Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Someone Tell Me Again...

...why I ought to make no-knead bread? See, I really don't mind kneading bread, in fact, I kind of like it. And it's not that I want to push my method on anyone, but the no-knead adherents can be pretty adamant about their technique, almost to the point, frankly, of insult in their implication that my "old-fashioned" method produces sub-standard results. Most recently it was a well-meaning (give him the benefit of the doubt) gent who insisted I needed (oops, first I typed "kneaded") to bake my bread in a dutch oven to get a proper crust.

So maybe I'm a slacker, but I'm perfectly happy with my crust. In fact, if my crust were any crustier, our dentist would probably have a lien on our house (because we would be breaking our teeth on the crust, and have a lot of dentist bills, you see, oh...).

Okay, I'll come clean, and admit that I do have bit of an axe to grind. I want to stand up right now and raise my muscled forearms, and make the case for old-fashioned, labor-intensive bread making, crying out, "I knead, and I'm proud!"

I may not have been né dans le pétrin (born in the kneading trough), but it's where I happily dwell. Salut.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett "Kneady" Laidlaw


el said...

Dood. It's working for you. Mere mortals or abject beginners might simply need quicker results to get hooked on baking. Need I remind you that your a per-fesh-un-al?

Frankly, I just want more people to try baking bread. How they get there is not the's just the no-knead thing is a two-step shortcut, broken down into two things you can do (or not do) with any bread you make: 1. a slow rise w/ little commercial yeast or your levain or poolish, little/no kneading required and 2. that hot hot pot.

Nobody's gonna stop you from slapping your dough around, man.

Trout Caviar said...

Hey, El: That was quick. So, obviously, along with my kneading habit, I'm not averse to needling, from time to time. And you're right, I was a (semi-)per-fesh-un-al baker for a while, but it was all done in a regular home kitchen and nearly all by hand (sauf pour la brioche, faite dans le KitchenAid). I just wanted to:

1)Remind folks that there is another way to make bread than no-knead, and

2) Get my rant on a little, to vent. I'm fried from editing recipes....

Yeastily yours,


el said...

Ah! You're a mere mortal after all if you've stooped to use a KitchenAid, if only for one kind of bread! And yeah, I was needling you back.

Frankly, I was schooled on breadmaking from a couple of rather rigid masters, and once I met Jim and tried his method it was fairly revelatory. Learning there are more ways to skin the cat, get dough to rise, get a good crumb (nearly impossible for me to get consistently before w/o all-purpose flour) and of course get that crisp heartbreaking crust pre-Loven. I suppose like most new converts my zeal was annoying to say the least.

And I missed kneading. When I make the 18-20 loaves for the kid's school, I knead. A lot. But when I don't have time, which is most of the time, I take my shortcuts where I can get them.

You're going to have to do a definitive post on your recipe-testing jag. I remember Deborah Madison admitting it nearly killed her, testing the recipes for her 1400-odd book of them (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone).

Trout Caviar said...

[You're a mere mortal after all...]

Yes, but don't tell anyone.... El, I would never question your bread baking bona fides, you with your fire-breathing Loven--and that's cool that you worked on the Sullivan Street Bakery, I had meant to remark on that from your earlier post.

I guess the no-knead thing wasn't such an epiphany to me because, while I didn't stumble upon that exact method, I had realized over the course of many, many loaves that most bread recipes drastically overstate the kneading time required, that resting a dough just after mixing works wonders, and that very long-risen doughs, esp. levain, really do sort of "knead themselves."

So perhaps we will one day find a companionable middle ground in the divisive world of bread baking(!).

1400 recipes! I just had a heart attack, and died. I'm going to have 130 or so, and I'm cross-eyed....

s said...

I get the appeal of it, it just didn't do it for me either. I didn't like the rubbery texture, and like you, I was happy with the crust I was already getting.

But I was already working with wetter doughs and slower methods, so I think it was a developmental step that I didn't need.

I'm all for getting people to bake too (though I swear to god, I heard a lot of stories of people breaking their pans and/or burning themselves, which is NOT good for encouraging newbies). It just seems a little to me like using a calculator when you never learned basic arithmatic.

s said...

Oops I posted that before I was ready!

Anyhoo, the flip side is a lot of books have 12 to 15 minute kneads (by machine) which seems like overkill (and might just kill your kitchenaid if you're not careful). The more experienced and lazier I get, the less I knead anyway (five minutes, autolyse, then another couple of minutes to finish it up. So maybe there's some common ground to be found.

Trout Caviar said...

"The more experienced and lazier I get, the less I knead anyway (five minutes, autolyse, then another couple of minutes to finish it up. So maybe there's some common ground to be found."

There you go, s, you took the words right out of my mouth. You wonder if the folks you wrote those 12-15 knead recipes ever timed themselves, or if they just said, "Well, hell, it can't hurt to have the little buggers knead for another 10 minutes...".

And, yes, I am kind of scared by the idea of winging wet dough into a wicked hot pan--and now, El, do not tell me again that I need to walk on the wild side...(!)

Cheers~ Brett

Meg said...

You mean I DON'T have to knead for 10 or 15 minutes? Bastards!!

Trout Caviar said...

Well, Meg, apparently you don't have to knead at all.... But you should because, you know, it builds character(!).

Cheers~ Brett

Sharon Parker said...

Hmm. An interesting debate. I haven't baked bread in ages, so I didn't know (a) that newer recipes were telling people to knead the dough for such a long time, and (b) that there was this no-knead fad, or whatever it is, going on. Doesn't sound like a coincidence to me, but what do I know?

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Sharon: Yes, when you could get such stellar bread at your local farmers market, why would you bake your own? You probably haven't touched a crumb since Real Bread ceased regular operations(!).

Is no-knead a fad? Well, I think yes, it definitely is; I have no doubt that thousands of books on the topic have been sold, and new bakers embraced the method with great enthusiasm, and most of those books now gather dust on the shelf, and the bread at home now comes from the grocery store, as before. Little different from the wok, the pasta maker, the espresso machine, the paella pan, the pizza stone (I speak from personal experience with some of these).

In addition to being a fad, it's apparently a legitimate method for those who find it useful. El sees it as a good way to coax new bakers into the habit; to me, it seems to sort of mystify through demystification, implying thereby that the process is by definition mystifying.... Which I think, it's not. It just takes time to understand it--the key thing is you're dealing with living organisms in the bread. It's not like making a cake, measure, mix, bake. Observation is a big part of it. So to me, the rewards of learning it the "old-fashioned" way are great.

Now, as to recommended kneading times, you sent me down to the bookshelf, where I found that lots of recipes call for kneading the dough for 10 to 12 minutes, then rest, then knead again for a couple more. Some had the enlightened approach of letting the dough rest prior to major kneading, most did not. Flipping into Daniel Leader's LOCAL BREADS (he's a main bread guru these days), I found these instructions for kneading pain au levain: "Knead the dough with steady, relaxed [!] strokes for 12 to 14 minutes. ... Take a 2-minute break if you need to...". (I would need to.)

But the thing is, for smallish batches of dough like most people make at home, a KitchenAid with a dough hook works quite well.

So I think that reply might have been longer than my original post, which was really just a way of saying, "Look at my beautiful bread! I made it myself!"

Signing off~ Brett "Kneady" Laidlaw