“It’s so easy a four-year-old could make it.” A headline that caught my eye whilst I was touring the internet (I’m British, we don’t surf). A few clicks, a skim read and a moment of pondering later I started to get really excited.
Fresh bread. Made at home. No fuss. Delicious.
It is harder to find really good bread in Bangkok than at home (although the guys at Urban Pantry do a pretty damn fine job of it) and I’ve always wanted to know how to make really good bread. In part, because I really wanted to know what stuff was going into the dough (I have a natural aversion to any ingredient which purports to be named in English but I struggle to pronounce) but mainly because it is something akin to a science experiment and I still have the Primary School Child mindset when it comes to science. Lots of ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ and rushing to show the wife what I done made.
So, cast iron pot at the ready I followed the first link I came across on Google with a no knead bread recipe. The comments were fantastic, the process looked so easy that precocious four-year-old could have quite easily made it and then probably made some no churn butter and no stir jam to go with it.
‘Right’, I thought ‘I’m not going to be beaten by some little git who is 26-years my junior’ so I jotted down the first recipe I found.
3 cups of plain flour
1 1/2 cup of water
1/4 teaspoon of yeast
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Mix dry ingredients. Add water. Cover with cling film. Leave for around 12-18 hours or so. Turn out, shape and bake in a hot cast iron pan for 30 mins with lid on then 15 mins with the lid off.
I mixed the ingredients as instructed but I thought the mix looked a little dry so I added a little more water (in retrospect this might have been the first mistake), covered it, watched a bit of TV and went to bed.
I’ll be honest, I was quite excited knowing that downstairs the yeast was doing its thing and that in the morning I would have the most amazing bread. Thoughts of quitting my job and becoming a baker filled my dreams. Not just any baker, but a kind of international jet-set baker, touring the world and explaining to mere mortals how to make bread, perhaps on my own TV show. Baker to the Stars.
I awoke early and launched myself from bed eager to see what the yeasty travails had wrought. Once I landed back on the bed, untangled myself from the covers and scattered pillows and calmed my irate wife (who had been sleeping peacefully) I got up and strode confidently to the kitchen.
A mass of off-white gloup sat in the bowl. It had at least doubled in size but was very wet. I had read (in Pollan’s Cooked I believe) that some top level experimental bakers used an exceedingly wet dough. ‘Ah’, thought I, ‘us international jet-set bakers are here to push the boundaries of baked goods. I’m taking bread to new and hitherto unexplored places.’
As I turned out the dough onto a heavily floured surface (I was simultaneously mentally composing the acceptance speech for the award my bread would no doubt receive) I noticed that the wet dough really was rather wet. So wet, in fact, that it was akin to a prop form a sci-fi/horror film, it unrelentingly oozed over the floured board and onto the work surface.
‘A thousand curses’ I said aloud (or something similar) as I scraped the pudgy, dripping ‘dough’ into a vaguely round-ish blob, working quickly as the blob slumped back to ooze mode exceedingly quickly. I dropped what I could into the hot pan, put the lid on and threw it in the oven. Looking back at my work area, I realised that the vast majority of the dough was still covering the surface and board and had now started cementing the later to the former.
Using high strength cleaning fluid, a scouring sponge and a crowbar, I cleared the kitchen feeling, if I’m honest, a little deflated. It certainly meant that I’d have to go back to work on Monday. But then, I hadn’t actually seen the finished bread. Perhaps it would taste superb and it was merely a matter of logistics moving such a wet dough from proving bowl to cooker.
However, no matter how deflated I was feeling it was nothing compared to the concoction I had made. What came out of the oven can only be described as bread in the same way that throwing knife can be described as a frisbee. It was rock hard, flat, lumpen and when cooled and sawed into (a knife was struggling) the crumb seemed dense, unevenly cooked and tasted like paste with a mouthfeel to match. If I managed to punch a hole though it (unlikely without specialist machinery) I could have attached it to a rope and had a pretty handy (if somewhat rudimentary) mediaeval flail capable of taking out a bull elephant.
I had failed to make bread using the no knead method. My dreams were dashed.
And worst of all, just at the edge of hearing, the gleeful laughter of a successful four-year-old baker was ringing hollow and smug.
TasteHitch: 0 Four-Year-Old: 1
Part 2 will follow soon…