I approached this project from the perspective of someone who had very little experience with baking in general—I had only baked a cake in the past, which was much more akin to taking a relaxed step back and mixing chemicals in a beaker. Rather gullibly, I thought that making bread would be the same kind of experience. How hard could it be? I wondered. After all, the instructional video from the New York Times slated that “even a 4 year old could do it!” This experience turned out to be a whole new beast entirely which took me completely by surprise. It was a much more interactive experience, and at many points during the preparation and baking process I found myself wondering exactly how in the world the master chef in the video managed to make it look so easy.
It seemed as if he tossed the ingredients together effortlessly, mixed them around slightly with his hands, and after maturation of the dough, tossed it into the oven where it quickly rose into a beautiful loaf. When I did it, the dough was extremely sticky. I had plunged both my hands into the pot to move it around more, and It clung relentlessly to my fingers. Pretty soon my hands were fully covered with dough no matter how much flour I sprinkled onto them.
After much handiwork, I managed to work it into a ball-like shape and, after resting overnight in the refrigerator, popped it into the oven at 500 degrees F. I didn’t have a circular dutch oven or a matching lid like the video suggested, so I used a sheet cake tray topped with aluminum foil.
It turned out looking great! Some people I showed it to even likened the appearance to a baked ham, which I thought fit the description well. It smelled great as well despite being slightly singed and smoking when I took it out of the oven. However, when cutting it open, I found that it was rather dense in the middle, and did not fit the light and fluffy texture that the one in the video had. It still tasted great though—the crust was surprisingly crispy and the inside was as soft and fluffy a flatbread of that with concrete-like density could hope to be. Pretty satisfied with the taste and results nonetheless!
In regards to the yeast I used, I believe it did not have the time or correct conditions to activate fully. If I recall correctly, the instructional video mentioned to use instant yeast. Assuming the yeast I had sealed away in a nondescript container was instant yeast, I just mixed in a quarter teaspoon like the video described. Judging from the lack of air bubbles forming within the dough and the final baked product, I believe what I had mixed in was actually dry activated yeast. The cold temperature of the refrigerator also probably didn’t help the yeast activation very much either.
Upon doing some research, I found out that my type of yeast needed to be dissolved in warm water before mixing into the rest of the ingredients. Upon seeing it “bloom”, or form a foamy layer of bubbles at the top of the containing jar, it would then finally be ready to be added (goodhousekeeping.com). This made sense, and it brought me back to my bacterial isolation labs as part of the Life Science 23L lab class and my MED 99 research seminar course. In both courses, we had treated bacteria as living organisms and provided them with suitable nutrient broths to keep them alive. It hit me then that I had forgotten to do the same with the yeast. This was a valuable learning opportunity for what to avoid in the future.
I shall use what I learned during this experience in my future baking adventures. This was incredibly fun and educational, and I truly enjoyed it.
Active Dry Yeast vs Instant Yeast:
No Knead Bread Recipe: