View From Lodi CA: Fight Back! Bake Bread!
April 11, 2008, 05:00 AM
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Income taxes are due, gasoline is nearing $4 a gallon, homes aren`t selling, airlines are failing and the price of every consumer good is through the roof.

What`s a person to do? The simple answer is to go back to basics.

Fight back against societal forces beyond your control. Bake bread!

Forget about buying tasteless and expensive supermarket loaves. Save money! Impress your friends! Improve your meals!

Continue the 10,000-year-old custom in the comfort of your own kitchen.

The typical response to my suggestion is: "Who has the time?"

But today, you`ll learn how to make a loaf that is not only 100 times better than store bought but also at least 10 times better than so-called artisan quality.

According to the recipe`s creator, Jim Lehey of New York`s Sullivan Street Bakery, a child can do it. [The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work, By Mark Bittman, New York Times, November 8, 2006]

Best of all, the total preparation time is less than three minutes, even if you`re moving in slow motion and fumbling around for the ingredients of which there are only four.

Yes, I`m sure about the time!

Earlier this week, when I baked the bread, I clocked each of the three steps according to my actual work performed.

Here, with my estimated time frame, is what you have to do. [Recipe: "No-Knead Bread"]

  • First, mix three cups of all-purpose or bread flour with ¼ teaspoons of instant yeast (not rapid rising!), 1 ¼ teaspoon of salt 1-5/8 cup of tepid water. (Elapsed time: 60 seconds).

Let the dough sit, covered and untouched, for a minimum of 12, a maximum of 24 or an optimum of 18 hours.

  • Second, take the dough out of its bowl, let it rest for 15 minutes. Then, fold it over as if it were a letter. Place it back in the bowl, cover with saran wrap, to rise again for two hours. (45 seconds)

After completing the second step, place a covered 6- to 8- quart cast iron or enameled pot into a pre-heated 500-degree oven for at least one hour. The pan should be blazing hot for the bread`s baking.

  • Third, take the dough from the bowl and place it into the pre-heated pot. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the cover to bake for the final 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown. Remove and cool completely. (45 seconds)

Done!

The secret is that time does your work. The recipe compensates for the tiny amount of yeast by a slow fermentation.

The result is a wet dough, about 42 percent water, that is according to New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, "at the extreme high end of the range that professional bakers use to create crisp crust and large, well-structured crumb, both of which are evident in this loaf."

In addition to having a top quality loaf that you can use either for sandwiches, toast or as a side to any entrée, your house will smell homey.

I`ll add one cautionary note. Bread baking is addictive. I can`t remember the last time I ate a slice of mass-produced, commercially prepared bread.

I even bake my own hot dog buns that are—not surprisingly—a better way to improve your franks than upgrading your mustard.

Try out this recipe (also good for hamburger buns) here.  

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.