Thursday, 11 March 2010

Bread and Roses for International Women’s Day

Yesterday I went to a cafe where I found I had forgotten my purse upon paying (fortunately I had some extra cash on me), then I went to a shop that only took cash and I only had plastic, then I went to the supermarket which didn't have the key ingredient (paneer) that I needed so I went to an Indian grocery and ended up buying takeaway Indian curries for dinner. It was just one of those days! But at the end of the day I produced a piece of our heater from my cleavage and a wonderful loaf of bread from the oven!

I hadn't got myself organised to post anything on International Women's Day but I believe it is an important day to remember. Too many people I meet talk as though the feminist struggle is over because it is not longer relevant. Yet our foremothers' rallying cry for 'bread and roses' is as meaningful as ever.

As daughters, friends, wives and mothers, we are still treated different to our menfolk. These days rather than having a choice between being Damned Whores and God's Police we are expected to both provide the bread and smell the roses. We are still socialised into our roles very young. Even when we are aware of trying to avoid our daughters becoming girly girls, it is hard to avoid the pull of gender stereotypes (sorry Sylvia).

So it is that in my house that, although I refuse to do all of the cleaning, I do most of the cooking. The simple reason is that I love it and I love eating well. So I was excited to finally be inspired to bake the famous No Knead Bread after seeing Katie's post on her version. It is a bread that I see every now and again in the blogosphere, but apparently first was quite popular on blogs after the New York Times published the recipe. Last night I told my mum I was baking it. Oh yes, she told me, it was very popular in the 1970s. I asked if she had tried it and of course she had. Sometimes it does seem that everything is derivative.

Never mind who originally started posting or publishing or passing down the recipe, it is fantastic. It gave me the most professional looking loaf I have ever made. Lots of airy holes. So many in fact that when I first cut a slice there was a little fffst of the air escaping. E loved the bread because it was light like a good fresh ciabatta rather than dense and heavy. More importantly for busy women today, it is a forgiving recipe that is happy to fit around life's crises.

I have copied the recipe from the times below almost verbatim, which I don't usually do, but I have included many notes about my experience making the bread to personalise it, and to share what I did for anyone else who is intimidated by this recipe. It is a simple recipe but if you want more flavours, you could check out the no knead recipes in the Vegetarian Times magazine in Feb 2010. I intend to do so as soon as I can find the time and energy.

I had intended that I would buy a lovely red rose and photography my bread with it to symbolise bread and roses but my good intentions amounted to nothing as I struggled to tick just a few things off my list. However I found some red roses painted on my retro bread bin (which you can see in more detail here). So you can see my photo of my bread and roses.

You may be wondering why this reference to bread and roses. As I was baking the bread, the song 'Bread and Roses' kept coming into my head. I first encountered it when I was in the Trade Union Choir many years ago. But more recently it is a song that I have enjoyed singing to Sylvia and she has often gone to sleep hearing this song.

It is a song that is uplifting, lyrical and has a stirring social conscience. The song begins "As we come marching marching, in the beauty of the day / a million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts grey / are touched with all the beauty that a sudden sun discloses / the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses." Every time I hear it, it still sends a shiver up my spine. It was written (by a man called James Oppenheim) in 1911 and is often associated with a 1912 textile workers strike.

I had also thought that the picture needed some purple and green (the colours used by our foremothers to represent feminism). I was pleased to see there was green on my bread bin and the rose leaves but no purple. So Sylvia helpfully has supplied this post with some purple. Aren't her new little purple trews gorgeous (from her Scottish great aunt Bridie and great uncle Frank for her birthday). This photo is of her playing with lego at the Court Jester cafe yesterday where after refusing some of my plum jam on toast, she enjoyed sampling vegie burger, tomato and sauerkraut on burger bun, pickled gherkin and sour cherry pierogi.

There are lots more things that I could tell you for International Women's Day but already another day has whizzed by and I must away. So I will finish with a word of hope that our little Sylvia grows into a woman that we can be proud of and one who will enjoy bread and roses whether from her own kitchen and garden or not!

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from the famous New York Times recipe (8 November 2006) that was based on a recipe by Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 8 to 20 hours’ rising
  • 3 cups plain or bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • Cornmeal or wheat bran as required.

Step 1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1and 5/8 cups of water, and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with cling wrap and rest dough at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles.

My notes:

  • I measured out 1 cup, ie 250ml, plus 155ml – who has eighth cups in their kitchen!
  • I used warm water like Katie, even though this was not specified by Jim Lahey.
  • JL did specify that the room temperature should be about 70 degrees. If you aren’t American and think in Celcius, you might prefer to have your room temperature at about 21 C. In the morning when I consulted our friendly fridge thermometer, affectionately known as ‘Bloody Hell’, I was told it was 18 C so I just assumed my warm water might compensate.
  • The JL recipe says this resting should take at least 12, preferably 18 hours, I found that after about 8 hours, ie when I got up the next morning and excitedly ran to check the progress, the dough already had little air bubbles appearing on the surface.
  • I think next time I will assume that the bubbles might appear earlier if I use warm water and once they do appear I have a few hours grace before I need to attend to the dough. It can be told like to wait while I just check my emails and before I know it find that I have found what to make for dinner, posted another recipe and made a few comments!

Step 2. When bubbles appear, lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

My notes:

  • The dough is incredibly stretchy and unlike any bread dough I have encountered previously. It comes away from the bowl quite cleanly but I learnt by trial and error that I needed to flour my hands well.
  • I wasn’t sure exactly about folding it over. It was sticky and incredibly soft and so I just let it flop about in my hands a little, sort of like a fish out of water and then I decided it was enough because if it were a choice between a placid dough and a demanding baby, Sylvia would win out every time.
  • I found I could be a little flexible with my timing. I think I did a little less than 15 minutes but it could have been a little more. I didn’t take too much notice as I was having a crisis about trying to get to the bank before it closed to cash a cheque.

Step 3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. (I did 3) When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

My notes:

  • I used quite a bit of flour in handling the dough, which as I said was very soft and sticky.
  • Why do we have to be gentle with this dough? Is it because the gluten is like an independent child that wants to develop all on its own? Surely it wont hurt if we help the gluten development about. Sorry I am tired and being pedantic now – maybe there is a good reason but I didn’t try and be too gentle!
  • I didn’t really have a seam side because I didn’t manage to make a ball. Mine just limply lay there with not an ounce of shape. Was it too soft? Maybe I was not gentle enough!
  • I only used one tea towel. Perhaps American tea towels are smaller than those that I am used to. The tea towel I used could fold over the dough easily.
  • In case you are interested, the tea towel was a present from my mother-in-law because she is a subscriber to The Lady. It seemed an appropriate tea towel for International Women’s Day.
  • I let my dough sit for 3 hours for the second rise rather than 2 hours. This was really just due to disorganization but the bread seemed to cope with this fine. According to VT, at this stage you can either hasten the second rise by putting it in the microwave (turned off) with a cup of boiling water or you can slow this rise by putting it in the fridge for up to 48 hours.
  • A confession: I can never tell when dough has doubled in size. Perhaps this is a secret baking skills I will acquire in time but I usually just follow the recipe and my instincts and it seems to work out fine in most cases.

Step 4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 230 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

My notes:

  • I found that at this stage the dough was still very soft and shapeless. It seemed so lovely and silky that it was tempting to do a little kneading but I resisted. I stuck my finger in to check it didn’t bounce back and a nice little hole remained where my finger had been.
  • Transferring the dough from on the tea towel to the heated pot was like carrying a sleeping baby – it felt like if I didn’t support it well a critical body part might just drop off. However, it was far far far lighter, though I probably don’t need to tell you that.
  • I don’t have a clue what is meant when a recipe specifies a 6-8 quart pot. I tried to check on the internet. But I much prefer something that I can take out a ruler and measure. It seemed that I could try my Le Creuset stockpot, which measures about 26cm in diameter. The bread was quite flat so next time I might try a smaller based pot and see if it makes higher bread.
  • I baked my loaf for 30 minutes after removing the lid but I turned it over after 15 minutes so the bottom was facing upwards in order to get a nicer crust.
  • Unlike many breads I have baked, this one seemed to cut quite nicely when still warm and tasted lovely some butter and home made plum jam.

PS Oops - forgot two things when writing this post last night. I had meant to mention I was sending this to Susan for Yeast Spotting. I also meant to tell you that the heater part, which I mentioned at the top of the post, came from Sylvia who loves to sit and dismantle the vents. I figured that you probably guessed this.

Update 19/5/2010: my mum and I have both been making this bread since my first time. We have been using a smaller diameter dish to cook it in (I use a ceramic casserole and my mum uses glass) - it sometimes comes out a little damp but is still wonderful toast. I wonder if this is because it needs more time to cook through when a higher loaf. I have tried it with a little wholemeal flour instead of white bread flour and this works well. I have also found that using wheat germ instead of flour to dust the tea towel gives a lovely malty smell to it.

On the stereo:

Works, Volume 1: Emerson, Lake and Palmer


  1. Honestly, if you were a *real* woman you would have pulled roses out of your cleavage as well. Hmph.


    In all honesty, thank you for this post. And as someone whose mother had a special song she sang for me at night as a child, I recommend keeping Bread and Roses in rotation - it's so lovely to have a song that has special mother-daughter meaning :)

  2. That bread looks like the Italian bread I buy here in little Italy! Fantastic looks amazing!

    Happy women's day to you too!

  3. IWD is indeed important to observe - and you did it in a much more charming way than I did over on my politics blog :)

  4. Your bread looks lovely Johanna, it's really good to have your comments about each stage too.

    Particularly love your thermometer!!!

  5. But--you never told us how that piece of heater got into your cleavage!! (Inquiring minds want to know) ;)

    Your bread-baking skills continue to amaze me. And I loved the story of "Bread and Roses." A great tribute to International Women's Day!

  6. Thanks Hannah - will work on the roses in my cleavage - so long as there are no thorns involved :-) That is nice you have special songs your mum sang to you. My mum sang to us a bit but it was my dad who had a great repertoire of songs and I still remember them fondly.

    thanks Joanne - that is high praise - I have felt very proud of my bread when taking it to work in sandwiches this week

    Thanks AOF - love your rant - I think IWD is a good excuse for a rant but then who needs excuses

    Thanks C - hope the comments are useful to others - I find them useful myself when tackling something I am quite unsure of - it helps me feel able to repeat a challenging recipe

    thanks Ricki - I wondered if anyone would pick up about the heater when I closed down my computer and realised I hadn't explained it - I have put a little PS on the post - but I can't remember if Sylvia slipped it in for fun or if I put it there in desperation to find a place she wouldn't find it. I had also meant to see if there was a youtube of the song but as always had more ideas than time

  7. Great post! I'm utterly tempted to make this bread (not that the no-kneading aspect appeals to the sloth in me. Oh no), especially with your brilliantly useful tips to hand. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Your bread looks wonderful, just like a true artisan style. Glad it made a good end to a very hectic day. I seem to find if one things goes wrong, more mishaps seem to follow.

    Was interested to read about International Womans Day - didn't know about this before :)

  9. Hehe Johanna, great minds think alike! I baked this the other day. Isn't it great? I think it's just like a restaurant bread. We just loved it!

  10. What a tasteful post for International Women's Day. Thank you so much for sharing, Johanna. I've added your link to last week's food day celebrations!!!

    I'm so not the little bread baker:) Someday, hopefully...

  11. What a great post Johanna, I am very tempted to try this now.

  12. Thanks a forkful - I read somewhere the no knead appealed to those who don't like getting their hands dirty so there are many reasons to want to try this - I would never say you are slothful - but do you have beautifully manicured hands :-)

    Thanks Katie - glad to introduce you to IWD - it is one I always mean to celebrate but don't always manage

    Thanks Lorraine - nice to think we are eating the same bread in our homes

    Thanks Louise - this is a good bread to start breadbaking with just so long as you don't get too worried about timing and how soft it is

    Thanks Jacqueline - yes try this - in some ways I think that 10 minutes kneading is not much time to save but in others - it can be a long time - esp when a baby is crying, as you would understand

  13. I'm glad you enjoyed your no knead bread experience! I've made no knead bread a couple of times and find it too soft - I guess I really like chewy/dense bread! We don't really celebrate International Women's Day in Canada so I'm not too familiar with it.

  14. Thanks Ashley - I liked the crumb on this bread - it was a softer loaf but the crust was chewy and the inside was quite sturdy if not dense - I am not sure the IWD is celebrated widely in Australia - I don't see as much about it as I used to so am not sure if it is celebrated less or just that I hang about with the wrong types now :-)

  15. Great looking bread.

    You're right about these things going in and out of fashion. I've found no knead bread in two vintage circa 1970's cookbooks recently. It would be interesting to find out how long people have really been making it.

  16. I noticed your photo on Yeast Spotting.
    Interesting to read about your adventure.

    I've been playing with no-knead sourdough for several weeks now and it's producing one of the best bread products I've ever made. The 18 hour rise improves the flavor and structure so that the crust is crisp but thin, the crumb moist, airy and slightly chewy.

    I've found, once you've let the dough rest for 15 minute, it's easier to handle the dough with wet hands rather than floured.

    To shape the thing into a boule (ball), gently gather the dough in both hands and pull the edges up around the middle, allowing the center to fall between your hands. As gravity pulls the bulk of the dough downwards, pinch the dough in your hands together, gathering it at the top. Repeat this until you've increased the surface tension on the bottom which will eventually be the top of your loaf.

    For the final rise, I place the dough, rounded side up, (seam-side down) in a parchment paper lined, size "E" Le Creuset casserole. (The time variation is often relative to external factors such as humidity temperature, etc.) Because I don’t preheat the oven, once the dough has doubled, I do a quick slash on top, cover and bake. (Results attached.)

    I really enjoy this baking method and hope you get the opportunity to try it again. By the way, 1/8 cup is 2 tablespoons (4 Tbsp in a ¼ cup, etc.)


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