Being the breadwinner, they say, isn’t always fun. I can think of one exception, however, where that’s pure pish posh: winning the No-Knead Bread-Off at The Brooklyn Kitchen. Alright, I tied for best bread in show, beating out three of the five different loaves made by locals who each took twists on the no-knead bread recipe-turned national bread craze created by Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery.
The Brooklyn Kitchen’s first-ever bread making event was not lacking in innovation, nor tastiness. Everyone that baked had created a delicious unique loaf, with slightly differing levels of crustiness, moisture and chewiness. Flavored butters and olive oils were on hand for dipping, and together with the variety of bread made for one satisfying, complete dinner. The award for the best-tasting bread of the night was a tie between Bob’s rosemary, sea salt and soy butter-brushed loaf and Phil’s golden raisin and fennel infused, crunchy semolina crusted loaf. The best texture went to the perfectly crackling crust and meaty interior of Taylor’s whole wheat loaf. Because it somehow turned out much more tall and round than all the others, the award for “best general bready appearance” went to my cracked peppercorn potato loaf; and then a blind ballot for the best overall resulted in a tie between James’ hearty whole wheat and oatmeal loaf and mine. We each took home a terrific bread knife, thanks to The Brooklyn Kitchen.
the other breadwinner, James, with victory knife
my vote for best bread went to Phil’s golden raisin-studded semolina, a surprising not-too-sweet combination
My loaf, my first attempt at the recipe, was made with a heavy dose of cracked black peppercorns and the water used to boil a potato instead of plain water. Beyond this my strategy was to let the loaf ferment for two days, approximately 30 hours longer than the suggested 18 hour period in the recipe. (I heard this tip through the grapevine.) On day two, when it came to baking the loaf, I panicked for fear of something having gone rancid; it smelled a little funky, sort of like bad beer. I emailed the Brooklyn Kitchen, did some research, and eventually calmed down, assuaged that yeast and anything else living would be killed off in a 450-degree oven. “Or maybe it becomes hallucinogenic,” Taylor at the Brooklyn Kitchen wrote. “Either way, yummy.”
No doubt the ferment-y smell was also in part due to the potato water, which I was previously unaware can be used as a fermenting agent on its own. This might also account for its mushroom-tall stature compared with the other breads. Lacking breadmaking savvy (or even common sense), I had intended the potato water purely for taste — also I read that it lent a denser, moister texture to the bread when finished.
slightly out-of-focus close-up
Kudos to the ingenuity of Jim Lahey’s original recipe. Following it fairly closely, here is my variation.
Peppercorn Potato No-Knead Bread
(makes 1 1 1/2 lb loaf)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 5/8 cups water that was used to boil a potato, slightly cooled
About 3 Tb black peppercorns, cracked (I placed mine inside a ziploc bag and rolled over it with a rolling pin several times)
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 at least 12 hours, preferably about 18 (or two days) at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
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 on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 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. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put douhg seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
just before baking
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.