I’ve always been a little wary of baking. You usually need special ingredients and equipment, and you need to use precise measurements. This doesn’t match up with my normal use-whatever-I’ve-got style of cooking. And yet there’s also an allure to baking, especially the baking of bread. There’s something primal, almost magical, about creating what has been a staple food for centuries in your kitchen at home.
One of the reasons I had been thinking so much about making bread at home was Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread (it requires a minimum of ingredients, equipment, and effort (which makes it perfect for me)), and I was planning to make it eventually. Then I saw an episode of “Jacques Pepin’s More Fast Food My Way” in which he made a version of no-knead bread with an interesting twist: you mix the dough in the pot that you cook it in, so there’s almost no clean-up necessary. On a side note, Jacques Pepin has quickly become one of my favorite food personalities, but that can wait for another post.
So here’s what you do. Start the night before to ensure proper rising time. In a large, non-stick, oven-safe pot mix the following ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of room temperature water
1 tsp of yeast (or a bit more)
1 tsp of salt (or a bit more)
4 cups of flour
Stir it up until it’s thoroughly mixed, then let it sit, uncovered, at room temperature for about an hour and a half.
When you check back, the dough should have puffed up a little bit. Knock it down by mixing it up again for a moment, you don’t have to do too much. Then cover it and put it in the refrigerator overnight (10-12 hours).
The next day, preheat your over to 450 degrees. When it’s at temperature, take the dough out of the fridge and take the cover off (it should have risen again overnight), and put it straight into the oven. Then walk away for about 40 minutes.
After forty minutes, take the pot out of the oven (please use oven mitts when doing this). You will see that you have a perfect crust poking out from the pot. Let it sit and cool for a few minutes before turning it out.
If your cookware is like mine, that is to say so used and abused that the non-stick has worn off, you may need a spatula to help you get it out. I did intend to score the top before baking and did not, and you can see the top went a little lopsided. Never you mind, this was perfectly crusty and chewy, this is some seriously good bread (though mine needed a little more salt). Dipped in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt it was truly delicious.
I have to admit, though, finding out how easy it is to make bread is a bit disappointing. On one hand it’s very gratifying to be able to produce such a great product on (basically) a whim. On the other hand, the process is so completely easy and almost foolproof as to demystify the nature of bread. It’s a bittersweet feeling, and an wholly unexpected one. All I wanted to do was bake a loaf of bread.
Maybe this is why I avoid baking. It’s also why I will continue to make bread, hopeful of recapturing that feeling of making magic in the kitchen.