Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Our Daily Bread

I've posted before about learning to bake bread. But I realized recently that I've never posted about No-Knead bread (NK for short). Apparently, this revolutionary method of bread baking hit the foodie world like a tsunami after an article by Mark Bittman appeared in the New York Times sometime in late 2006. This was just before I became interested in learning to bake a good loaf of bread.

At first, I dismissed the idea, thinking that such an easy and simple technique couldn't possibly produce a loaf of bread with a great crust and interior texture. I was sure that doing it the traditional way, with hand kneading and plain old fashioned effort, would contribute something wonderful that would be lost if too many shortcuts were taken. Eventually though, after a few so-so results of all my hand kneading, I figured I had nothing to lose by giving the NK a shot. I already had a cast iron dutch oven, so there were no up front costs for me.

My first time making NK bread convinced me. This was going to be my standard bread making methodology from now on; I was never going back. I've eaten bread in the San Francisco bay area and in Paris. If you have too, you'll know what I'm talking about. I can say in all honesty that NK bread would be able to stand up straight with its shoulders back among the ranks of breads produced in either of those locations. It's not the very, very best bread I've ever had in all my life. But it's damn close, and it's ridiculously easy - and cheap - to make at home.

As of this writing, organic bread flour costs well over $1 per pound, even when buying in bulk. The NK loaves I make use exactly one pound of flour. Usually I make multi-grain loaves that contain both wheat bread flour and whole spelt flour, along with mixed rolled grains such as rye, barley and oats. All together, my materials cost is somewhere around $1.40 for all organic ingredients. That produces a 10" round loaf that weighs about 1.75 pounds, for a unit price of 80 cents per pound. See if you can find any freshly baked loaf of bread that sells for 80 cents a pound, let alone one made with organic ingredients. And we'll let alone the quality issue as well.

Breadtopia has a fantastic tutorial on baking NK bread, with both text and video, so I won't bother to repeat the instructions here. I'll just say that if you have a dutch oven and even a little bit of time, you can make this bread. Truly, a seven-year-old could make this bread; it's that easy.

For better frugality, we invested in a second dutch oven so that we could bake two loaves simultaneously. So now we get twice the output of bread for the energy required to heat our oven up. Now that the hot summertime is upon us, baking is the absolute last thing I want to do. Fortunately, I planned ahead this year and stocked my chest freezer with about ten loaves of our beloved NK bread during the cold months of the year.

I didn't think, when I started learning to bake, that I would end up baking all of our bread. But that's how it is for us now. It's one more thing that we never have to run to the store for. That cuts down on wear and tear on our car and saves us gas too. One more thing we can do for ourselves. One less skill we pay for someone else to develop.

Give No Knead Bread a try. I think you'll be impressed with the flavor, the savings and with the ease of preparation. It's a can't lose experiment.


Anonymous said...

I've just found your blog and am enjoying going through past posts (which is why I'm commenting on this old one). I started baking bread fairly recently as well, and like you, didn't think I'd end up baking all our bread, but before long my husband was petitioning me for the perfect rye, which he'd never found before, and then the cost of (good) bread went way up, and now our sole bakery is our kitchen, too.

I like the no-knead bread too, though I like it best for sourdough (since that's the only way I get actually sour bread). The second-dutch-oven idea is a good one--thanks for the thought.

Kate said...

Thanks, seeded. I've had a quick look at your blog. When (if?) things settle down a little for me, I'm going to delve into it thoroughly. I love the picture of the garlic bulblets in your banner. Might the recipe for that "perfect rye" be lurking somewhere on your blog?

all the best,