:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instant or bread machine yeast is what you want. Active dry should work fine too. You do not want "rapid rise" for this type of bread (or any good bread).

The yeast makers have too many types on the market in my opinion. Most home bakers just need instant (which is essentially the same thing as "bread machine"). Having so many types just confuses people and probably scares them off.


5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Rapid Rise yeast is what I use and it works just fine. Did you see Bitman's follow-up article, where he addressed questions people had been having about the bread? There he said, "Instant yeast, called for in the recipe, is also called rapid-rise yeast. But you can use whatever yeast you like. Active dry yeast can be used without proofing (soaking it to make sure it’s active)." So maybe you should give rapid rise a shot.

4:07 PM  

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