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Knead-less Baking and the Rule of Three

I’m really into baking despite the fact that I don’t have time to be. Sometimes I’ll make a piecrust one day, the filling the next day and bake it on day three. I’ve never had any complaints about the final product. With only two people in my home now, I shouldn’t do much baking anyway.

Bread, especially sandwich bread, would be a good thing for me to bake—but that smacks of the practical. Besides, many home bakers I know complain about the difficulty of baking a really solid sandwich bread in a domestic oven. They can’t get the oven hot enough, it’s not big enough, you gotta put rocks and mist in there, blah, blah, blah. I don’t really listen that carefully because I don’t see it in my future. But when your mother-in-law speaks you hafta listen.

Lately my MIL has been going on about her discovery of Peter Reinhart’s no-knead breads. This caught my attention because kneading has always turned me off to bread baking—the long stretches of manual manipulation. I know many people who find this to be the best part of bread making because it allows their minds time to wander—but most people don’t delete emails and edit calendar listings for appropriate hyphen use all day.

When home baking I’m looking for a pay-off. I want to save money and make people happy. How many activities allow you to realize this set of goals?

My mother-in-law is a serious cook. She doesn’t mess around. She sent me a copy of Reinhart’s 2009 bestseller Artisan Breads Every Day. I read it during my Hurricane Sandy confinement.

It breaks the whole universe of bread baking fact and fiction down nicely. It doesn’t offer bread recipes that are “easy as pie” but, through the modern wonder of refrigeration, its recipes allow a baker a three- to four-day window for baking a prepped dough. And it details limited folding of many of the breads instead of kneading. Plus it uses the term “degas” a lot, which is fun. I’m committed to making up the Cinnamon Buns recipe soon because I think that the Arlotta Food Studio’s Blood Orange Olive Oil I have on hand would give them a kickass flavor.

I’ve harbored a plan to bake my way through some choice cookbooks, since I’d like to learn a lot more and I don’t have the time to take classes at the culinary institute in Riverhead. It certainly worked for Chef Tom Colicchio, he worked his way through Jacques Pepin’s La Technique (Crown, 1976) at age fifteen. I started with Sarabeth Levine’s Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours (Rizzoli, 2010).

I haven’t made it all the way through yet. Plus I’ve been plagued with the nagging thought: “Do I try each recipe in the book once or maybe twice as I go, to learn them better?”

Reinhart provided a suggestion. In Artisan he says that after you’ve made any of his recipes three times, you’ll have a good feel for it and you can then start to explore your own variations. So I’ve been thinking about getting back to working my way through Sarabeth’s Bakery on a “tertiary plan.”

I cracked it open and noticed that Levine’s and Reinhart’s recipes for Croissants are radically different. Hmmm. I trust Levine with my life and my hearth…Well, when I get around to making each one up three times I’ll get back to you.

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