Sunday, January 31, 2010

No-Knead Disaster

Grade - Fail

There was no way to botch this up. At least that's what I thought. I had read Mark Bittman's article on Jim Lahey's revolutionary no-knead bread technique, I watched the video on YouTube and was 'theoretically' prepared to do some proper bread baking. Lahey said even a four-year-old could make his bread recipe. Apparently that rule didn't apply to 28-year-old amateur cooks like myself.

The previous day I enthusiastically convinced my dad to join the experiment. I would try a whole wheat loaf since Sean is only allowed whole wheat bread and my dad would mix the traditional version as written about by Bittman. We were completely stoked. Tomorrow was bakery day at home. Just imagine the warm kitchen, the aroma of fresh bread filling the house and warm slices slathered with salty butter once out of the oven - yum, yum, yum - NOT!

Since whole wheat is known to be heavier and create a more dense product I followed the instructions from a fellow blogger who had successful taken inspiration from Lahey's technique to create a 100 per cent whole wheat loaf. I increased the yeast to 1/2 tsp and started this batch at 12pm yesterday as the blogger indicated the longer you proofed the dough the more flavourful and lighter it was. As the whole wheat flour needed extra time to proof, I thought starting it earlier would be better.

Mixing the dough was a snap, although I did add a little extra water, which caused me  a lot of trouble later as I could not keep the dough together. My father mixed his batch six hours later and both were proofing effortlessly. We were on our way. Every couple of hours we peeked in to check on the two doughs and were excited that we seemed to be following the recipe to the tee. My dough was a mess before the second proofing but my dad's looked exactly like Lahey's on YouTube. "No problem", I though to myself, 'at least one watch was bound to be successful.

The only problem now was that we didn't have the proper bake ware. I don't want to be the case of  'the bad carpenter always blames his tools' but we didn't have any of the bake ware that Bittman had suggested. So we made do with what we had. Pans pre-heated we stuck in the whole wheat dough and divided the all-purpose flour dough into two as it couldn't fit into the other smaller container.

Then we baked, and we baked and we baked for two hours but there seemed no sign of it browning or even getting a semblance of the crisp crust that Lahey shows. Finally, my mother suggested we turn it off. This was clearly going nowhere and we were just wasting gas. We pulled it out and tapped the bread. It sounded hollow and had formed a crust but looked far from appetising. This was really disheartening - how did this happen?

My father seems to think the heat wasn't high enough even though we had followed the proper pre-heating instructions. Either way, we cut into the bread. It smelt faintly like sourdough and tasted like fresh bakery bread - not so bad but still not as aesthetically pleasing as we wished. It seemed to have taken on the character of a 'gutli', a local bread with a thin, hard crust and a pillowy interior. The only difference was the crust for these loaves was a whole lot thicker.

Honestly, my dad's batch tasted far better than the whole wheat one. Right now the score stands at Father:1 - Daughter:0. Without a doubt, I am going to try making the bread again, starting with the traditional recipe and then trying it with whole wheat. After all, that's what cooking is about right? You learn from your mistakes and play around with the recipe until you get it right. And I will get it right...just give me some more time.

Whole wheat mix.

After 19 hours of proofing.

The second proofing mess.

All-purpose flour mix.

After 13 hours of proofing.

The all-purpose dough was in much better shape.

The whole wheat was dense but tasted lovely with butter.

A finer and lighter crumb defined the white loaf.


  1. i know!! its frustrating! its happened to me pretty often with bread, but you know ive realised its like we are so confident with rice or rotis cos culturally its in our genes to make this. so the way to make bread is that inspite of complications work on it again. what do you do with the mess? in india give it to doggies... also i find that if we use too much flour at the final shaping stage the crust will be very thick. and this is the first time i am hearing of heating the pan, next time just heat the oven not the pan in which the bread will bake. try try

  2. Great writing:). Landed here from Rajani's blog. Yep, she's right! You don't heat the pan. You could have made bruschetta with these. They are supposed to have hard crust and pillowy interiors:).