I Cracked Peppercorn (and does anyone care?)

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.

9 Responses

  1. Will

    Wow. Congrats on the win. Love the blog and the philosophy.

    It took the longest time for me to remember how the brownie scale worked. I wasn’t sure if more brownies was a good thing or not since I love brownies, but too many brownies seemed to be unhealthy.

  2. cathy

    Thanks Will! You’re on the right track exactly about the brownie scale, the more, the worse. Sorry if it looks cryptic — will have to do something about that…

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  4. […] That would be mine! Wow — I feel incredible. Elated, honored… (does my hair look okay?) Continued, to be fair: “and another one made with semolina, golden raisins, and fennel seeds, an apparent homage to Amy’s Bread’s best-known loaf, though it had an excessively flat shape.” […]

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    will read it later

  6. Alice

    I realize that no one has commented on this since 2007, but I just tried this recipe out tonight and wanted to say “thanks” for sharing. I recently read your book which brought me to your blog and it was fun to see photos of the events and breads you described in the book. It seemed fitting that I try this out as my first bread-making attempt. So tasty!

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    Awesome site!!! I am so looking forward to reading more articles.

  9. Jessica

    Came across your book in the library (and will be buying soon, since I just checked it out a second time!) and had to come check out your website for pictures and stuff. I have not been able to get this bread out of my head and wanted to see it for myself. Think I will be making it later this week! 😀

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