Rescuing a Bread Disaster

Whole wheat bread

Monday night I decided to make a loaf of no-knead bread. I’ve made this simple and delicious bread many times and for some reason it always turns out differently — I don’t know if I’m just not consistent with how I’m making it, or switching up the flours as I sometimes do has more of an effect than I thought it would, but this bread looks and cooks differently each time, though it always ends up tasting good.

Well, Monday I really messed up. I was mixing the dough together from memory and doing it quickly, and I forgot — wait for it — the yeast. This bread only has four ingredients — flour, water, salt and yeast — and I managed to forget one!

Worst of all, I didn’t even realize until the morning, so after sitting out all night on my counter, my dough was just a gluey, saggy and wet lump. I wondered if I could just add some yeast in after the fact and tried to mix in the quarter-teaspoon the recipe calls for. After letting it sit awhile, it seemed that the yeast had just settled into one area of the dough and was just creating bubbles in a small area, not throughout.

Still, the dough had an interesting consistency, and I thought that it could possibly be saved, so I decided to look up recipes that use a preferment mixed in with more flour, yeast and water to create a richly flavored bread, and I came upon a rustic bread recipe that used similar proportions of ingredients for its preferment.

So with my unintentional preferment of 2 cups bread flour, 1 cup wheat flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal, 1 5/8 cups water and 1/8 teaspoon of yeast added after the fact, I added 2 cups bread flour, 2 cups wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 1/2 cups water and mixed it all together.

I ended up with a huge amount of dough, and I had trouble working with it on my small counter, but after a good amount of kneading and some extra flour (the preferment was much wetter than it should have been), I had a nicely textured and very elastic dough.

I let it rise for about two and a half hours, folding it twice during that time, then split it in half and formed two loaves, which I let rise for another hour and a bit.

I was encouraged by how much the bread was rising and I felt like it would turn out pretty well once I baked it. When I put it in the oven at 450 degrees on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal, I didn’t expect the loaves to continue to grow quite as much as they did. I ended up with two giant loaves that fused together a bit. I took them out after 35 minutes, when they looked nicely browned and the crust had a nice thump to it.

The bread softened a bit when it started to cool, so maybe I should have cooked it another few minutes, but the loaves looked great and when we cut into them they had a decent texture — a few large air bubbles, a thin and crispy crust, and a pretty robust wheaty flavor.

Bread cross section

The air pockets seemed to congregate near the top of the bread

I’m glad what looked like a bread disaster turned out to be a big bread success. It was one of my prettiest and most delicious simple loaves. I’ll definitely be trying something similar again. And with a proper preferment, I’m sure I’ll get much better air bubbles throughout the loaves.

wheat bread

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