Sunday, March 1, 2015

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, a thou or two



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
Olive oil

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.

29 comments:

  1. I tried and failed at bread making in my twenties; insufficient patience I think.

    Your post makes me think I might enjoy it now. Especially since I love to eat good bread.

    I have at least two books on bread. Maybe it's time to use them for something other than amusing reading.

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  2. Your post brought back good memories. I was a part of our household of six. Bread made, bread eaten. I loved the feel of kneading and punching the dough. What a rhythm develops. Like a dance with the bread as your partner. You push, it squishes back. You turn it and it's ready to do the next step. Again and again. And then it rises - hopefully. Now the most I've done in this arena is making tortillas. No need to wait for things to rise. Thanks for the post.

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  3. I would like to recommend using filtered water, it helps with the fermentation. Also, cultured butter instead of sweet cream. This is from PBS Vignettes. The methodology differs some but it should entice even the severest skeptic.
    http://www.pbs.org/food/kitchen-vignettes/no-knead-bread/

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  4. There is something so visceral (is that the right word?) about rain outside and bread baking in the oven. I hope Roberta swings back with a tortilla recipe -- I'd love to give that a try. And PJ, thank you -- on the docket.

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  5. I used to bake bread. I'd make a whole-wheat bread from the Tassajara Bread Book. Kneaded many times, all by hand. The bread was so good that it didn't last long. Like you, I had to give away loaves to keep from eating them. Like you, I quit, because the bread was just too good to have around.

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  6. I'm not a baker but I'll try this. I have to figure out when to start so it'll end up ready to bake at the right time, or it'll be 2am and time to punch. Can I make it without a Dutch oven?

    John always says he likes bread that bites back.

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  7. I make a loaf very similar to this, though it is twice the size. It's good for a day or two, so I only make it when I know there will be enough people to eat it all!

    I've always enjoyed baking homemade bread, and at the beginning of 2014 I began a journey of working through the bread book my dad gave me years ago. I've come across a few that are sure to return to my oven many times in the years to come!

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  8. Love your writing. I can just see you kneading the dough. You didn't mention getting the flour+water paste off your hands afterwards. I went through a bread-making phase as well, but put on lots of weight because it was very irresistible eaten warm with fresh butter. What's a Dutch oven? Is it lined with hay?

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  9. Looks like we're all brothers and sisters under the crust. Mr. Earl, that book is excellent. Petrea & Bellis, a dutch oven is just a good-sized cast iron pot with a tight-fitting lid. Any oven-proof pot (about 4 inches deep) will do. No hay required. Rebecca, so you're still up to your elbows in dough? How lovely.

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  11. Oh, right, we call them casseroles and I have a few Le Creuset ones that'll be perfect. Sounds an easy recipe, apart from the 18 hours of waiting. But the longer and slower the dough is left to rise, the tastier the bread is, so I'm going to try it. The Chorleywood method of making bread rise very rapidly and steaming it has ruined the taste of commercially sold breads, yet very few people seem to have noticed that they're eating cotton wool.

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  12. Loved the music link, looking into that. Perfect for a rainy, bread bakin' kinda day.

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  13. I think I tried this once, years ago. The planning ahead by 20 hours thing really puzzled me. Seriously, I think "planning ahead" for food means slapping a hunk of meat into a pot of tepid water for 2 hours to thaw. Unless it's a holiday week, in which case I write down a menu and do not deviate for any reason under any circumstances. It's so confusing being me. And I'm with Bellis in thinking commercially made bread tastes like cotton wool. I use my bread machine for the mixing and kneading; when you're cooking for a small army, you need all the help you can get.

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  14. Yeah, re: the timing of the eternity rise, I do everything before I go to bed. That way, it's ready for the second coming around 4 p.m. the following afternoon. And I agree, no interest in or taste for commercially produced bread. PJ: It's the best hiking tune, evah.

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  15. Why is it good only for one day??

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  16. I bake bread from time to time. My favorite bread is 'no NEED' bread. Yukyukyuk. We baked some 'no rise' bread a couple of weeks ago. Alas, it was the best for just a day or so. No rise, really.

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  17. Hey, Maine. Having never met a chemistry class I couldn't fail, I'm still going to venture a guess. It's the high water content in the dough. While steamy, it puffs up the air holes. A day later, the steam turns back into water.

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  18. Wonderful essay....(you do such good work!)
    I used to bake bread, too. I loved kneading the dough, that alive, elastic feeling it'd get when it was time to cover and let it rise.

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  19. "and practically marched on their own yeasty legs to the oven."

    I love that.

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  20. In my camp they refer to this activity as 'wedging'

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  21. May we have smell-o-vision on this post? Pretty please?! There's nothing like the lovely aroma of fresh baked bread.

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  22. I remember being taught that the best way to knead dough was to imagine you were beating up your worst enemy. Very therapeutic.

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  23. It is, Bellis. Ann, I read it won't be long, now. PA, I guess wedging is different from wedgie? Must be, but I'll google just to make sure you're not dissing my bread. Janet, like I said, feisty. Miss M, yes, it puts you in touch with the ancestors, doesn't it? And kitchens a hundred and a hundred and a hundred years ago.

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  24. Wine, a loaf of bread, and that particular music . . . you do have a sense of occasion.

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  25. I also had my bread-making phase too.
    Love all kind of bread.
    I will try your recipe, it looks good!
    Thanks for introduce Lord Huron to me.

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  26. I am currently mired in a bread EATING phase, that has lasted for decades. I want some of this bread as quickly as possible. Seriously, I have some friends who used to bake bread several times a week. They were ALWAYS giving me full loaves. There isn't much that tastes better than freshly baked bread.

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  27. I am so tickled by how you snuck in that recipe in so naturally. I LOVE your writing.

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