Bread

No-Knead Bread

After excursions into the more elaborate food stuff and earning me the nickname “trufflehande” (the chocolate sort as well as the fungus sort), it is time to dwell with more basic nourishment.

I come from a country where the word for bread (ekmek) is synonymous with food, even life. Instead of “to earn a living” we say “to earn one’s bread”. Even in the most genteel homes it is not possible to have a meal without bread being present. For the poor, it is sometimes the only food for days on end, spiced up with some onion eaten along with it. A lot of people I know from back home eat even their pasta or rice dishes with bread, where it sometimes takes the place of a spoon to push stuff on the fork and mop up the juices. Most of the time it is white bread and always it is fresh. The bread from the morning is for breakfast, you can’t and don’t keep it for dinner, where it will already be considered old. The bakeries work at full speed the whole day and you buy your bread for dinner just before dinner. The common illness in Germany and many other European countries nowadays, bakeries just being shops where the bread is delivered in the morning, is unheard of. The most common type of bread is a big fat loaf with a golden and crunchy crust, almost like a really good baguette, only before it went on a diet. It has a plait, or a crease if you will, which sticks up and runs along the whole upper side, which is usually darker than the rest of the crust.

It was this bread that made me and a bunch of other victims escape from the re-orientation camp on our return from an exchange student year in the USA at 4 in the morning, many many years ago. After a year of novel food in the USA as teens, all were, umm, well-fed to say the least, but we were all starving for this bread. We found the nearest bakery, waited before its doors till they opened at 5, and bought loaves and loaves of the bread. A nearby grocery store supplied us with “kasar peyniri”, a hard and aged cheese not unlike a manchego, and with these bounties we went down to the Bosporus, sat on the water’s edge facing east, facing Asia, and watched the sun go up over some of the 7 hills Istanbul has been built upon while eating our bread and cheese. It was at this moment that I realized I was home.

This is half a lifetime ago, and I don’t call Istanbul home for some time now although I do get tears in my eyes from time to time. A song may do it, the cries of seagulls; or a smell, of a charcoal grill, of sea, of raki. But never before has a bread outside of Turkey managed this. Until this one, which of course is not the same, the shape is off and it just didn’t lie on the stone bottom of a wood fired oven where thousands have lain and left their mark before, but it is close. It did bring tears to my eyes.

The recipe, which is extremely easy and requires no kneading, just some patience, is here (don’t shy away from the cup-measurements, for once they do work!), and here is a video. If you google it you will find that a lot of people have been baking this since the beginning of November.

5 Responses

  1. What a story from the hills of Istanbul! Show me the guys here in Munich who would do this for a fresh breze. The ways not to visit this city once become less and less (denglish). Thank you very much for this and for the link to the recipe – after 12 or more hours of ripening the dough maybe a little bit sourdough too, like they do it with the real baguette?

    By the way, just around the corner there is average turkish Snackshop where you can see the baker making a really great oval shaped flatbread. But honestly: If I had to chose between yours or this great bread and sourdogh rye bread for the rest of my life – I would take…

    P.S.: Do you know/can you recommend the new book from Orhan Pamuk about his younger times in Istanbul?

  2. Sebastian,
    there is no reason against a visit to Istanbul and a million reasons for. Maybe you’ll let me guide you sometime?
    Yes my bread was somehow sourdough-like, very runny and bubbly. A pide (the flatbread) is also a great bread if done correctly. But I understand your choice, I love sourdough rye bread as well. Good thing neither of us has to choose only one type of bread for the rest of our lives!
    Haven’t read this book of Pamuk yet, but everything else. He has a very interesting language which at times can be, hmm, overwhelming. But from what I have heard, this semi-autobiography (it is rather about Istanbul at the times, less about himself) is a lot more readable. Maybe you could read it as a preparation for a journey? But if you just want to get to know his work, read a novel. I could even lend you some, I have some of them in German because of T.

  3. Thanks for all the recommandations and the offer of guidance – that sounds great. And I think I will start with „Istanbul” therefore. By the way, have you ever seen the film „Zimt & Koriander”? It was my best hated last year – not Istanbul’s fault, of course.

  4. Just wish to comment on your no-knead bread: I am not from Istanbul but was born in Slovenia. My grandmother baked the bread in a wood-fired brick oven and the NY recipe is the closest to the taste that I remember from my childhood. I also secretly cried when tasting the trial version of the recipe and will build a wood-burning masonry stove to duplicate grandma’s bread. Fond memories, 2 “kids” from two different countries…but same love of bread. Thanks for the memories.

  5. Al Zupan,
    you are welcome! Food really is a subject that can bring so different people together. I am in awe that you are building your own wood-burning oven, I had access to one for 1,5 years and had the best experiences with it. Miss it so much!

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