You know, I like to try inventive breads: breads where people have added things to the recipe. Herb bread can be yummy. There are wonderful dessert breads out there which are sweet and have fruit in them. However, there is no bread I enjoy more than the simple crusty bread. I have the highest respect for the baker who produces a crusty, hearty loaf with a light and airy interior. Well, I have a slightly higher respect when that loaf is also a sourdough. But a plain crusty loaf occupies a special place in my heart, and in my stomach when I am lucky. When someone innovates a new way to make the most simple and delicious loaf with less drama, I take notice.
I won't go into huge detail about the baking (see the Links section below if you want additional details) but I highly recommend this book and method.
Quick rundown: the authors have simplified dough-preparation to simply mixing the ingredients in a bucket, then storing it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The shaping loaves and baking are essentially the same as most other baking, but the beauty of this method is that you have 4 lbs. of dough ready to bake for two weeks. (Or more, if you use a bigger bucket) Make boules, baguettes, pizza, rolls, ciabatta or whatever. Make them now, tomorrow, or next weekend.
In many ways, this is even easier than the no-knead bread (and Low-Knead bread) I've posted about before because this is almost completely unscheduled. If the scheduling is what you don't like about baking, this is your method.
After fermenting in the fridge overnight, my first batch didn't last 14 hours, never mind 14 days. I made a peasant boule, and we liked that so much I baked the rest of the dough into pizzas. I immediately started a new batch. With this one, I attempted a wheat stalk bread, or pain d'epi (see pix). It's a really pretty presentation, and it's practical! The bread is easily broken up into roll-like portions without using a knife. Plus, it makes more delicious crust this way.
My wheat stalk didn't come out as pretty as it could have, but it was still both practical and delicious. The crust was crisp and flavorful, and the crumb was open, soft, chewy, and just wonderful. Because it's a wet dough, it gets a wonderful oven spring. And my boule crackled as it cooled, just as it should!
If you can stir flour and water and yeast and salt in a bucket, and that's about the size of your desired commitment to dough preparation, please try this method. If you've ever thought "I wish I had bread dough ready" please try this method. If you've ever paid for pizza dough at the supermarket -- try this method instead.
I'm excited to see what more time in the fridge does to the dough. It should improve both the flavor and the workability.
A hat tip goes to Karen at Verbatim, from whom I first heard of this book and method. Her mention of the method encouraged me to put the book on my Amazon wish list, which is why I got it for Xmas. Karen's blog entry actually gives the master recipe and discusses her first loaf using this method. Get the book and support these innovators. If you want to try the method first, follow Karen's directions.