My life has changed forever. Yesterday I started yet another batch of homemade artisan bread; and I had great success. This is the end of a long road I have traveled for many years. In 1996 I attempted my first artisan loaf. I tried to create my own steam injection oven by spraying the loaf with water every 3 minutes. The crust was chewy but uninspired (well, let’s call a spade a spade–it was yucky). Over the years, my bread projects took several detours and knowledge-gathering quests. I’ve tried baguette pans (with all those teeny tiny holes), water soaked bricks, sourdough starters; you name it. I even stripped the gears of my Kitchen Aid mixer’s engine by over-kneading Julia Child’s French bread recipe–that was on my 30th birthday. Fast forward to yesterday. This time, I followed Mark Bittman’s article published last year in the New York Times (recipe and link attached to this post).
If you choose to take on this project, here is my advice: Follow Bittman’s instructions and advice to the letter. You may be astounded and even turned off at how long it takes to make the bread (20+hours). But do not be fooled. When all was said and done, I spent a total of twenty minutes active time in the kitchen, and that is probably an exaggeration. I spoke with several of you today about the success of the bread and the same question kept coming up: what container do you cook the bread in? I used a knock off Le Creuset pot–a cast iron, enameled pot, with no black handle (so it can “handle” the 450º oven). One friend used a large pyrex corningware container with a glass lid. In the end, it doesn’t matter which container you cook the bread in as long as it can fulfill these two requirements: 1) the container can withstand 450° temperature; and 2)the lid is a tight enough fit so that the bread can steam itself while it cooks. If you try this, let us know how you did. ACME bread now has fierce competition (well, not really, because I don’t live in Berkeley anymore..sniff sniff). I know my travels through the bread world aren’t over, but I really like where I’m going.
P.S. Bittman wrote a follow up article that I found extremely helpful. In the Jan & Feb (2008) Cook’s Illustrated, there was an additional article focusing on this recipe and exploring ways to improve the bread’s flavor. If you belong to their website, you can access it online (the article is called “No-Knead Bread 2.0″). I subscribe to the magazine, and will try a few of their pointers. Good luck.