Friday, February 23, 2007

In Defense of Kneaded Bread

So here's a radical opinion: the no-knead bread that's seemingly swept the culinary world by storm this fall/winter is not actually a great favorite of mine. Partly it's an unfair prejudice (my first try left me with a stupidly ruined cast-iron pan) and partly I'm just a big old philistine who doesn't really care about crispy crusts and the open crumb The Ones In The Know seem to value over everything else. I like small-crumbed sandwich bread. I like it with lots of crunchy bits. I like it straight out of the oven, with (gasp) reduced-fat margarine, and I like it toasted the same way. I like it even when it's not the least bit airy. Hell, I like the dense Finnish rye breads, where heavy is the whole point.

toasted french bread

I'm not saying the no-knead isn't pretty good - it's perfectly acceptable as artisan breads go. And it's certainly very pretty. Mostly, I just didn't find it any less fussy than regular kneaded bread. Besides, kneading is a lot of fun.

Possibly this is just a quirk of chance or whatever, but I've never made bread that didn't, when coming out of the oven, fill me with happiness. Bread that didn't look very nice, yes. Bread that didn't rise as much as it should, sure. Bread that spread more than it rose, most definitely. But they were still good.

honey-butter french bread

Just like this Honey-Butter French Bread from epicurious that I stumbled upon this week. It's not exactly perfect - I kind of hate how the crust looks - but still making-you-overeat yummy. Normally I like working with fresh yeast (I love love love the texture and the smell and everything about it), but I didn't have the energy to think about conversions, never mind walking over to the shops (the freezing -19°C weather didn't help) to get some. Hence the slavish following of a recipe that had a lot of rave reviews. (Does anyone else have problems cooking from books these days? I tend to go all "but how will I know if it's any goooood?" a lot.)

toast & tomato soup

This is a very very white bread - not something I'd go for usually, even if it IS good. But I had some leftover soup and the recipe called for it to be served with white bread, and I have something in the works for Sunday lunch that requires white bread, and mostly I just wanted to bake something to heat the apartment a bit (SO COLD). And for all of those things, this was a very good choice. (Now if only I hadn't devoured half a loaf in one sitting. Ugh.)


D-man said...

Yeah! *jumping up and down* I'm sooo happy someone else shares the opinion that kneading bread is fun. I made that recipe earlier this year and was really only impressed with it's ability of enabling you to have bread without actually making it. Neat trick, sure. But not really any easier than doing it right. Bread is a staple in so many parts of the world because it is EASY. A learning process yes, but a healthy for the arms and mouth, life-giving one nonetheless.

deinin said...

D-man, I think what bugs me most is that it REALLY isn't any easier than regular bread - there may be very little handling of the dough, but because it's so loose what there is is messy and complicated. Plus, messing about with the hot casserole dish is just a pain, especially if it's a heavy one.

Astrid said...

Beautiful photos and interesting posts again, thank you, this is a great blog!
I've been meaning to try the no-knead bread myself for two reasons: because I've never made bread and it seems less intimidating, and because the crust on it looks so good.
However I haven't made it because I'm not patient enough to wait 18 + 2 + 1/2 hours to eat my bread.
And I agree, the little I've kneaded (bagels, gyoza wrappers) has been fun.
I'm tempted to try your bread recipe as indeed, the number of positive comments on Epicurious was unusual (96% of 55 people, if I remember correctly, would make it again? wow).

deinin said...

Astrid, the French Honey-Butter Bread was certainly pretty fuss-free, but if you're really enamored of those crunchy crusts, I'd go for the no-knead. For me, that one was a lot more intimidating - I have no problem with kneading, but handling that super-loose dough was a bit tricky.

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