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Dec 1, 2006 04:46 PM

Bittman bread method question

I own only one piece of cooking equipment that sounds close to what is required. It is a 2ish gallon cast iron kettle with lid. This thing is HUGE and weighs 20 lbs easy. Will this work?

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  1. 2 gallons is 8 quarts, yep, just fine.

    1. I've made this bread many times in a 3 quart corning dish, using a glass pie plate as a lid. Just heated them together in cold oven, and have had no problems at all. When I first made this bread, I used a much larger container and the bread spread and was flat. Using the 3 quart made it keep it's round shape and I like the results much better.

      1. "When I first made this bread, I used a much larger container and the bread spread and was flat."
        What would you guess the diameter to be of the pot that caused the bread to be too flat?
        Or, what should the diameter be for a good loaf?

        1. The container does not determine the size or shape of a well-fermented loaf. The skin that the dough develops during that 2 hour rise and the oven spring do. Consequently, an 8qt container will not cause a well-fermented loaf to spread out. It will give the dough good insulation from the direct contact heat of the sides. And once the oven spring takes off the loaf will form as tall and nearly round a dimension as the skin of the dough and the kill off from the heat allow.

          Also, don't you think it's time to correctly credit Jim Lahey with this technique and stop referring to it as "Bittman" bread simply because he reported on it?

          8 Replies
          1. re: rainey

            The two times that I have made this bread the loaf "spread out" as it rose instead of rising "up" . The bread pretty much baked up just as it rose. I don't think that in "sprung" much in the oven (it did not increase very much in volume). Have I done something wrong? I THINK I followed the directions to a T. If I want a taller loaf, what should I do?
            I was thinking about using a 3 qt. Corning ware dish or a 2 qt. Pyrex casserole. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

            1. re: birddogfoodie

              Are you using bread flour or, if you're adding whole wheat flour, do you have adequate gluten? Are you putting the dough in the pot seam side up? Or letting it go too long (exhaused starch supply for yeast) or too short (insufficient active yeast development) in the final rise? The clock is NOT the way to decide when it's time to bake. Use the poke/sluggish recovery test to determine when it's properly risen. Are you disrupting the skin?

              1. re: rainey

                The first time I used all AP flour (King Arthur organic artisan). The second time I used bread flour and whole wheat (2:1). I did not really have a seam as I had a hard time making a ball out of it. (it may be too wet). This last time a used about 2 tablespoons less water than before. The first time I let it go for about 18 hrs before turning it out and the second time about 16 hours. The first time it "felt" right on the poke test. The second time I did not really check it. The results were pretty similar. I like the flavor of the second batch better, though, I think it was due to the increase in salt. ( i upped it to nearly 3 t.)
                Now, knowing this, what do you think?

                1. re: birddogfoodie

                  I had to increase the salt too but I think 3 tsp may be pushing it — especially since you've also added whole wheat flour. Now, let me say, if you want the flavor of whole wheat and additional salt, then, by all means, do it. But understand that you'll get a flatter loaf. Salt has a suppressive effect on the yeast. And using whole wheat lessens the gluten.

                  So what I'd recommend is 1) be satisfied that you're making the loaf you want and it may already be at its optimum, 2) add gluten to improve the height of your rise and/or 3) consider cutting back the salt to the neighborhood of 2 tsp.

                  As for too wet/no seam, if you can handle it (even quickly and deftly) it's probably not too wet. Wet will get you the great open crumb that makes this bread special. "Ball" is a relative term with this wet dough. But when you transfer it to your hand (palm could be lightly floured) just use the palm of the other hand and fingers of both to gather the sides into a round and tuck them under. That "under" side that it sits on in the long rise will function as the seam/slash that allows the oven spring to push through.

                  It sounds like you're paying attention to the dough so you're on the right track. When you're happy with the flavor and the texture let it be what it's going to be. Remember that this dough is most like a ciabatta dough and a traditional ciabatta is quite a flat loaf — though using white bread flour and the enclosed environment of the hot pot does allow what Lahey describes to spring up into a boule regardless of the large size of the pot he recommends.

                  1. re: rainey

                    Thanks for taking the time to help. As far as being satisfied with the loaves, I have been (I've not baked much, so anything that is edible is somewhat of a success). I have changed something in each loaf so it's hard for me to judge consistency. I have decided to back to the original recipe and get it down before I start messing with it. I have enjoyed all of them. I just want a slightly "taller" rise.
                    What type of gluten should I use? I have seen a type of gluten in a local Albertson's but I don't remember what type it is.

                    Thanks again.

                    1. re: birddogfoodie

                      It's called "Vital Wheat Gluten"

                      here's a may have to use the term in their search...


              2. re: birddogfoodie

                John, that's what happened to me as well. Maybe we are both doing something wrong, but I doubt it. As soon as I changed to the 3 qt. pan, the loaf was the perfect size and roundness. Taste is great and the crust is perfect. I'm sticking with my 3 qt. dish and not taking any chances.

                1. re: jackie de

                  What type of dish are you using? I'm thinking about the corning ware as it is 3 qt with a flat bottom and straight sides. Do you worry about the high temp?

            2. Various attempts at including Lahey's name have been made by myself and others. I just gave up. Jim Lahey is probably not really hurt by this because he IS credited many times throughout Bittman's article and video.

              I'm sure that his business increased as well after the Minimalist column in the Times.

              You can try referring to it as BITLAYBread (since Bittman had the huge audience to put for Lahey's ideas) or LAYBITTBread, but I don't think these will stick. They haven't yet.