Let me introduce my first loaf of bread. He’s a tough guy on the outside, but soft and bubbly when you get to know him on the inside. He smells a little bit like beer (but in a good way) and he’s always down for a good romp in the Earth Balance. Ignore him and he gets a little dry, but treat him with kindness and warmth and he’ll return the favor. Best of all, he’s not kneady. Oh my god.
Bread baking seems to be a bit of a lost art nowadays with the convenience of grocery stores – and if you live in New York, about fifty French bakeries in your neighborhood that probably do it better than you ever could (i.e. Sullivan Street Bakery). But I say to hell with convenience. Give me a challenge! Something to live up to! Thanks to Mark Bittman and the New York Times, my task presented itself in black & white. Perhaps the word “challenge” should be redacted from this entire entry considering how easy the recipe is. There are only four ingredients, and should water even count as an ingredient anyway? Here is the Recipe, originally published in 2006:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.
I gotta tell you, I had to add a hell of a lot more flour than the recipe calls for, so you’ll probably want to mess around with the ratios before you take your yeasty baby out of its cozy bowl-crib. Heed this advice or prepare for massive clean-up duty. Perhaps it was because I used half spelt flour? Does tat make a difference? I also set my bowl near a radiator during the overnight rise since it’s so cold ’round these parts.
The resulting loaf, while looking vaguely like a brain, tastes awesome. Toasted with some EB and jam, it’s like a little slice of yeasty nirvana – if you can go for that kind of thing.
The inside shot. My dad, who speaks of good bread as though it were the Holy Grail, always told me that big holes and hard crust are signs of excellence. Well, check out THAT whopper. Are you proud or WHAT.