This interesting bread is fun to make, it keeps well, and it makes delicious toast.
When John Martin Taylor included the recipe in his 1992 cookbook, fresh cake or compressed yeast was sold in every supermarket. Today it's much harder to find, so we tested with active dry yeast.
The more flavorful the rice you use, the more flavorful your bread will be. First, master the recipe using long-grain rice; later, try it with brown rice if you like, but increase the amount of water accordingly, as brown rice will absorb nearly twice as much water.
Taylor insists that the key ingredients be measured by weight; volume is too variable. Weigh out the rice, yeast and flour before beginning.
Make Ahead: The loaves can be loosely wrapped and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days or tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months.
Yield: Makes three 5-by-9-inch loaves
- 1 pound long-grain white rice
- 3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
- 2 quarts well or spring water
- 2 ounces fresh compressed yeast (may substitute three 1/4-ounce envelopes active dry yeast)
- 4 pounds unbleached bread flour
Combine the rice, salt and water in a large pot over medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the water is barely bubbling around the edges of the pan. Cook, uncovered, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is quite soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the rice to a very large bowl and let it cool.
When the rice is cool enough to handle (it must be warm, but below 120 degrees), proof the yeast: Place a couple tablespoons of warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast onto it. When the yeast foams, signifying that it's active, add the yeast and water to the rice and mix it in, then work in the flour, using your hands to knead and fold it in the bowl until you have a smooth, elastic dough. It will take nearly all of the flour and about 10 minutes of time.
Wipe the rim of the bowl clean, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. If your bowl is not large enough to allow the dough to double in size, lightly brush the top of the dough with oil or butter to keep it from sticking to the plastic. Cover the bowl with a towel or blanket and set it in a warm, draft-free place to rise. In a warm kitchen, it should take about 2 hours; in a colder kitchen, it will take longer.
Grease 3 standard-size (approximately 5-by-9-inch) bread loaf pans with nonstick cooking oil spray. When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead it lightly so that it is evenly textured again, divide it into 3 pieces, and roll each piece into a log that fits nicely into the pan, with all edges on the bottom and only the smooth top showing. Cover the 3 pans with plastic and a towel or blanket, place them on top of the stove and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. The loaves need rise only halfway this time -- say, to the tops of the pans. Check them after about 30 minutes.
Bake the loaves in a classic "falling" oven, simulating the gradually falling temperature of a wood-fired stove: Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 15 minutes. (Peek to see that the loaves are baking evenly. Sometimes ovens have "hot spots": if so, rotate the loaves.) After 30 minutes (total) of baking, turn the loaves out of the pans and return them naked to the oven. If, at this point, the loaves seem to be browning too quickly, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees; otherwise, leave it at 400 degrees.
From this point you must watch them, turning them on their sides so that they brown evenly all over and waiting for that moment when a thump on the bottom of the loaf yields a hollow sound. (If you hear a dull thud, return the loaf to the oven.) It will take from 15 to 25 minutes for the loaves to finish cooking. When they are done, remove them to racks to cool completely before slicing.
Adapted from "Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking" Twentieth Anniversary Edition, by John Martin Taylor (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
Tested by Kendra Nichols.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.