Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Bread

If you asked Andrew what his favorite food was, he would quickly respond:
"The Bread."

Indeed. The bread. There is no other name by which it must be called. It seems to have forever filled a place in my mind which was previously held by blurry images of Olive Garden breadsticks and All-Purpose flour.

Considering I have American Romanticism this semester and thus have been inspired to use loftier means of expression, I have written several poems to convey my deep sentiments for the bread.

To the Bread:

A Limerick
There once was a mean husband so hungry
That his stomach got all mad and grumbly
     Til the wife gave him bread
     And he smacked his forehead
Saying “wife, thou art so wise and lovely.”

A Haiku:
Golden crust so crisp
You smell of fresh bakeries 

Perfection in wheat

An Iambic Couplet:
You are to me a perfect slice of bliss,
Even more than Lembas from the Elvish!

I first discovered the bread on a dark and frigid morning in Chicago. Andrew was at Basic Training and I was visiting Karyn in Chicago. She apparently had more important things to do with her time than keep a lonely military spouse company, so I found solace in my only true friend: my ex-con, Martha Stewart. On this particular morning, Martha was hosting a guest from New York named Jim Lahey. Lahey was a famous baker who had perfected a fuss-free technique for making bread. Even Martha was fawning over it. To make a long story short, what resulted from Lahey's efforts, and his purpose for being on the Martha show, was this gift to the world:

{photo: Amazon}
And my procurements of its many blessings.

It's easy to understand why the book gained such a strong following. Lahey's recipe is virtually fool-proof, extremely forgiving and requires very little effort. It has become thee household food staple in our home and we are healthier and happier for it. Not to mention, if you are looking for ways to save money on groceries, a loaf of this goodness costs about 40 cents to make.

While I recommend buying the book because of the many wonderful variations included, I am happy to post Lahey's infamous recipe and rave about its life-changing nature through serifed fonts. The basic recipe requires four ingredients, as well as a large dutch oven. I always go with my trusty rusty from Martha herself.

...except I remove the little black handle for fear it will melt off in the oven.

3 cups bread flour (400 grams)
1 1/4 tsp table salt (8 grams)
1/4 tsp dry yeast (1 gram)
1 1/3 cups cool (55-65 degrees) water

It's this easy:
Pour the flour in a bowl (Not to be an unofficial spokesperson for kitchen scales, but it really does help to have a scale especially because flour can be so insecure about its weight and measuring it in cups isn't always accurate).

Add the salt and the yeast:

Mix it together. Then add the water:

Mix it with a spoon, or your hands:

When the dough is thoroughly combined,

Cover it with a towel:

And then do whatever you want for the next 12-18 hours. Maybe even the next 24 hours. The first rise generally takes about 12-18 hours, but it depends on the temperature of your home, how impatient you are and whether or not you sort of forget it's even there. The point being, the bread is extremely kind, forgiving and magnanimous. After whatever amount of time you choose (I usually mix the bread right before I go to bed at night, then I get up and go to school all day and I flip it again whenever I get that's probably about 18 hours) lift the towel from the bread,

(For the record, this is a pitiful first rise. I think it was 50 degrees in our house and Andrew wouldn't let me turn the heat on...the bread normally rises quite a bit more than this. See how many people suffer in your heat tyranny, Andrew?)

Scoop the bread out of the bowl, making sure to tuck in any dry parts of the dough:

And deposit the bread on a lightly floured surface or tea towel:

Aaaand cover it again. Let it rise another 1 to 2 hours or until if you poke it, the bread holds the indentation. About 1/2 hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475* and put the dutch oven IN the oven. It's important the D oven is hot when you place the bread in it.

Blah, blah, fast forward 1-2 hours, carefully remove the dutch oven from the oven and ease the bread down in.

My dutch oven has some burned flour in it, but don't judge me. I like the bread to feel at home in its surroundings.

Put the lid back on and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes are up, carefully remove the dutch oven from the regular oven and take off the lid.

The bread will have cooked a bit. Also, this is a very, very hot temperature in cooking and in life. My dutch oven literally changes colors to a darker red during this heating process and I've sustained several serious burns during this stage. One such injury was a severe burn that resulted from the steam that spewed from the dutch oven when I took the lid off too fast. Bake with caution or just be smarter than me.

With the lid off, place the dutch oven back in the oven for another 15-30 minutes (depending on how browned you like the bread). I like it a little bit darker than this:

Remove the bread from the oven and set it somewhere to cool. According to Mr. Lahey, it is essential that you let the bread cool for one hour to finish the rest of the cooking process. During this juncture, you also get to hear the bread "sing." The "singing" occurs as the bread makes a whole lot of cracking and snapping noises as hot air tries to escape. It's sort of cool. Though not a lot like singing.

But an hour is a long time to wait. You can answer to Mr. Lahey for your choices.


If you buy the book, there are wonderful variations, like whole wheat bread:

Olive bread:

Chocolate cupcakes using leftover breadcrumbs:

Wonderful bread recipes for making sandwich bread:


Even recipes for pickling stuff to add to your sandwiches:

Basically, I haven't felt this passionately about something since people started trying to say Twilight was good literature.

The bread is that serious.

If you're still unconvinced, I can only bear witness to one greater than I am. Take his opinion if not mine:

He's the new Jacob.

{And if you haven't seen LOST...
I have no words. Only deep abiding sorrow.

And if you really like Twilight, I understand. 
Sometimes I watch the Bachelor. For hours at a time.}


Sarah Yags said...

You and your love for real food bring me so much joy.

Julie A said...

Yummy Yummy! Maybe I will actually get to make this recipe and eat it since I am not going into labor any time soon, or ever.
I did end up re-making the apple pie and it was extremely tasty. I think you have actually ruined every other apple pie recipe for me.
Looks like a good book to have around. Thanks for the post.

Karyn said...

Best. Ever. I'll let you know how the cheese bread turns out.

Joshua and Mallory said...

Okay now I am going to have to convince Josh that I NEED this book because I want the whole wheat recipe. Ugh. You did that on purpose. I think I would be a much nicer person if I ate that bread everyday.

Audrey said...

We have the exact same red Martha dutch oven and that makes me happy!

Jenny said...

THE bread. It is amazing. Since my printed copy of a copy of a reinterpretation of Lahey's recipe is getting kind of ucky, I might need to buy the book. And because I want to start making sandwich bread.

lyndsey said...

Sarah, I miss you.

Julie, I love that apple pie pregnancy story by the way. I may always associate birth with that pie from now on.

Mal, you really would love it. The whole wheat recipe is awesome.

And Audrey, you just must make the bread if you already have the dutch oven!

Jenny -- do it. The sandwich bread is worth it.