I'm sure that by now you're completely sick of bloggers writing posts about the amazing discovery of Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread as shared in Mark Bittman's NY Times column. But like just about everyone else in the food blogosphere, I had to throw my apron into the ring, even though I'm coming late to the party.
So I won't wax ecstatic over the ease of this bread or the marvels of its texture, crumb and crust. I'll simply share a couple of photos with you and tell you how this afforded me an opportunity to snatch triumph from the jaws of disaster.
Rather recently, the charming Bakerina and I found ourselves departing Payard Patisserie. We were replete with a Thé Royale (which, should you feel like indulging yourself similarly, includes champagne with crème de mûre, caviar and blini, gorgeous tea sandwiches, scones, madeleines, tons of even more gorgeous tiny pastries, and, of course, tea). Much as I might be tempted to delude you (or myself) into thinking that Bakerina and I are glamorous New York creatures who have such a tea on a regular basis after shopping for thousand-dollar bedroom slippers and jewel-encrusted thongs on Madison Avenue, I'll just say that yes, it was a special occasion. But I digress. As we strolled towards our respective forms of transportation, we entered into a discussion of why so-called "Tuscan" bread in this country, usually a flavorful, "rustic" loaf, bears no resemblance to the tasteless, generally heavy bread one actually finds in Tuscany. This bread, in addition to being ofttimes a bit leaden and doughy, has no salt. Low salt is one thing, but no salt? No salt, no flavor, at least not when it comes to bread. Or so I thought.
I meandered home and that very evening, mixed up some bread flour, AP flour, instant yeast and water to try my hand at the infamous No-Knead. All was well, or so I thought -- until about 14 hours later, when upon revisiting the recipe to see what I had to do next, it occurred to me that I had omitted the salt. Brainlessly, yes -- or perhaps it was my subconscious, getting back at me for sniping at Tuscany's saltless staff of life. If it had been any other bread, of course, I could have just kneaded in some salt before the next rising. But since there is no kneading to this loaf, there was no way to incorporate anything else into a dough which demands minimal handling. I shrugged and proceeded with the recipe. When life (or your own cluelessness) gives you saltless bread, make breadcrumbs, I thought. Surely it will be inedible as it is, especially for G and myself, who love salt and crave it with almost anything.
But this bread was full of surprises. As you can see from the photo, it came out of the oven sporting ears, and a kind of pissed-off expression. G was taken aback by the loaf's astounding resemblance to Mr. Garrison, and decided to heighten the likeness by lending the loaf his own glasses for a photo op. So at least we were having fun, no matter what the bread would taste like.
And then the real surprise. It was good. Really good. Would it have been better with salt? Undoubtedly it would, and will be, just as soon as I get around to making the next batch. But it had a sort of charm of its own, saltless though it was. Unlike saltless Tuscan bread, it was full of its own flavor. Somehow the long fermentation period gives this bread an extraordinarily complex flavor: slightly sweet, very wheaty for something made solely of white flour. This, in addition to the light, snappy crust and moist crumb, made it perfect with salty things. One night we had it as a base for open-faced grilled cheese with bacon, where its sweetness gave great contrast to the cheese and pork.
It's been eaten all the way down to a small heel at this point. And I, like everyone else, will make this again, and often, but I'm almost tempted to make it this way again -- without salt.