I’ve been so mad at bread. I wanted to make it and have it be great and I couldn’t.
I became obsessed with Gerard’s incomparable European style sourdough and its slow risen, gently tart taste, its big, open, custardy crumb. Perfect crust. I wanted it at home. I tried one thing after another, a friend gave me starter, and I made a variety of slow sourdough loaves. I followed the one recipe I found, with no success. I spritzed to get crisp crusts, I baked at high temperatures, I baked in loaf pans and on baking stones and on half-sheets. I’d marvel at the transformation of powdery flour and water into a ropy, bubbling mass, and then a crusty dense loaf. I wavered, wanted Gerard’s, but instead made the no-knead. And I made a quite lovely straight-rise pumpkin-flax.
And every now and then I’d buy a loaf and be reminded what the best bread was like.
So I gave up. I let the starter sit and grow more and more forlorn under its layer of questionable grey liquid on the top shelf of the fridge. I’ve baked up a cyclone of cupcakes and all manner of sweet treats. But no bread, because if I couldn’t get it right, why keep trying?
I didn’t make bread, but I’ve been busy of course. I’ve been working to adjust my ideas about myself, my capabilities, what I should expect of these wild little people who bless my life, who are so brilliant and fierce and energetic that I finish the day in a breathless heap. I’m trying to keep my creative juices flowing, to do good work for the folks I’m working with, to be some kind of friend and girlfriend and daughter and neighbor to the people who matter,to keep the bills paid and some semblance of a clear path through the craziness of my house. Perfect bread? Forget it. How about perfect exhaustion?
Then I picked up an issue of Family Circle at the doctor’s office the other day. I liked the big bodacious lasagna that was on the cover, plus figured maybe middle America could give me some coaching on how to get my home organization skills on (it could happen!). I was flipping through the pages, musing on how it’s come to pass that this most-mainstream of publications includes recipes for arugula salads and recommends yoga and alternative therapies.
And there on the last page, written by a self-described novice baker on the staff, was a no-knead bread recipe. I scanned it, interested in how it addressed some of the problems I’ve had with the no-knead results I’ve gotten, like the sort of half-assed sour flavor that’s neither here nor there. And how the standard recipe doesn’t really seem to give the dough quite enough time to transform. I made some changes and I gave it a whirl.
Perfect? No. But it slices terrifically and makes great toast. It’s delicious, and certainly good enough for now.
If you want to give it a try, just remember to give it the day it needs to do its slow and amazing rise.
No-Knead Everyday Bread
Adapted from Family Circle, February 2010
1. Mix together in a large bowl:
- 2 cups whole wheat bread flour, or 2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 1 cup unbleached white flour
- 1/2 t. active dry yeast
- 2 t. salt
- 1 t. sugar
2. Add and stir until dough comes together in a ball, about 2 minutes:
- 1 1/2 c. room temperature water
- 1 T. vinegar (I used Limousin Apple Bouquet, which worked nicely – the recipe called for white vinegar so I’m sure you can use what you’ve got on hand)
3. Cover and let sit and room temperature for 18 hours. Place dough on lightly floured board and knead a few times. Return to the bowl and let it sit for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
4. 30 minutes before the 2nd rise is through, place a Dutch oven and its lid in the oven, and preheat to 500.
5. When the dough has completed its rise, carefully slide the dough into the heated pan by sort of pouring the batter right in. It should sizzle in a satisfying way. Put the lid right on and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat down to 450 and bake for 15 minutes more. Let cool in the pan for a bit, then complete cooling on a wire rack.