My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method — Cookbook Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Introducing Linda Avery’s 1st cookbook review for Pen & Fork. Hope you enjoy & please leave a comment.

My Bread:

The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

By Jim Lahey

Facts: W.W. Norton, hardcover, 224 pages, $29.95 (or Amazon at $19.71)

Photos: Lots! Beautiful full color images of the breads and helpful step-by-step technique pages

Recipes: 68, not counting variations

Give to: Those who are especially skeptical of this new-fangled way of making bread or to a neophyte bread maker who needs their confidence pumped up.

Reviewed by Linda Avery

I never was able to strike up a friendship with yeast or at least it wasn’t a friendship I was able to rely on. I thought I was saved when bread machines were introduced way back when, only to have my efforts result in something akin to cannonballs.

Later I found that was due to using well water and switching to bottled water made all the difference. But I wasn’t satisfied with the method—it was cheating.

I re-gifted the machine, studied the science of it all and finally turned out a passing loaf of bread.

Then in 2006, NYT columnist Mark Bittman introduced Jim Lahey’s no knead bread to the world — it was an awesome phenomena; everyone was talking about it. I don’t know why it took Lahey three years to get a cookbook out, but it may have been to insure that his no-knead bread recipes were fool proof.

My Bread is indeed revolutionary. No-knead bread is based on the premise that if you work the dough less, you have to ferment it for a longer period of time so that the structure is as strong as if it were kneaded with a shorter rise period.

Lahey nailed it.

His layman’s approach to explaining the whys and wherefores is refreshing (I didn’t see the word autolyse once) – and, okay, the photos help, too.

Pane Integrale (whole wheat bread) is a great “everyday” bread and while I’ve made that bread a few times, the loaf that I’ll make over and over again to rave reviews is Pane all’Olive; a simple, basic olive bread. (see recipe below.)

I’m not the sort to cook through an entire book but the baguettes (studded with sun-dried tomatoes or olives), ciabatta and focaccia are on my to-do list.

If you start with this olive bread, you’ll be hooked. Because the rising time is so long, I let my dough rise in a cold oven just so that it’s off the counter.

Word of caution: put a Post-it on the oven door so that you don’t accidentally fire it up for something else and ruin your work-in-process.

Photo © 2009 Squire Fox

Photo © 2009 Squire Fox

From My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey

Pane all’Olive │ Olive Bread

When I first opened Sullivan Street, with Roman baking in mind, this slightly pungent olive loaf immediately became my signature bread. As a result of the brine the olives release during baking, this recipe calls for no salt.

Yield: One 10-inch round loaf; 1 1/2 pounds

3 cups (400 grams) bread flour

About 1 1/2 cups (200 grams) roughly chopped pitted olives

3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) instant or other active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups (300 grams) cool (55 to 65°F) water

Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, olives, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475°F (245°C), with a rack in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2 – to 5 1/2 -quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.

5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution—the pot will be very hot). Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.

Note: For this loaf, any pitted olive will yield something worth eating. (You don’t want to go to the trouble of pitting them yourself, because it is tedious and the results will not be as neat.) But what I turn to most often are pitted kalamata olives soaked in a pure salt brine—nothing else, just salt. A commonly available kalamata that I’m very fond of is made by Divina and can be found at many supermarkets and gourmet stores. You might think that because they’re black they will change the color of the bread, but they won’t, unless you carelessly dump some of the brine into the dough. Green Sicilian colossals, sometimes called “giant” olives, packed in pure salt brine, are another good option; they’re often available at Italian food stores.

Recipe © 2009 by Jim Lahey.

4 replies
  1. Linda Avery
    Linda Avery says:

    Although Sullivan Street Bakery sells sourdough breads, Pane Casareccio and Sourdough Pullman, there are no sourdough recipes included in this book. If you google “no knead sourdough”, you’ll find a number of articles and even a few recipes.

  2. jack
    jack says:

    Sorry to be a stickler for spelling/grammar, but in “I don’t know why it took Lahey three years to get a cookbook out, but it may have been to insure that his no-knead bread recipes were fool proof.”, you used “insure”, when you should have written ensure.

    I really like your blog and recipes!


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