I Brake for Bread
Crisis! Ovens crash!
The ovens at Whole Foods were out of order on Saturday, just when I was attempting to stock up on ficelles, that smaller sibling of the baguette that’s almost indispensible in my house for serving with cheese, spreads and other pre-meal palliatives designed to divert attention from the fact that dinner isn’t ready yet. (That, or the person to whom appetizers were assigned is late. You know who you are.)
Whole Foods ficelles are the only acceptable bread in town for this use—though if this post smokes out another, then it will have served its purpose. WF’s baguettes verge on acceptability, but they’re too large—in cross-sectional girth, that is. The baguettes at Central Market are just short of terrible. So are those seductive-looking rustic rounds, for that matter. So what’s a guy to do?
Bake his own, of course. For a couple of years now I’ve been using a no-knead recipe that first appeared in the New York Times, generating so much response that follow-up articles were required. (I had my own comments, one of which was adding more salt.) And now, the baker responsible, has come out with his own book. And not a moment too soon. Jim Layhey’s “My Bread, The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method” of course includes that original boule-shaped loaf, but it also introduces a no-knead small baguette. Where the original boule is baked in a pre-heated Dutch oven, or equivalent, the baguettes are simply (well, it’s not so simple actually) pulled into “stick shapes (they’e called stecca) and baked on a sheet.
These sticks can be baked plain, or they can be adorned with olives, garlic, halved cherry tomatoes…probably even rounds of salami or other meats. I have yet to achieve the perfect stretched shape the book illustrates, but apart from that the result is great—just a tad softer than I might like but with a good crust and nice, airy interior. There are also recipes for ciabatta, fennel-raisin bread, Irish brown bread and more—including pizza dough.
I plan to use the dough on Monday for a party that features Pyrometer Pizza made in a ceramic kiln. Stay tuned for a report that includes photos. Preliminary results were carbonaceous, but I think we’re beginning to get the hang of it.