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Jan 4, 2007 08:28 PM

Bittman bread/Lahey Loaf--pix and questions

Okay, so I have a good job. I'm a heart-bleeding, saving the world kind of gal. And I have a good life. But nothing has given me more of a sense of accomplishment in the past couple weeks than baking this bread. I am so excited that I can make bread so crusty and tasty and pretty. It's gorgeous! Look:
And I made that!

The cool thing about this bread (besides the shatteringly crisp crust, and how tasty it is, and how gorgeous it is, and the sense of accomplishment, and its overall majestic greatness) is its simplicity. It takes virtually no active prep time, and very few ingredients.

In case you have managed to not be swept up in this, the original recipe is:

The modifications I've made:
-- Increase salt to about 2 teaspoons
-- One cup whole wheat flour and two cups all purpose
-- One and half cups of water (as they mention on the video, in contrast to the printed recipe, which calls for 1 5/8
)-- Put floured saran wrap on the towel for the second rise. (Even with a very well floured cotton towel, this very wet dough sticks to the towel otherwise)
--Dust the bottom with corn meal or wheat bran (the bran is tastiest)

My favorite variation has been to add 1⁄2 cup of kalamata olives, about 2 tbsp fresh rosemary and a tablespoon of dry thyme, which I do right at the beginning. They distribute pretty well, and gravity doesn't suck them down.

Be sure to watch the video, which you can find at:

In case that link doesn’t work, you can access the
video through a link on the side of the article here:

My questions are:
1. What other variations have you tried? I've tried dried cranberries and walnuts--okay, but not great. I've also been thinking about sourdough and dark chocolate.
2. Who can direct me through the very basics of sourdough?
3. People have talked about the dough springing up in the oven. Mine doesn't. I'm using a 6.5 quart pot (I think) and have had generally flat/wide results. I tried a second rise in a small bowl, which resulted in a taller boule, without much of a change in texture/flavor. Other ideas?

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  1. how gorgeous! I've heard about this phenomenon but haven't had time to try it. Looks like I better get to it this weekend. LOL

    1. I've made it, it was fun, but the bread looked better than it tasted. So now I'm trying to create a wild-yeast my bread will look good AND taste good, too.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Hungry Celeste

        I think that's where the herbs and olives help. My plain loaf, and the one with cranberries and walnuts were the least tasty by far.

        1. re: rose water

          Yeah, add-ins are okay, but it didn't have the "bready" flavor that I really look for in a loaf. So it outwardly appeared to be an artisanal loaf, but the taste was "eh".

      2. I made it the first time using the 2/1 bread/wheat flour ratio in a covered cast iron dutch oven. It came out beautifully but had little taste, although it was actually better the next day as toast. I was going to give it one more try and up the salt so I'm glad to see you've come to the same conclusion. I also agree that the addition of herbs and olives would add flavor and depth to this loaf. If you use a linen towel it will not stick like a cotton towel will.

        1. I used a mix of dried rosemary, sage, and thyme for a really tasty herb bread. Smelled fantastic when cooling. Not really sure how much I used, but enough that it made the crumb look flecked.

          Also, I've abandoned the towel and started using a floured silpat. Rolled out perfectly. I understand that part of the problem with the towel is condensation soaking through the flour. Maybe raising the towel up on a rack would take care of part of it.

          7 Replies
          1. re: heatherkay

            I started putting my floured towel on a rack. No more sticking problems.

            1. re: beetlebug

              I am insufficiently caffeinated today, and can't visualize what you're describing, and why that would help. Could you explain more? Thanks.

              1. re: rose water

                Sure, I realized that my response was a bit terse.

                I put the dough (for the second rise) in the floured towel, per the instructions. Then I set the towel on top of a wire rack. The wire rack is what I use to cool off my baked goods, I guess it's a cooling rack? Regardless, the floured towel is not sitting directly on the counter, instead there is air flow below it.

                I don't know why it doesn't stick this way, must be the air circulation underneath the towel? I know prior to this method, my second rise stuck like crazy.

                1. re: beetlebug

                  Me, too. I think I was exacerbating the problem by putting the towel and rising loaf on a plastic cutting board (so I could move it around the kitchen). The condensation soaked right through the flour. I didn't have a problem the first time I made the bread, when the loaf was sitting on a wooden board. But now that I'm using the silpat, I probably won't go back to the towel.

                  1. re: heatherkay

                    Ah, got it. Interesting that that works, good to know. Thank you both.

                    1. re: heatherkay

                      I keep both my rises in the microwave. This way, it is not in my way AND it stays a bit warmer than my kitchen. But, I also put a giant sticky note on the microwave to remind C and me of its presence.

                2. re: beetlebug

                  tried your rack method today, and still had a lot of dough that refused to extricate itself from the floured towel. oh well.

                  but, i scooped up that recalcitrant bit, added in ancient chocolate chips hidden in the recesses of my kitchen cabinet, and baked it separately...and it was delicious! i look forward to making a dedicated chocolate chip loaf.

              2. I followed the recipe and had the same results as most people ... the loaf was stunning to look at. Great crust.

                However, the leftovers did not fare particularly well. The crust completely lost it's crunch. And the flavor, even on day one was not the best bread I'd ever made.

                However, for a splash with guests arriving, I'd make it again.