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,



Holiday Party #2: 57 invitations and 650 square feet

R* and I sent out the Evite to our holiday party last night . . . I was worried people might think we're thinking too far ahead, but a couple of people have already emailed back and said they'd accepted other invitations for parties that night. There was a review of the this year's Radio City Christmas Spectacular in the Times today. So we're right on time.

We've invited 57 family and friends and their guests. We both love our holiday party and are already emailing back and forth with plans and ideas. We'll serve appetizer and then a light supper and then some desserts and of course cocktails all the way.

Depending on how the RSVPs come in, and we're hoping everyone can make it, this could be the biggest event we've ever hosted in the apartment.

For the supper, we're thinking turkey and mashed potatoes as we did last year. Mashed potatoes for a big crew is fine -- I mash them up in the standing mixer and then keep them warm in the crock pot. I might make one big turkey and then one or two turkey breasts too.

I'm really excited for the challenge of cooking well for this large of a crowd. If you have any suggestions on apartment cooking for large groups, please comment here.

In the elevator at work today, one guy was bragging to his co-worker about his "huge" Thanksgiving party. From what I could gather, he has a large house on Long Island. He's having 28 people!

I should have asked him to come to Brooklyn to see our holiday party for 40-50 in our small one bedroom!