On Forgetting How to Cook, Part II



Another thing I seem to have forgotten: how to make bread. Specifically, how to make Jim Lahey’s bread, about which I somewhat famously wrote four years ago.

Then, at a benefit for the Truro Center for the Arts a few weeks ago, I met a woman named Judith Motzkin, who makes (among other things) ceramic pots specifically designed for baking Lahey-style bread. This roughly coincided with the arrival of an actual oven at the place I stay in on the Cape (until recently we had a weird kind of oven/microwave hybrid, which was inadequate to every task, from heating coffee to baking bread), and a pledge on my part to resume breadmaking. (The Outer Cape, notorious for bad bread, now boasts a “boulangerie” in Wellfleet which, from my pre-summer experience, seems pretty good, but right now it’s more than your life is worth to try to get anywhere near it. You might as well try to get into Mac’s Shack at 7pm on a Saturday.)  

There was a time, round about 2006, when I could make this bread without a measuring cup or a timer; I could whip up that dough with any number of ingredients and in a variety of proportions – incorporating whole grains left and right – and I could recognize the right moment to move to the next stage.  

Now I needed a recipe and, try as I might (I really did try, too), I couldn’t find any better than the one I’d written after cooking with Jim. (Which is not to say I didn’t find helpful hints from the literally thousands of posts on the subject; I just didn’t find a good solid recipe.) I measured as carefully as I could, and still, I found it a little off; I had to add more water than it called for, and then I had to add a little more flour, because I’d added too much water. (None of this is surprising; different flours take different amounts of water.) But the timing worked right, though I did bake it ten minutes longer than the recipe called for. (This isn’t unusual either.)  

For me to follow a recipe twice in a month is rare, but I did it. (I followed a recipe at the Mini shoot a couple of weeks ago also, for a citrus-almond pound cake you’ll be seeing this Fall.) And the results, as you can see, look pretty good. (I haven’t cut into it yet; “the bread must rest before being introduced to the knife,” as someone once said. [If you know who, tell me; remember this post is about being memory-deprived.]) 

I guess there are worse things than relearning what you already know. This instance appears to have been worth it, anyway.

Posted in Baking


  1. Anonymous said...

    Wellfleet and Truro and places past the rotary after Orleans are actually the Inner Cape, not the Outer.

  2. Anonymous said...

    As an early tester of Judith Motzkin’s breadpots, and a frequent enjoyer of your/Lahey’s bread recipe, I’m so glad that you found one another.

  3. Anonymous said...

    It looks perfect for making the 1200 year old Sicilian recipe I did with Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr. a few weeks ago! He had these massive rounds of bread made for the show and dinner with anthropologists, restauranteurs, and actors; but I’ve been looking for a way to make my own, smaller version for clients. Perfecto!Check it out at http://jewelsfromtherovingstove.blogspot.com/2010/08/historical-over-food.html

  4. Anonymous said...

    I am also an early tester of Judy Motzkin’s breadpot that she specifically designed for your/Jim Lahey’s bread recipe(and obviously a follower of your postings). As a "tester" I frequently tweaked the recipe, even once making a challah. I hope that you enjoyed using the breadpot; I love the small breads that it helps to produce. Wouldn’t mind seeing those small round loaves on restaurant tables as opposed to some of the breads that they serve.

  5. Anonymous said...

    i, too, am one of the lucky early testers of Judy Motzkins Breadpots! my favorite , so far,is the rye bread with seeds although every loaf turned out great. And i was not an experienced bread baker! The no knead recipe coupled with Judy’s amazing pot produces a great little round loaf.

  6. Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the mention of the BreadPot. I am glad you like it. Interested bakers can order one at http://breadbakers.blogspot.com or through http://www.motzkin.com or by phone.

  7. Kingbashten said...

    Not a coffee snob, I see.

  8. Anonymous said...

    I just discovered you. Thanks for sharing an old recipe with a newbie!

  9. renewbee said...

    Glad you, too, develop amnesia around things you have cooked over and over. I do, too. Thumb drive?

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