Monday, November 24, 2008

The Loaf

South Florida is known as a tough place to make bread, largely, the bakers I've talked to seem to agree, because of the humidity, which makes the moisture level of flour so variable that each time out requires a different amount of water. Even if you get that right, the humidity will turn your crust to mush more often than not. This bread is an exception: The recipe is based on a "no-knead bread" recipe from the New York Times, November 8, 2oo6--Mark Bittman's adaptation of a recipe he got from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. This time I used King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour, which suddenly appeared in the local Publix; otherwise, here's what I do:
Mix in a big bowl 6 cups flour--white whole wheat, but whole wheat or unbleached all-purpose white works too
1/2 teaspoon yeast
3 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 steel cut oats (optional)
Add 3 to 3 1/2 cups cold, as in chilled water
Thoroughly incorporate water and flour with your hands or a paddle but do not knead more than necessary to do that, if need you must. The result is a wet, tacky blob. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it set in a cool part of the house overnight. When usually little bubbles bursting cover the top, knock it down, knead once or twice, cover and let sit again until the surface is covered with bubbles--size seems related to whether the flour is whole wheat or white. Sometimes, I caution, the dough at this point remains soupy--chalk it up to the humidity and proceed; it will produce something better than most of what you get in the store. Preheat over to 450 with a Dutch oven or some other heavy pot with cover in it--I find a cast iron Dutch oven the best. Knock the dough down and turn it onto a cornmeal--or oat or flour--coated dish towel; cover and let proof while oven warms. Once that is done, remove the Dutch oven or whatever--it's very hot, so be careful, dump in the dough--it's really like a slow slop off the towel--cover it up and put in the oven for a righteous 50 minutes to an hour, depending on moisture levels. Let it cool and enjoy.

It's counterintuitive because the dough is damp in a place where dampness is blamed for bad bread, but it works. The rising time for this bread, depending on temperature and humidity, is anywhere from 8 to 20 hours.


Unknown said...

Wow. I knew that South Florida can be muggy, but I had no idea it presented this kind of culinary challenge (it also explains the popularity of biscuits, which I had thought were just a cultural—and not also a practical—choice).

Good for you for refusing to concede to the weather and turning out a crisp loaf. Now—how long does it stay crisp, I wonder?

I'd be interested in learning more about the pitfalls of high-humidity cooking!

Mark Derr said...

Well, you have to store it in the refrigerator where it can stay a little dry unless you put it in a zip lock bag before it is completely cool. If you don't air condition constantly, you have to store flour in the refrigerator. As to cooking risotto, for example, recipe estimated amounts of liquid are generally wrong. But we are horticultural Zone 10b here on Miami Beach.