Alice Medrich's Whole-Wheat Sables
Irene Kuo's Stir-Fried Celery in Meat Sauce

Jeff Hertzberg's Simple Crusty Bread


Yes, I know this recipe was just published this morning, and I know that you're all plenty busy as it is with turkeys and pies and stuffing, and if you're not cooking then you're probably on your way out the door (we're leaving in half an hour and I haven't even packed yet), but I couldn't exactly not post about this right away, could I? Come on, now.

If the response to Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread is any indication, then I feel like I'm practically contractually obligated to.

Almost exactly a year ago, The New York Times published that lovely no-knead recipe which had thousands of people baking deliciously flavorful, easy-as-pie, artisan bread in their own homes at last. The response to the recipe was phenomenal and well-deserved. The first no-knead loaf I made was devoured by two young men I know in less than an hour. The second no-knead loaf I made was devoured by a few young women I know in less than an hour. The third no-knead loaf I made...well, you get the picture. It was a big hit.

Today, The New York Times published a new recipe for "crusty", "flavorful" bread - perhaps almost an heir to the no-knead mania - that will, no doubt, have just as many people in a bread-baking frenzy as Mr. Lahey did.

Here's the thing, though: This bread? The one published today? It's not as good. It's simply not. In fact, it's not that great at all. There you have it. Oh sure, it's fine, in the way that most homemade bread is, because it's fresh and it's homemade and your house smells pretty darn good while it's baking. But compared to Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread? Well, there's just no comparison.


The article accompanying Jeff Hertzberg's recipe seemed to almost chastise (gently) No-Knead Bread for a few of its characteristics, like having such a long fermentation process (18 hours or more - of course, you don't have to do much during that time, in fact, you can all but ignore the dough) and the need to bake the bread in a cast-iron pot. But the former, combined with the fact that No-Knead Bread starts with a tiny amount of yeast, is where the bread gets its wonderful flavor, and the latter is how the very wet dough is able to create its own little steamy environment, which is exactly how you end up with a gorgeously thin and shattery crust that lasts and lasts.

It's true that Hertzberg's recipe will give you your bread in a fraction of the time that it will take you to make the No-Knead Bread, but your loaves won't have those appealingly craggy holes in the crumb or that indescribably delicious flavor. Because of the quick rise, Hertzberg's bread tastes overly yeasty and somewhat two-dimensional. Almost a little bitter. The crumb looks good, but more generic. The crust is crisp when you first take the loaves out of the oven, but as they cool, the crust becomes softer, the crunch less assertive.

I made turkey sandwiches out of this bread - they'll sustain us on our trip up to Boston today. And I'll take another one of the loaves with us for breakfast toast over the next few days. The remaining dough I'm refrigerating to see if a little rest can't coax a bit more flavor into it. But the next time I've got a hankering for homemade bread? I'm going back to the tried-and-true. No-Knead Bread it is.

Update: November 30, 2007

After eight days of rest in the fridge, I took the Tupperwared dough out last night, shaped it into a ball, let it come to room temperature and rest for about an hour and 20 minutes, and then baked it. The dough rose and browned beautifully in the oven, just like last time. This morning I sliced off a piece - the crumb looked nice, much like it does in the photo above - and toasted it very gently, just to a creamy buff color. Then I took a bite, plain, and found that it really didn't taste much different from the first time around. It didn't have that faintly bitter aroma anymore, but it was still yeasty as all get out and had this sort of odd, flat flavor - I can't really put my finger on it. Spread with apple butter, it was a good breakfast, but I didn't find the bread nirvana that I was so hoping for after a week in the fridge.


Simple Crusty Bread
Makes 3-4 loaves

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast (active-dry)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough

1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours). Here's what it will look like after rising.

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

4. Dust dough with flour, slash the top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.