Nov 18, 2009

Book Review: 200 Fast and Easy Artisan Breads: No-Knead, One Bowl

I asked for a cookbook to review, received it in the mail the next day, and then I had to review the thing! That means shopping, cooking and then writing. Hence the mysterious gap in my blog posts.

I chose 200 Fast and Easy Artisan Breads, by Judith Fertig. Remember when Mark Bittman published a no-knead bread recipe in the New York Times? It created a sensation, and since then everyone has been falling all over themselves to produce and publish recipes for such a bread, including Jim Lahey, the baker Bittman wrote about.I made his bread, but I gave it to a family who had just had a baby, and never heard how they liked it. Plus I burned my hand because I baked the bread in a Dutch oven and grabbed the handle right after I took it out. Which I totally knew I would do. Anyway, Judith Fertig doesn't have you using a Dutch oven. She has you use a hot pizza stone, onto which you slide the dough via a peel or a cookie sheet.

The basic principle of no-knead bread is that it uses more water in the dough, and needs a longer time to rise. "Fast and easy" is a bit of a misnomer here. Just because you don't have to knead this bread doesn't mean it's particularly easy, but it is fairly simple, and the best part is you can make a dough and bake it later, in two separate batches, even. You just need room in your refrigerator for a big old 16-cup bowl of dough. Get ready to clear most of one shelf.

The part that I find a little nerve-wracking is the moment when the dough goes in the oven. Because the pizza stone is preheated in the oven, you need to transfer the dough quickly. A half cup of cornmeal acts like little ball-bearings, as she says, for this very wet dough. You sort of jerk it onto the pizza stone and it skootches right over onto it. I'm sure you can imagine this confident gesture. I can, too. I just haven't actually summoned up the nerve to do it because, in my pessimism, I imagine it flopping onto the rack and sagging down to the bottom of the stove. O me of little faith! For me, this is the culinary equivalent of skydiving, but it isn't Judith Fertig's fault. Nevertheless, my timidly pushing the blob onto the stone worked fine. And the bread was great. Nice air pockets and blistered crisp crust.

I made the most basic recipe as well as the extra slow version using a "biga." I think she needs about a half cup more water in the biga and a half cup less in the rest of the dough, as I couldn't possibly mix the biga with the amount of water she gave..

She has many more versions, mainly variations on a few simple master recipes. Her recipe format is very consistent and easy to follow. Please don't skip the initial explanations in the beginning of the book. I wish there were pictures of a biga that's ready to use, as her verbal description left a lot to the imagination, and mine deflated and I had to throw out my first one. Fast and easy? Hmmm. After some trial and error. I don't mind, really. That happens when you learn something new, right? It's that objectionable title. And fast? Hmmph. Given that "slow" is a word with some cachet now in the food world, she could just as well have said "Slow, Easy Breads." I'm sure Orwell would be laughing, if he ever bothered with such important domestic topics instead of fretting about little old totalitarianism.

I'm happy to have this resource and will explore the other variations later. I don't object horribly to kneading, either, and will do that when the mood strikes me. It's always helpful to have another trick up one's sleeve, though. This offers a completely different time frame and that's what's helpful. Remember, it's slow. Not fast. Dang these tricky words.

Disclaimer: My payment for this review was the copy of the book.


Crockhead said...

No chance that I'm going to buy the book or bake the bread. But it was a lot of fun reading the review.

Velva said...

This a really good book review. I enjoyed your post.

Dan McKinney said...

We have pizza paddles that we use to scooch dough onto the baking stones. They get used ONLY for this purpose (well, sometimes they're good for whacking the kids with), so they take up a fair amount of vertical space in the cupboard, but I think they're worth it!