Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Setting the Standard for Italian Bread

Fig.1 The big holes in the flesh of the bread come from using bread flour, and from the long fermentation.

I’ve been consumed by this Sullivan Street Bakery, bread book I got on my last trip to New York. I’m teaming with carbs and loving every minute of it, but, I’ve been neglecting my blog and for that I’m sorry. Some of you are tired of hearing it, but the bread at Sullivan Street Bakery is true Italian bread, as it should be and as it still is in most of Italy: It's a good thing our baguettes are good, because when it comes to Italian bread, Montreal is a let down; and so we bake our own.

Regarding my last post, the “Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe”, as found in Jim Lahey’s, My Bread; I’ve received a few e-mails regarding problems with the dough’s texture and consistency. Let me just start off by saying that having the book in front of you would really help, the book provides step-by-step photographs. Also, some people have informed me that they’ve made the bread with all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour the book calls for. Bread flour, without getting too technical, has a higher protein count than regular all-purpose flour, more protein means more gluten, more gluten means more elasticity and chewy-ness. (I don’t think chewy-ness is a proper word but I like the way it sounds.)

I have made some adjustments to Lahey’s recipe which I’ll share with you. Lahey does state that the amount of water can vary depending on ambient temperature, well, he’s right, in order for the dough to be “wet and sticky” I’ve had to add two to three more tablespoons of water to the dough on top of the 1 1/3 cups called for in the recipe; add one tablespoon at a time, as soon as your dough is wet, cover it with plastic wrap rather than a kitchen towel, the plastic wrap keeps the dough moist and keeps the cold air out. (I’ve also noticed from the photographs in the book that Lahey uses plastic wrap.) I also let the dough rise for a full 24 hours instead of 18 hours with phenomenal results. Also, let the dough cool properly, as tempting as warm bread is, especially with that stick of butter in the fridge calling out to you, letting it cool properly will allow a more complex, malt flavour to develop. Who am I kidding, go ahead and have some of the bread while it’s still hot and steamy, I like to rub it all over my face while it’s still warm.

Fig.2. I like the crust darkened slightly, I also prefer dusting with corn meal instead of flour. Corn meal doesn't stick to the crust.

Fig.3. I attempted Lahey's recipe for Stecca with tomatoes but for some reason the dough kept pushing my cherry tomatoes out. They taste better than they look; I've sent Lahey an e-mail regarding my tomato dilemma, I'll keep you posted.

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