Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Home Cooking

Home CookingHome Cooking
Laurie Colwin
Perenniel (1993)
ISBN 0060975229

Home Cooking has been one of my favorites in the food-lit genre since I first read it, oh, it must be at least ten years ago now. How disappointed I was to learn that Colwin died too young, twenty years ago this fall. I'd already been thinking it was about time to re-read this book , when along it came on Cook the Books. Just the excuse I needed! And it's still a lovely book, rather like chatting with a good friend over a cup of tea in your own kitchen.

One of my kitchen goals for this year was to bake bread once a week. (Albeit a bit of strange goal for one living in France!) To this end, Santa brought me Peter Reinhardt's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which I started reading in January, but have let fall to the wayside. For one reason or another, just about the only bread I've made this year has been the ABM kind. Running into Colwin's simple bread recipe again, which I'd marked to try the first time I read the book, inspired me to get more serious about baking bread. I thought I try both her loaf and the no-knead bread recipe that a friend gave me.

One Simple Loaf

Colwin's One Simple Loaf (p39) is derived from Elizabeth David's A Bloomer Loaf (1) in English Bread and Yeast Cookery (p280). I looked this recipe up in David's book, because Colwin has you baking the loaf first at 450F for 30 minutes and then at 425F for 20 minutes. When I first read the recipe, I corrected the second temperature to 325F, since I couldn't imagine that lowering the temperature a whole 25 degrees would make that much difference; depending on how well insulated your oven is, the temperature might not even fall to the lower temperature in that short time. David has you turning the oven down to 400F-425F, the same or slightly lower. I expect you need to bake the loaf several times to discover what works best for you.

One Simple Loaf turned out to be exactly what it says it is, a simple loaf. I used (French) type 65 (bread flour) and type 150 (whole wheat flour). I didn't add wheat germ (it's not called for in David's version), since my stash in the fridge seems to have gone a bit rancid. After I mixed the dough, I let it sit for a few minutes while I was distracted by another chore. When I returned, kneading seemed a simpler matter than it looked like it might be directly after mixing. (This makes me wonder if a little rest between mixing and kneading might be a Good Thing.) Here's the dough after the first knead, getting ready for its first rise. Note that it's floured, rather than greased.

The nice thing about this bread is that it's very easy with timing. The rises can be long or short, at your convenience. My dough sat around while I did some chores. At one point I punched it down and kneaded for a while before letting it start its second rise. After two rises, it got kneaded again and formed into an oblong loaf (David suggests 10" by 5") to rest a bit before getting popped in the oven. This isn't what I'd call a baguette shape, although Colwin does.

This baked up into a lovely oblong loaf. We found the crust a bit tough, maybe because the temperature didn't come down all that far for the second part of the baking. Nevertheless this is a very tasty bread that I'll likely make again.

No-Knead Bread

The other bread I wanted to try was one I got from a baker friend. When I did a big of research, I discovered it was Jim Lahey's now famous No-Knead Bread that was first (I think) published in the NY Times in November 2006. The same recipes can be found in many places on the web, either as originally published or slightly modified.

Since the stirred-together ingredients (including type 65 flour) need to sit under wraps for at least 12 hours, I mixed up the dough before bedtime. The dough was supposed to be shaggy and sticky. Those weren't really adjectives I'd have used to describe it, goopy would be better, but I thought I'd give it a go, since I'd measured everything pretty carefully.

When I got to the kitchen the next morning, I was greeted by a bowlful of bubbly dough, a bit thinner than it ought to have been.

This was poured onto the counter, folded after a fashion, and rested for 20 minutes. At this point, the dough was to be have been shaped into a ball and placed onto a floured tea towel. Not very ball-like was mine, more like a thick puddle. Which then rose for another two hours. Toward the end of this time, the oven and a cast iron pot were pre-heated. Then the dough got plopped into the hot pot, covered, and bake.

At the end of baking, it looked like this, a very nice-smelling frisbee sort of thing, rather than the boule that it should have been.

Not what I expected, but a very more-ish loaf, kind of like a round ciabatta, the kind of tasty bread I could easily eat up all by myself.

I'm guessing that 1-5/8 cups of water was a bit too much for my flour and my way of measuring. I found versions of this recipe that call for 1-1/2 cups. I might start even a bit lower than that and add water until something like "shaggy and sticky" occurs.

Finally ...

Neither of these loaves are going to beat the easy of tossing the ingredients into the bread machine and having a loaf ready in two hours. But both of these are nicer breads than anything that comes out of an ABM. Colwin's loaf is good to start in to morning to be baked in the afternoon. It also has a good portion of whole wheat flour, so we can feel virtuous while enjoying it. Lahey's loaf is easy to assemble the night before when you need it by lunchtime. Both are keepers.

Thanks to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for hosting this season's Cook the Books reading/cooking adventure.


  1. So great to have you back for this round of CTB! Home Cooking is truly one of my favorite books so I am glad you dipped back into it for us. ;-) Both breads look good--I envy anyone who has the bravery and ambition to make their own.;-)

  2. With two positive experiences with this recipe, I feel like I really need to try it. Years ago, I bought a small bread machine, but once I started baking my own bread, it got relegated into a corner. The round loaf really looks like a nice ciabatta. I can see how difficult it would be to stop eating it.

  3. I've also gone in the direction of baking bread once a week, after a hiatus of several years. Now using my sourdough starter and a very simple French loaf. Enjoyed your remarks on the book. Definitely a keeper.

  4. I like both your loaves. They look delightfully crusty and chewy. Glad you enjoyed Colwin's book.

  5. Mmmm! Not much beats freshly baked what your turned out, and completely understand your thoughts on the temp drop!!