Pushing the Limits of Lazy Bread

I’m not a fan of the lazy bread movement. All the no-knead breads that are so in vogue right now for me miss the basic fun of breadmaking, not to mention the satisfaction. I enjoy taking the time to plan my bread formula, mix the ingredients, knead the dough, allow the dough to rise for as long as it needs and to bake the bread in a pre-heated hearth set up. Using natural yeast only prolongs this process. But it also makes the final bread feel more like your own.

Good bread takes time. It can take up to three days from start to finish to make a loaf of my standard wild-yeast bread, from refreshing the starter to waiting for the yeast to decide to rise to finally getting the loaves out of the oven. That’s fine if you’ve planned ahead, but what happens when it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon and you need bread that night? Even No-Knead bread uses an overnight rest in the refrigerator to develop gluten. Some people might reasonably say, “you go buy some,” but I have managed to develop a pretty strong guilt complex about buying bread. Instead, inspired by this post at The Paupered Chef (via Serious Eats) I decided to test the limits of lazy, carefree bread with focaccia in less than three hours.

Focaccia is a rustic bread, which means it should be made from very wet dough. My target hydration was 80% and I wanted to use 16 oz of flour, so I was looking for 12.8 oz of water, which I rounded to 12 3/4 oz due to limitations of my scale. After whisking my pound of flour with about a teaspoon and a half of salt and two teaspoons of instant yeast, I added in my water and stirred to combine. The dough looked like this:

Wet mass of dough

At this point the dough would probably have benefited from some kneading. This could easily be done in a stand mixer (as in the Cook’s Illustrated ciabatta recipe) or, less easily, by stirring with a strong arm. But since I was shooting for lazy I left it like that, covered the bowl and put it in the oven, where I figured the pilot light would give my best chance of a rapid rise. I headed to the store to get the rest of dinner.

The oven rising worked wonderfully; in about an hour the dough looked ready to pan. I spread a thick layer of olive oil in a smallish sheet pan and pressed the dough out. At this point, it was behaving like any other dough, albeit a very wet one.

Just like any other dough

After about another hour the dough was looking bubbly and puffy, like focaccia should. I had already preheated my oven to 450° with my stone in place. For toppings, I decided to follow the Paupered Chef and use parsley, as well as sea salt and a lot of olive oil.

Parsley, Salt and OO

After 25 minutes in the oven (about two and a half hours since I began the project) it was golden brown and crispy. I let it cool for a half hour and then it was ready to slice and eat.

Yum crispy yum

How was it? Well, definitely not bad. All the olive oil I used ensured that it had a crunchy, crackly crust as well as big flavor. The texture was pretty solid but not as chewy as I would have liked. This was pretty obviously going to happen since it was never kneaded nor really allowed to rest; the gluten never stood a chance. You can see the lack of gluten development in the crumb, which is extremely tight for such a wet dough. If I had kneaded or rested this more, there would be the nice big holes that I like so well. But I just didn’t have enough time to make this bread perfectly, and for three hours from flour to mouth on a lazy Sunday, I’ll take it.


«   »

4 comments on “Pushing the Limits of Lazy Bread”

  1. Linda Garces 23 March, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    You definitely inspire my bread baking which in life before Martha was a frequent event in my kitchen. I made a hearty 6 loaves or so per week back then. I agree with what you say re. the satisfaction of kneading. It is just good for the soul.

  2. Tom 23 March, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Speaking of baking multiple loaves, my latest struggle with bread has been preserving it. My standard loaf is just flour, salt and water. If I store it in a paper bag it is too hard to eat within a few days. If I store it in plastic, it lasts a bit longer but eventually molds. With summer approaching that mold-free time will only decrease. The fridge prevents mold but it also dries the bread out faster. I presently bake 3 loaves at a time and store the extras in the freezer, but I am wondering about the best way to store bread that can be eaten on a whim.

  3. Linda 24 March, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    My grandmother who was a champion bread maker stored her bread in her basement in large stone crocks with slabs of wood to cover them. I think the family ate it too fast for it to ever have a mold problem. I have fond memories of Grandma’s huge loaves of white bread, fresh from the oven. They always stuck together while baking and created a tempting easy to grab bread out of the place on the sides of each loaf created by her pulling apart the loaves as she took them from the oven.. She didn’t like it when people grabbed chucks of bread from those holes. She often made us “sugar bread” – a slice of fresh bread spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar. She also made me “gravy bread” – a slice of bread covered in a brown gravy she made from browned butter to which she added a little flour and some water which she stirred in the pan until thickened.

    I think the freezer is your best bet for storing bread. If you slice it before freezing you can easily break off a frozen slice and pop it in the toaster for “eating a slice on a whim.”

  4. Martha 24 March, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    First, this slicing before freezing sounds a little Heloise to me. You’re one step away from freezing them in pairs inside individual ziploc bags!

    Second, when are you starting a blog, Linda? I want to hear more about these hidden kitchen memories.

Leave a Reply