Freakishly Good Bread


This is a 'no knead' bread but it is not by any stretch a 'no stretch' bread and therein lies the difference. This impressive loaf is the "Overnight White Bread" from Ken Forkish's book Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. It boasts a crunchy/chewy crust, full flavor, and open crumb without the pastiness of the no knead bread and yet it's proportion of ingredients is nearly identical, the only difference being half the yeast. Analyzing why two breads with the same hydration and ingredients would be so different I concluded that it had to be the way in which the Overnight White Bread is manipulated. Whereas the No Knead Bread is mixed by hand and then left to rise until shaping, the Overnight White Bread is stretched and folded several times. This technique enables the bread to maintain its gas bubbles by strengthening it's structure and changes the way in which the bread ferments. One would think that half the yeast would result in a slower rise but, in fact, the suggested rising time is 10 to 12 hours compared to the 18 hours of the no knead bread. The informational and instructional writing in this book is a brilliant model of clarity. I was so deeply impressed I looked forward to the day when I might meet the author. The opportunity arose at the International Association of Culinary Professional's awards ceremony in San Francisco where Forkish won the best baking book. In a room filled with people, by some miracle I found him. He smiled, reached out his hand, and although it pained me to do so, in good conscience I explained that I had a very bad cold and didn't want him to catch it. His eyes widened in horror and he physically recoiled as I tried to tell him how much I admired his work.


The following month, fully recovered, I once again encountered Forkish at the Beard Awards Chef's night. I went over to congratulate him hand extended but though he looked happy (he had won best baking book at the ceremony the night before) he also looked spooked. I joked that I no longer had a cold but he actually backed away running to the bar and saying: "I need a drink." I felt torn between hurt and disappointment and then I remembered Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged, in which one of the central characters stated that he never wanted to meet the artist of a work he admired, as it was always a disappointment. In my personal experience that has never been the case until now. But it won't stop me from baking his bread and it shouldn't stop you from buying his wonderful book. Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and PizzaNote re the Emile Henri Bread Cloche: I actually prefer this ceramic bread baker to the cast iron Dutch oven for baking this bread as the dough can be inverted or lifted easily onto the preheated base and the preheated dome set on top. Instead of having to unmold it by inverting a heavy hot pot the dome can simply be lifted off. Emile Henry Red Bread ClocheNote re hand shaking: This tradition is possibly the worst possible custom of any culture. While bowing may be damaging to a bad back, nothing beats hand to hand contact for contagion, plus thoughtlessly strong hand shakers can near cripple a smaller and especially an arthritic hand. The gentlest and most beautiful salutation I know of is the Indian custom of putting ones hands together palm to palm, fingers pointing straight up, while saying Namaste (I salute the God within you.)