Adapting the No Knead method for desem bread
Like probably everyone, or at least every food blogger, in the world with an oven and a fondness for baking bread, I tried the No Knead Bread as written up in the New York Times in November. Authored by Mark Bittman via Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, this almost perplexingly easy method of mixing up a bread dough that has that distinctive 'artisanal bread' crumb and thin, crackly crust caused a sensation in the teapot that is the world of food blogging.
As just about everyone says, it does produce a very good bread. And yet...for me it lacked that something extra special. This has a lot to do with the fact that in this country good bread is quite easy to get. Even the bread sold at the major supermarkets is not bad at all. The rather shiny, slightly gummy, open-grained texture of the No Knead Bread reminded me of pain paillase, a very popular twisted loaf bread that's widely sold in Swiss bakeries. The thing is though, pain paillase, being a pain au levain (a sort of sourdough) and baked into a fat baguette shape, is tastier than the all-white flour No Knead Bread. So, I haven't baked any basic No Knead since the first couple of loaves. Besides. I'm trying to cut out white flour at the moment.
The technique itself is so easy that my thoughts turned to adapting it to my favorite homebaked bread, desem. Desem bread is the first long-term project that I wrote up in a series of articles on this site 3 years ago. It's still the most interesting all-whole wheat bread that I've eaten, being so much lighter than most all-whole wheat breads, yet chewy, complex and substantial. The one drawback to desem bread is that the original recipe as calls for it to be kneaded for a very, very long time, with lots of muscle. In The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book where the recipe with long, extremely detailed instructions appeared, they call for kneading it for 20 minutes. I don't now about you, but I don't really have the time or patience to be kneading bread for 20 minutes once or more a week, even if desem bread is so good that I crave it when I don't have a loaf around.
So, since December when I stopped making white-flour No Knead, I've been experimenting with no-knead desem. It wasn't as easy as I thought: the first time the bread flopped miserably in the ultra-heated Le Creuset pan and never recovered; the second time the bread was so wet that half of it remained stuck in gooey mess on the towel; and so on. But the last few times it's worked quite well. The bread rises very nicely, the crumb is light and open yet has that 'artisanal kneaded for hours' texture, and the crust is crisp and crackly. And, that slightly sour, distinctive desem flavor is still there.
You do need to start out with a fully mature desem - an immature desem won't have the leavening power. Please follow the desem steps from day 0 if you've never given this a try. It will be worth it provided you can give it all of the right conditions.