Sunday, March 1, 2015
My bread-making phase lasted a couple of years. A purist, I used no mixer or bread machine, but got up to my elbows in dough and the kneading process, flour dust everywhere; measuring cups, proofing, lots of sticky bowls.
Most of the recipes I snagged from the internet, a hundred or more. A sound piece of advice: the dough is ready for oven when it has the same consistency as your earlobe -- plump and smooth.
I made white, rye, wheat; Austrian, Swiss, Italian; and experimented with all sorts of additions, with varying degrees of success -- olives, rosemary, capers, garlic, cheese. Truffle oil on top, anchovies inside. Square loaves, round loaves, twists, rolls.
Sometimes I took my eye off the ball, and the bloody thing didn't rise at all. But the best ones were lively; doughs so feisty, they sat up and talked back, and practically marched on their own yeasty legs to the oven.
I wasn't particularly hungry for bread; most (the edible ones) went to friends. So it was the journey, you know? Not unrelated to hiking. Effort requiring no explanation; effort, for effort's sake.
The high note, the pinnacle of my bread-making career, an olive bread, dense yet light (how is that possible?) so good my guests swooned. And then, that was that. It wasn't surprising that I stopped. The surprising thing was that I had started at all. Like when you fall out of love with someone. In retrospect, the real mystery lies in what seemed attractive about the whole enterprise to begin with.
Here's my recipe for No-Knead Bread, which I do make. The result is somewhere between what you can get at a good bakery and that which requires real work.
Invite a few people. This bread is only good for one day.
3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon salt
1/3 tsp rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 cups water
Smear olive oil in a good-sized bowl. Add dry ingreds, and mix them together. Add water and and combine with bare hands until you get a mess. Cover w/plastic wrap and terry towel. Leave it to rise for 18 hours. Punch it down using an extra dusting of flour and wet hands, form into a ball. Let rise for another two hours. Heat a dutch oven at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. Toss the ball in, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove lid, pour a little olive oil on top, and bake for another 20 minutes. Cool on rack.
Open the wine and cue the music.