We always hear that baking is a strict science, which makes yeast baking a scary prospect for many otherwise capable cooks. A year ago I bought a larger dutch oven solely because I wanted to try Cooks Illustrated's version of the NYTimes/Lahey/Bittman no-knead bread, which came out spectacularly well. I then made a rye version, which was not as lovely because I should have added Vital Wheat Gluten. I bought the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book but have yet to bake from it, largely because my fridge is always too full to fit the big container of dough!
Enter Jacques Pepin, whose mastery of cooking technique is unsurpassed. His take on easy yeast bread is the best yet - and takes maybe 2 minutes active work time. The flour, salt, water, yeast, and tepid water are stirred together in a 3-4 quart nonstick pot till combined - this takes just seconds. Put the lid on and let sit until doubled, about 90 minutes.
Stir for a couple of seconds to deflate, replace lid and either leave it till doubled or refrigerate overnight for a slower rise. Remove lid and bake at 425-450 for 40 minutes, then dump out the loaf and invert onto a cooling rack. I am unable to resist tweaking a recipe even if it's something with which I have no prior experience. So for my first attempt instead of 4 c white flour I used 1 unbleached white, 2 white whole wheat, 1 dark rye + 2 T vital wheat gluten. I kept the 1 t yeast and 2 t salt, added 1 T honey, and misread the recipe so instead of 2.5 cups water I had 1.5, which soaked in instantly so I added a half cup. The yeast was from a packet opened a year ago, and of course I didn't use the right amount of water - plus it's cold in the house, even near the heater. So no wonder that it took 7 hours from start to when the dough was ready for the oven! Recalling the CI recipe, I left the lid on for the first 20 min. The nonstick pot is old and doesn't really live up to its claims - between that and being shy a half cup of water, it's no surprise that some prying was needed to get the bread out. STILL -
success! Good crust and flavor. Yesterday, I sprayed the pot with Pam. I used 2.5 c of apple cider, 1.5 t yeast, 2 c unbleached flour, 1 c white whole wheat, 1/2 c old-fashioned oats, and 1/2 c steel-cut oats - the rest of the ingredients were the same as my first attempt. This time it rose faster and higher (4 hours from start to placing in oven) and plopped out of the pot without coaxing. This one came out even better. These breads do not have as impressive crusts as the dutch oven bread, but have fewer steps and don't require a 500 degree oven. Summer is not the time for a lot of hot-oven experimentation - maybe by then I'll be competently kneading and shaping elaborate loaves!
The obvious lesson is that as in other sciences, baking has room for, and forgives, quite a bit of innovation and error.