"This was one of those moments where I couldn't believe something that looked this professional came from my stove."
A month into Cathy Erway's eating-in experiment she decided to learn how to make her own bread. While Cathy was no slouch in the kitchen, she had never baked with yeast.
With a successful first batch of squash rolls under her belt, another recipe caught her eye: Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread featured in the New York Times. This revolutionary technique required a little planning ahead but barely any hands-on time, and no strenuous kneading.
Around the same time, Cathy's friends over at The Brooklyn Kitchen were hosting a no-knead bread competition. She decided to enter with her take on the recipe, a version that substituted potato cooking water for plain water and added spicy cracked black peppercorns to the mix.
Although it was the first loaf of no-knead bread that Cathy had attempted, her loaf tied for first place and ended up in food writer Jeffrey Steingarten's no-knead bread feature for Vogue magazine.
After reading about Cathy's winning loaf in The Art of Eating In I tried it myself.
The first order of business: boil potatoes and reserve the cooking water to make the dough. With sufficiently starchy water (and potatoes for dinner) I set about mixing the yeast, flour, salt, and cracked pepper into a dough. The dough was just as shaggy and sticky as Cathy had promised. I set it aside for the rest of the evening.
The next morning it looked like a sticky mess. I dusted it with Parmesan and left it to rise for an additional two hours.
When it came time for baking, I placed the ball into a preheated Dutch oven. Fifteen minutes later, a distinctly bready aroma began to emanate from my oven. A mix of yeast and cheese, it almost smelled like pizza baking.
Exactly 35 minutes later, I pulled a perfectly golden brown loaf of crisp-crusted bread. Once it cooled down, I started slicing. It was truly amazing—the hard crust and chewy interior were no different from the fanciest loaves of artisan bread that I have a habit of buying.
And the first taste was a revelation: spicy, yeasty, and insanely delicious. This was one of those moments where I couldn't believe something that looked this professional came from my stove
Win The Art Of Eating In
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Art of Eating In to give away this week.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- About 3 tablespoons black peppercorns, cracked (I placed mine in a Ziploc bag and rolled over it with a rolling pin several times)
- 1 5/8 cups water that was used to boil a potato, slightly cooled
In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, salt, and pepper. Add water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest for at least 12 hours, preferably about 18 (or two days), at warm room temperature, about 70°F.
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball, tucking folded parts underneath. Sprinkle and gently pat grated Parmesan across the top of the loaf. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, semolina, or cornmeal, and place the loaf seam-side down in it. Coat another towel with flour and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, the dough will me more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least half an hour before dough is ready, preheat oven to 450°F. Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slid your hand under the towel and place dough Parmesan side up in the pot. Cover with lid and bake 20 minutes; then remove lid and bake another 15 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.