Every other weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it’s incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
I would say if there is one recipe that’s pretty much changed my life over the last year and a half or so, it’s no-knead bread. I make about a loaf a week and Betsy and I use it throughout the week for toast or sandwiches or just to snack on. So I was really excited to read (and cook from) “My Bread” by Jim Lahey, the creator of the no-knead method.
Falling in Love with Bread – The first thirty or so pages of this book are inspiring. They tell the story of how Jim fell in love with bread and how he decided to spend his career bringing bread to American tables. And not just through his bakery. You get the impression that he really wants to teach people how to make life-changing bread. And I can vouch for it. And this is the book that can teach you too.
Beyond being a great baker and inspiring cook, he is also a fantastic writer which shows in his introduction. He talks about why he thinks bread needs to be reintroduced to the American kitchen:
“…Most of the better bread made in this country can only be found in boutique bakeries, often located too far away from home, and for too much money. Also, to my mind, so many of the so-called artisanal breads are the result of shortcuts and compromises. We don’t have a strong bread culture in America. Too many people don’t really know what bread should taste like, and too few have experienced the process of baking it. For most people, the best way to taste bread as it should be is to bake it themselves.”
I obviously don’t have the experience in bread (tasting, cooking, etc) that Jim has, but I can say that even the very first no-knead bread loaf I made was some of the best bread I’ve had. So good job Jim.
The Lahey Method. In my mind you could also call it the lazy method because it really doesn’t require much work. Instead, you let time do the work for you. Instead of kneading and fermenting and kneading and proofing like you need to do for some breads, you just have to let this sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours.
I’m not going to go into all the details of the bread making process because this post isn’t about that. I promise though that it is pretty straightforward and requires very little equipment. While he does recommend a fairly expensive cast iron pot, I’ve made quality loaves with other methods. That said, none of them are as crusty and crackly as the loaves I make in the pot. Jim does say that you can use a ceramic pot with “no discernable difference”, but I’ve never tried it. I’m sure it works just fine.
Specialties of the House. The next part of the book really got me excited about bread (not that I wasn’t already). Jim starts with the basic method of no-knead bread and transfers it into about 20 variations. Everything from Rye Bread to Ciabatta and even this absolutely awesome recipe for rolls wrapped in banana leaves.
Everything in this chapter looks amazing. Some of the recipes are traditional and some are more inventive. I’m sure all are fantastic though. I can’t wait to try some of them out!
Pizzas and Focaccias. Most pizza doughs need to rest overnight so it makes perfect sense that this no-knead variety could be adapted to pizza and focaccia. Jim is a pizza master. Or at least that appears to be the case based off of the recipes and photos in this chapter.
I’m not kidding when I say that I want every pizza in this chapter right now. I want to eat the pizza Funghi (lots of mushrooms) and on the side have a great slice of Pizza Cavolfiore (Yep. Cauliflower.)
If you were reading this book without looking at the table of contents, you might wonder where he was going to go from here. There is still more than 1/3 of the book left and it seems like he has covered all the basics and then some.
The Art of the Sandwich. It makes so much sense once you see it. If you are going through the trouble of making this fantastic bread, you might as well know how to make the best sandwich ever with it.
Jim definitely will show you the ropes in this chapter. Everything from roast beef to roasted pork and homemade mustards, pickles, aolis, and artichoke spreads.
This chapter made me very hungry and was a great surprise.
Leftovers. One problem that Betsy and I definitely have is that it’s tough to eat an entire loaf of bread before it gets stale. The loaves are huge and we are only two people. Luckily the loaves are also incredibly cheap to make. That said, Jim does go over some great ways to use leftover breads that are maybe too stale for the sandwich or toast. He suggests using them for soups and puddings and gives you all the necessary recipes to make it happen.
I can’t tell you how much I recommend this book and this method of bread making. Sure, you can find the no knead bread recipe and some variations on various websites including this one, but there is something to be said for going straight to the source. Not only are you supporting the artist (and I do consider him an artist), but you’re also getting tons of other applications for this bread method.
I got really excited when I read this book and I can’t wait to try out some of the recipes. If you are at all interested in getting into bread baking, I highly recommend this book. It’s very accessible and demonstrates that you don’t have to have thousands of dollars worth of equipment or decades of experience to make really exceptional bread.