baking

Alexandra’s Mother’s Peasant Bread

How does a no-knead bread stack up to the traditional method?

The Source:

Alexandra’s Kitchen

The Promise:

The best easiest bread you will ever make… This bread might just change your life.

My relationship with baked goods is complicated. Oh, not in a consumption kind of way. No no, there’s no complexity there, it’s TRU LUV. As far as actually making them goes, my attempts can be less than expert. However, I’ve made homemade white bread dozens of times – I used to make it every week – usually my mother’s tried and true recipe which nourished our family for decades and is a traditional kneaded recipe that takes not a minute less than four hours start to finish.

Mine is always too dry.

I was intrigued by Alexandra’s recipe, which cuts the time down to three hours and does not require kneading. The bread is baked in a glass bowl, which is adorable. And the recipe has garnered positive reviews and even yielded a book. In short, this did not seem like a gimmick.

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look at that lovely yeast

Alexandra suggests instant yeast. I’ve always used active dry and that’s what I had on hand, so I went with that. (As far as brands of yeast go, I’ve used Red Star and Fleischmann’s without an issue.) I liked the tip from the recipe to mix boiling water with cold water to achieve the right temperature to effectively bloom the yeast – I’ve been taught to estimate the right temperature by touch, using water that feels very warm but not hot. But if you’re a bread newbie, Alexandra’s technique will get you just-right water without having to fiddle with a thermometer or follow some dippy blogger’s suggestion to get your water “very warm but not hot”, whatever that means. (Note that if you use instant yeast, it does not have to be bloomed – but don’t be scared off from active dry by that, it’s one more little step and it’s really not that big of a deal.)

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I was surprised as this came together that there is no oil in the recipe, which has been a standard in every other bread recipe I’ve used. Perhaps the heavily buttered bowls in which the bread is baked help impart some oil? Anyway, the dough mixed nicely and I achieved a decent first rise, and then a decent second rise. Into the oven!

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first rise

Then I made a boo-boo. I pulled the bread a little too early. It was baked inside, but needed another couple of minutes to brown the crust. Whoops.

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This bread features a soft crust and definitely does not suffer from a dry interior. One technique for superior bread is to work with a very wet dough, and not having to handle the dough in kneading ensures the dough will remain wet and sticky. Alexandra describes the bread as “spongy”, which is a good adjective for it. The texture was definitely not quite the same as my regular homemade bread, but there were air pockets throughout. Overall I was fairly satisfied with the crumb.

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I’ve Never Baked Bread Before, Shut Up About the “Crumb” and Tell Me If I Should Make This

You should definitely make this if you’ve been wary about taking the dive into a fullscale bread recipe. This is such a good introduction to how easy breadmaking can be – and, my grumbles about my dry bread aside, it’s not hard to make a serviceable loaf! I promise! And also the ingredients are cheap, so if you truly muck it up, that’s only like two dollars you’re having to chuck.

However…

If I have to be totally, brutally honest, this bread wasn’t better to me than the stuff that my bread machine produces. So is it worth it to spend three hours making something, even if it’s easy, when I can achieve the same thing with the push of a button? And to be clear, I prefer my usual loaf to the bread machine’s version, so it’s worth it to me to put in that time. I also like the rhythm of the traditional recipe. I don’t mind kneading bread. Having longer rising and baking times makes it easier to get other stuff done while you’re waiting for the next step in the process. Plus it’s just the way I always do it, it’s the recipe I was taught on. Never underestimate the way that comfort and tradition can influence the way we feel about something, particularly food.

Personally, if I’m going to bake bread from scratch, I’m going to use my old recipe. But you who have been eyeing up bread recipes but feel nervous to jump in, you might want to give this one a try. I was raised in a world where baking bread was just something you did when you felt like eating bread. I realize that’s a tremendous privilege, and that lots of people may not feel comfortable without their mother at their elbow, explaining how to tell that the yeast is alive. Alexandra’s mother can help you feel confident about the steps – yeast, rising, how to tell if the bread is done.

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Plus it makes yummy nutella sandwiches.

 

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