My husband is a great reader of non-fiction books for some reason. I don't understand why, but it's endearing and makes our jointly stuffed bookshelves look much more intellectual*. Occasionally, though, even he will admit that many of those weighty three-hundred page hardbacks would be much better four page articles in The Atlantic**. Even with all the charts and graphs, a bibliography, and a pithy forward from another person looking for publication credit on their own thesis-like topic, it's a chapter's worth of insight followed by about twenty five more chapters of padding.
After years of smugly looking on from between the pages of whatever novel I happened to be reading, I finally experienced this one-hit wonder sucker punch*** myself when I bought this cookbook.
famous New York Times article that had vaulted Jim Lahey from humble bakery owner to harbinger of a new artisan bread revolution. I saw all the rave reviews and "best books for cooks" lists that lauded his book when it came out late last year, many citing his renowned recipe in detail right in the review.
Did I immediately use the step-by-step instructions that were available to me, free of charge, everywhere on the web? No, I did not****. Did I perhaps follow along with the helpful online video? No, I did not. Instead, I went to Amazon and bought the book. For $18.95. (37% off list price, but still)
It is a beautiful book. The photos are stunning. There is a long introduction to our host, his early career moves, love affair with bread, with Italy, and with Italian bread. Then, there is a detailed review of the trial and error process by which the recipe was developed, including amusing anecdotes and self-deprecating personal commentary. Of course, you also get a complete scientific explanation of why the recipe works as well as it does. And then, (drum roll please), the recipe itself. Pretty much exactly as it has appeared everywhere. Now, you do also get the multi-page, step-by-step photo walk through as well. So that's something.
Now nearly halfway through, I find the next section covers the following:
Whole wheat version
Irish soda bread version
Fennel raisin version
Apricot almond version
Peanut butter & jelly version
Shaped like a baguette version
Shaped like rolls version
Yep. Padding. Delicious-sounding, gorgeous-looking, padding*****.
But was I mad about paying for padding? Not one bit. Because finally, having invested that $18.95 (and an afternoon's reading) in this recipe, I actually made the bread. And it was AMAZING!!!!
Jim Lahey's Justifiably Famous No Knead, No Work Bread
If you want to get the book, believe me, I understand. But if not, here's how to make it, on me.
3 c. bread flour
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dry yeast
1 1/3 c. cool water
Wheat bran, corn meal, or additional flour for dusting.
You will also need a 4 1/2 - 6 quart covered cast iron or other heavy duty oven-proof pot.
Half an hour before you think the dough will be ready, preheat the oven to 475 (or 450 if using a convection oven) with a rack in the lower third position, and place your covered heavy pot in the center of the rack.
* For example, my dog-eared copy of James Clavell's Shogun is somehow elevated by its proximity to various tomes on the history of religion, 20th century world currency policy, and the life of Bach's forgotten cello sonatas.
** I think there's even more bang for your buck just skimming headlines from The Onion. Everything you need to know in a single priceless line: "Girl Raised from Birth by Wolf Blitzer Taken Into Protective Custody." Less is more, you know?
*** This is defined as buying the entire Blind Melon album when you really just wanted the bee girl song.
**** I did bookmark the page for later, though.
***** To be fair, there's some good stuff on pizza and sandwiches at the end. But there's also a recipe for bread crumbs. Bread crumbs? PADDING!!!!