January 12, 2010 · 56 comments

The Making Of A Baker

in Book Reviews,Bread

When Jim Lahey’s recipe for no-knead bread first hit the New York Times, it sparked a massive bread-baking frenzy. Anyone and everyone began talking about home baking and the fact that this bread required little attention making it so adaptable to everyday life.

Everyone seemed to love the no-knead bread, including me, alas when Lahey announced the release of a whole book of no-knead recipes it was no surprise that I just had to get my hands on a copy – My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.

So you think this is just another bread book? Think again; this is the bread book that will change your attitudes towards yeast cooking once and for all.

This book shows you how to take the ‘standard’ no-knead bread to the next level and beyond, showing just how versatile the dough can be, how it can be modified for more than just sandwich bread and simply adjusted to include different flavours and ingredients. There is also a heavy emphasis on classic old-world breads like ciabatta and rye breads, all the breads though are grounded in the no-knead formula; something quite remarkable especially for these old-world breads.

Before launching into a recipe section Lahey has included a section entitled  ”The Making of a Bread Baker” where he discusses at length, albeit, in an extrememly friendly and approachable way the background and theory to no-knead bread and lays out the essential tools required for bread baking – a surprisingly small list by many books standards I have to say.

The recipes are basically divided into two parts: new bread recipes using the slow rise, no-knead technique and recipes that use the bread to make things like pizza, sandwiches, and puddings; yes you heard me right, puddings such as chocolate puddings that use breadcrumbs instead of flour.

The recipes are inventive and inspiring – even if you’re an experienced baker, this book will still have you rushing to the kitchen to get your hands floury.

Not only are the bread recipes fabulous but the sandwich suggestions are out of this world, with recipe for the filling ingredients included too such as, things like homemade pickles, spicy mustard, roast beef, and vegetable spreads.

This book feels just right to hold, ok it’s slimmer than many of the big, all-inclusive tomes being published these days, but it is not overwhelming nor are you left wishing for more. Each carefully chosen recipe is artistically arranged on the (high quality, thick, shiny) page to draw us in and encourage leisurely browsing. The recipe is clearly laid out, so quick refresher glances are easy, even whilst baking. This book is clearly ready for a spell in the kitchen.

The photos are both beautiful and informational. In many of the recipes they illustrate crucial steps and show us how the finished product should look.

First up to try was the ciabatta, perfect to serve alongside the vat of ragu I had simmering of the stove for dinner the following day (sure doesn’t it always taste better reheated the following day?).

Ciabatta is a flatish, elongated bread which is traditionally slipper shaped. Ciabatta was first produced in Liguria, although at least one type of ciabatta can be found in nearly every region of Italy nowadays.

I must confess, despite feeling overjoyed with the book, I was rather sceptical that this recipe would yield a great ciabatta. I mean it is so different from traditional methods that I just couldn’t fathom how I would end up with a ciabatta that was reminiscent of the many I have eaten in Italy. How wrong could I be? Very. Very wrong indeed. This ciabatta was light, airy and yet substantial and slightly chewy; just perfect.

The slow overnight rise lent a slightly sweet, yeasty flavour to the dough, comparable almost to using a great sourdough or biga starter, but with much less hassle than the traditional biga recipe I used before.

Jim’s recipe is incredibly simple, involving minimal hand shaping and mixing. Basically, you start with a fairly wet dough, allow it to rise for 12-18 hours, shape, and let rise another 1-2 hours. After baking, you have a slipper shaped bread with large holes, a nice crumb, and a delectable crust.

I will be returning to this book, over and over again.

No-Knead Ciabatta (adapted recipe)

  • 4 cups of bread flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast or active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 2 cups of tepid water
  1. The night before, mix the flour, yeast and salt. Slowly add the water as you bring the dough together with either your hand or a spatula. The dough will seem too wet, then seem too dry. It should end as a fairly shaggy and wet dough.
  2. Cover the dough with a clean cotton cloth or a piece of plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm room for 12-18 hours
  3. When you check the dough the next day after the allotted time has passed, it should be a bubbly wet dough.
  4. Gently slide the dough out onto a floured and dusted with cormeal cookie sheet. Split the dough into two and shape the dough into the desired shape of Ciabatta, which is a long slipper like shape. Cover the dough and let rise another 1-2 hours. It will roughly double in size.
  5. Before the dough is done rising, preheat the oven to 220C. Place a baking tray in the middle rack.
  6. Place the loaves on the baking tray and cover them with an upturned loaf pan.
  7. Cook the bread for 20 minutes, before lowering the oven temperature to 180C, removing the loaf pan and cooking for a further 10-15 minutes or until nicely coloured, when ready the bread will also sound hollow to a gentle knock.
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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

James January 12, 2010 at 16:26

Interesting read – will have to track down. And definitely try the ciabatta – looks so good!
.-= James´s last blog ..Meat Free Monday #2 – Egg and Chips =-.

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George@CulinaryTravels January 12, 2010 at 17:00

Thanks James. Amazon have the book at quite a good price now.

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Kitchen Butterfly January 12, 2010 at 16:31

How lovely does that look. I love the holes and I can taste the slight sweet, salty bread!!!!!!!!! Lovely with olives, basil, sundried tomatoes, Mozzarellla…..Shalll I go on. Great job! I will be making this FOR SURE!

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George@CulinaryTravels January 12, 2010 at 17:01

I hope you’ll enjoy it Kitchen Butterfly.

I am craving the warmer weather so that I can eat this with Insalata Caprese.

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Lucy January 12, 2010 at 16:33

I’ve never heard to this method before – it sounds genius! The book looks gorgeous and obviously, by the look of your ciabatta, turns out fantastic results. Thank you for sharing :D
.-= Lucy´s last blog ..Venice! =-.

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George@CulinaryTravels January 12, 2010 at 17:02

Lucy the method really is so simple, combine the ingredients, leave overnight and proceed without any kneading or time consuming efforts.

I’m pleased you like the bread, if you try it please let me know how you get on.

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goodshoeday January 12, 2010 at 16:51

I’ve seen the no-knead method talked about various places before but not tried it. I usually do Dan Lepard’s technique which is fairly low on kneading, its more a shape several times approach and I like that. Will have to give this a go sometime but I don’t think there will be a room warm enough for the overnight rise in our house at the moment, do you know what temperature it has to be at?
Useful post thanks

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George@CulinaryTravels January 12, 2010 at 17:07

I quite regularly use Dan Lepard’s technique too, it works well enough when you have the time to spend but Lahey’s method will be best when time is stretched too thinly I think.

I left the dough in my kitchen overnight, I’ve no idea what the actual temperature was but it felt very cold (also bear in mind that I don’t have central heating either). The key with the temperature issue is to adapt the first rise time to suit the growth of the dough – Lahey is quite generous saying it can be anything from 12-18hrs, I think mine was at 15hrs when I shaped the dough.

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Tynegal January 12, 2010 at 16:55

Sounds great but it would be good to see British measurements used, especially as you say you have ‘adapted’ this.

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George@CulinaryTravels January 12, 2010 at 17:08

Tynegal thanks for your comment. I stuck with the cup measures here as it was easier to just follow the recipe as per Lahey’s ingredients; I only adapted the method slightly.

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Norm January 12, 2010 at 21:55

I’m a bit fan of no-knead bread and will definitely be having a go at this ciabatta sometime (I think perhaps I’ll have to use the airing cupboard to get it to rise – our house is Arctic!).

I was just wondering what the point of placing ‘a small dish in the bottom of the oven’? (The other methods – putting the bread onto a hot tray, and covering it, are the same principle as using the Le Creuset for the regular no-knead loaf, but I was puzzled by the dish!)

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George@CulinaryTravels January 12, 2010 at 22:04

I wouldn’t put the bread in the airing cupboard Kate, I once did that and it overflowed loads and what I rescued tasted disgusting, just let it rise for a little longer than planned.

Ignore the small dish, I didn’t edit that bit out properly (oops), will amend now.

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Bethany January 13, 2010 at 00:13

Wow George! Your pictures are fantastic and as for this book I’m definitely interested in it… I’m all about no knead and I’m not much of a bread baker although I’ve been telling my husband it’s an area I want to start venturing into- especially since he can go through a loaf in 2 days.
.-= Bethany´s last blog ..Mad About Chickpeas-Hummus B’ Lahme =-.

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 11:29

Beth I’m surprised you’re not a ‘bread baker’, I kind of thought you would be. I can get through a loaf of bread far too easily as well, and the thought of all the preservatives etc in shop bought bread drove me to baking my own.

This book will be a great start for those unsure of yeast baking though.

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farida January 13, 2010 at 02:51

I’ve heard about Jim Lahey’s book but don’t have it in my collection – yet:) The method sounds fantastic and very approachable. Love your ciabatta bread!

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 11:29

Farida you need this book, the method is so simple, it couldn’t be easier.

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deana January 13, 2010 at 03:45

Great recipe and love the story with it…. I am crazy about ciabatta but the biga part really threw me.. this will be great… thanks!
.-= deana´s last blog ..Lobster a la Britannia from Delmonicos =-.

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 11:30

Deana if you’re new to ciabatta this recipe is a great place to start; though do at some stage use a biga too.

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nina January 13, 2010 at 06:06

Amazing book, your amazing photos and an amazing looking bread!!

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 11:30

Thank you Nina!

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Sarah, Maison Cupcake January 13, 2010 at 09:16

I’m pretty new to bread baking and would love to make my own ciabatta. I need to investigate this book. When I made fougasse recently that had to be left hanging about for 12 hours and the paybacks for so little effort bowled me over. I must stretch my yeasty wings and try something else!
.-= Sarah, Maison Cupcake´s last blog ..Leek and Goat’s Cheese Tart and Two Pieces of Good News =-.

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 11:31

Do stretch your yeasty wings Sarah and give this a go. This book will be great for when I’m stretched for time I feel, as I have to confess I love the process of kneading and folding the dough in more ‘traditional’ methods.

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Mary T January 13, 2010 at 10:19

Wow it looks great! Can’t wait to try this. Rachel Allen has a no-knead brown soda bread recipe which I love both baking and eating! It features in her “Bake” book .

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 11:31

I’ve made that Rachel Allen recipe many times, it really is grand. Hope you like this recipe as much :)

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kimme@irishcottagedreams January 13, 2010 at 12:52

Very Very interesting book and post. I will have to get a copy of this
book for my husband, a.k.a the bread maker in the family. I know
he will love it!

~kimme

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 16:58

Hi Kimme,
I’m sure any bread baker will love this book, I have at least 10 books purely about bread and this is going to be one of the favourites.

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Kate January 13, 2010 at 15:26

Would this work with whole wheat flour? I’ve never actually made any type of bread…

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 16:59

Kate, I’m sure whole wheat flour would work here, technically, but I’m not sure the flavours would be quite right – traditionally ciabatta is a white bread.

There is a link in this post to the ‘original’ no knead bread, which does work really well with whole wheat flour, that might be your best bet.

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Susan January 13, 2010 at 15:40

I came across your site from Tastespotter–my zucchini recipe is sitting next to your ciabatta. Nice to meet you!

I’ve tried the no knead bread that Mark Bittman made famous in the New York Times…and it is very good–I’m looking forward to trying this one too.

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George@CulinaryTravels January 13, 2010 at 17:03

Hi Susan,
I’ll have to head over and have a look at you zucchini recipe too :)
Hope you enjoy this bread!

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Hilary January 13, 2010 at 22:10

Hello, I’m confused by the upturned loaf pan. Do you mean to completely cover the dough underneath a normal rectangular loaf pan? Can you explain what this does?

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George@CulinaryTravels January 14, 2010 at 08:47

Hilary, yes you simply cover the dough with an upturned loaf tin. By doing this you create more steam around the bread, in an attempt to replicate the steam oven used in commercial baking.

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kirsten February 22, 2010 at 21:00

Do you have to use an upturned pan or is it optional to do this?
thanks! =]

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George@CulinaryTravels February 23, 2010 at 11:35

Hi Kirsten,
An upturned pan isn’t essential but the ciabatta do benefit from it, the crust is better – much chewier.

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Gourmet Chick January 14, 2010 at 07:54

Wow this ciabatta looks amazing and you have totally sold the book to me it sounds great – will have to pop that one on the wish list!

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George@CulinaryTravels January 14, 2010 at 08:47

Thank you Gourmet Chick!

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Sandy January 14, 2010 at 12:28

George that really looks so good. I am going to give it a try as I have not had much luck with any of the other breads I have make.
Sandy
xx

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George@CulinaryTravels January 14, 2010 at 15:26

Sandy I seem to remember you had great success with the his original no knead recipe, so you should get a great result with this one. I look forward to seeing and hearing more.

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Karen January 14, 2010 at 21:07

George, the ciabatta looks amazing! Your photos are always wonderful. I asked for this book and received it for Christmas and I love it too. So far I’ve made the stecca and the pizza. I’m planning to make cheese bread this weekend. And I’m still hoping to get Lahey to sign my copy, since he owns a restaurant called Co. that’s right around the corner from my apartment.

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George@CulinaryTravels January 18, 2010 at 10:07

Thank you so much Karen. The stecca is next on my list of must try recipes :)

You’re so lucky to be close to his restaurant, I bet it serves fantastic food.

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Mary T January 18, 2010 at 09:45

I cooked this at the weekend and it was so much fun! I was like a kid waking up on Christmas morning when I woke on Saturday – running downstairs to look at the bubbling mess in the bowl, I took the loaf tin off for the last few minutes as the ciabatta’s weren’t browning. It was absolutely delicious fresh out of the oven with a bit of “Kerrygold” melting over it. This is making me reconsider my plan to give up bread for Lent this year… :)

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George@CulinaryTravels January 18, 2010 at 10:08

Mary I am so glad to hear you enjoyed the bread. I couldn’t give up bread though, good luck :)

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Marco April 6, 2010 at 09:52

What a gorgeous ciabatta. Great idea to try a no knead method.

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Kate May 2, 2010 at 07:36

Beautiful bread.

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George@CulinaryTravels May 4, 2010 at 10:29

Thanks Kate!

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Jay May 27, 2010 at 05:47

Fabulous bread recipe and stunning photography … beautiful …

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stacia June 24, 2010 at 19:31

Thank you for this recipe! I made it and the results were phenomenal! I posted a link back to this page on my blog, just let me know if you would like it removed! Heres the page its on:

http://thescarelist.blogspot.com/2010/05/glorious.html

Thanks again!

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George@CulinaryTravels June 25, 2010 at 10:16

I’m so pleased you enjoyed the bread Stacia and of course I don’t mind you linking back to this post, in fact I’m glad you did :)

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Pizza King July 1, 2010 at 19:38

The book looks gorgeous and obviously, by the look of your ciabatta, turns out fantastic results.

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George@CulinaryTravels July 4, 2010 at 10:08

Thanks.

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Eve July 5, 2010 at 01:33

I might have to buy this book. I’ve never been much of a bread baker but this might persuade me otherwise.

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Jaeny June 21, 2011 at 11:23

Ok, this book is a must for me, i’ve also been into the homemade bread craze lately but have been getting recipes online mostly. I have been sticking to wheat free bread lately because someone at home has wheat allergies. Hopefully I could mix and match the recipes from the book with whatever I can use.

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Min June 26, 2012 at 05:03

Impressive bread. Must try this!!

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George@CulinaryTravels June 26, 2012 at 08:41

Min, Thank you, I do hope you will enjoy baking it.

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