Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bread Baking Simplified

Sometimes I think I only like to cook the way some people garden. I'm thinking of the type of gardener that grows some rare Zimbawbian passion flower that takes 18 months to germinate, and then only blooms for 1 hour before it expires. Fussy, prima donna type things that must be coddled, and coaxed or else they flop.

Sometimes I think I'm only in it for the challenge. If it's a recipe that's so complex, so challenging, so antiquated that no one I know, no one in their right mind would make such a thing, well, then I've probably tried it. This attitude has aided and abetted me through 26 ingredient recipes, through 12 hour sourdough baguettes, through 3 trials of spun sugar in one afternoon.

The problem is, after awhile, this becomes exhausting. As my New Years' Culinary Adventure list languishes, it's not because of lack of desire. It's lack of time and of financing. Another glitch to this is that time consuming and difficult are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

So, with this skewed mentality, I sometimes scoff when I see an easy recipe. It bores me. I'm unimpressed.

This, I regretfully,admit, is what happened with Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread. I gladly made Lahey's Panettone this Christams. Going to 3 different grocery stores for candied citron, spending over an hour making handmade origami molds for the bread, rigging up a system to suspend the baked loves upside down while they cooled with chairs and broom handles--so the oh so finicky loaves wouldn't collapse on themselves. This clearly, was my type of recipe. A recipe that gives you, upon successful completion, bragging rights. (And upon unsuccessful execution crumbles of shattered panettone that leapped to their deaths from their broom handle perches, and which Henry the cat gladly ate.)

So-when proselytizers exhalted the glory of no-knead bread. (And honestly, there's been no end to the proselytizers. I feel almost guilty about writing yet another blog post on this fricking bread). However, this is a bread that has essentially no hands on time. When they said it just might be the greatest bread innovation since sliced bread...well, I was still skeptical albeit, a bit curious.

I had printed of the article and recipe from the NY times website on at least 3 different occasions, months lapsing between each. I just couldn't do it. Until my friend Diane asked me if this bread was worth the hype. She wanted to make it part of her New Year's food resolutions--and then her handsome, oh-so-handsome bulldog, Levi, got terribly sick and passed away. In those weeks, I had Diane in my thoughts, and as a result I finally tried No-Knead Bread, just so I could give a full report to a grieving friend thousands of miles away in Idaho. And, Diane, this bread is handsomely good.
This bread has even taught me about myself. I'm trying to learn how to let my life be less complicated. As I'm in the midst of starting a brand-new garden in a new place, I have to remind myself that sometimes less is more. That sometimes the easiest way is the best way (even if it's not so impressive). And that sometimes, a bread that you can make while working in the garden is quite delightful.

I started the bread the night before by mixing togehter flour, water, a tiny amount of yeast and some salt.
Then, the dough does it thing for about eighteen hours, cloacked in a layer of saran wrap. The next afternoon, I gathered the dough up into a ball, dusted it with flour and let it raise once more for 2 hours, nestled happily between two tea towels.
Meanwhile with the help of my friend, Laura, we proceeded to dig up 100 square feet of sod in my front yard:


Then after preheating the oven, and baking the loaf, we were rewarded with this:

which we promptly slathered with butter and apricot jam. As you can see, the crust is crackly, the crumb open, yet soft, simple the easiest and tastiest artisanal loaf of bread you could ever make. Find the recipe here.

1 comment:

Frivolous Diane said...

Thanks for the bully remembrance - I *might* have teared up a little when I read this. I actually just got my copy of the Hertzberg book (Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day - highly recommended by Angry Chicken), and I'm loving it thus far. Yay for bread!