Happy Valentine’s Day! I am going to kick it off with a story about starters – aka pre-ferment or mother dough – an integral element of artisanal bread baking. The longer a starter ferments, the more complexity it can lend the loaf that is born from it.
According to Wikipedia: “A pre-ferment is easy to make and usually consists of a simple mixture of wheat flour, water, and a leavening agent (typically yeast). Two schools of thought exist regarding the inclusion of salt or sugar. They both act to inhibit or slow yeast growth, as determined by time to proof or rise, so they are not usually included and instead are added to the final dough. Ultimately, the amounts of each ingredient, and when they are added, depend on pre-ferment and final-dough formulas”.
I shall never forget a young pastry chef in San Francisco. She came to the restaurant I was managing armed with a starter that she had kept since her days in cooking school. While she was in the kitchen one of the bus boys grabbed the bucket that housed the starter and threw it away! In a furious rage, the pastry chef left vowing to never again return – and she kept that promise.
At the time I thought it all seemed a bit dramatic. It wasn’t until one of the chefs explained to me just how important that starter was to her bread making process. It was her trademark and made her bread distinguishable from others. Only then did I understood that she had lost a piece of her culinary history – the genetic code of great bread passed down loaf by loaf.
Bread need not have an aged starter to be tasty. With the world being such a busy place – many are put off by the idea of taking on anything that requires lots of time – BUT – there is nothing like homemade bread. A piping hot loaf just turned out of the pan and slathered with butter. A small piece of heaven.
That is where Jim Lehey, the owner of Sullivan Street Bakery, comes in. Sullivan Street bakery is NYC institution. Their bread is simply amazing and he has generously shared his recipe with us – making a fresh loaf of homemade bread accessible to even the busiest of households – and now I would like to share it with you.
Sullivan Street No Knead Bread – Ingredients
3 c organic all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water
This bread is amazing. You can make a loaf with very few ingredients – and very little work. I think most people avoid bread baking because they think it will be difficult and time consuming. This recipe is easy peasy.
The room that you make the dough in should be relatively warm (approximately 70 degrees). Mix all of the above listed ingredients together in a bowl with your hands. Don’t worry the dough will be tacky:) Combine only long enough to form a ball and cover in the bowl with cling film for 12 – 18 hours. I like to start the dough the night before – when it’s ready the surface will appear blistered.
On a floured surface fold the dough over on itself once or twice, the let it rest covered for about 15 minutes. Take a large cotton tea towel (no terrycloth please!) and sprinkle with cornmeal – be sure to dust the whole ball with cornmeal. Cover completely with the tea towel and let rise. The dough should double in size.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees – 30 minutes before you cook the bread put a 6 – 8 quart heavy covered pot into the oven. Transfer the dough from the tea towel to the pre-heated pot. Just a word of warning. This dough is ugly. Cook covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook uncovered for another 15 – 30. When the bread is done it will be a deep golden brown. Let it cool on a wire rack. I like mine warm! The resulting bread is chewy & delicious and with the cornmeal dusting is reminiscent of a particularly yummy English muffin.