I’ve fallen pretty hard for Jim Lahey. I can’t stop telling people about him: family, coworkers, complete strangers. He’s the guy that developed the one-pot, no kneading bread method that yields rustic rounds reminiscent of the bread Jim discovered in small towns outside of Rome. His theory is that you work the dough less but let it rise longer and it develops a structure that’s just as strong as more arduous recipes. It’s as easy as mixing a few ingredients in a bowl, letting them rise for 14-18 hours, and baking the round in a Dutch oven. That’s it. Now bread is one of those things that, for the most part, I’ve stayed away from because I’ve heard how difficult and moody it is. Of course I did make those english muffins and the recent blackberry cornmeal muffins, but let’s just say I’ve steered clear from yeast. Until now. I think I may be an official bread-baking convert. Trust me on this–you will be, too.
First, a quick word on trust. I learned a little something about it this week. I was at my favorite yoga class and the teacher decided it’d be a great idea to end class with a full bridge pose from a standing position. For all of you non-yogis, a full bridge (or wheel) is when you’re lying on your back, bend your knees and have your feet flush to the ground, and push up into a half-moon shape. Now if you do the pose from a standing position, you essentially look back, lean back, arch back…all the way down until your hands hit the floor. Oh boy. My mind started racing for reasons I may need to leave class early. What sudden emergency could I feign? People started to partner up so they’d have a spotter. Then all of my fellow classmates starting going about the pose like it was as easy as tying their shoes. I started to panic a little and made up some excuses to my partner–then from across the room I hear my teacher saying “Stop thinking, Megan. Just go, go, go. Your body’s strong enough. Your mind’s holding you back.” I took a deep breath and I went, went, went. I stopped trying to picture myself going down towards the ground and stopped trying to envision my form or think about how much it’d hurt if I fell on my head. Truthfully, I did it at that point more because everyone in class was watching me than for any other reason–but sure enough, my hands hit the solid ground and I was in the pose. Kind of floating there, actually.
And so it is with this bread–don’t stress about it. Don’t think about it at all, actually. Just follow these steps and, like the beauty of a good recipe or the instructions of a powerful teacher, the result will come. Whether you’re dealing with a full standing bridge in yoga or a round of the most beautiful, rustic round of bread you’ve ever seen, sometimes it helps to just turn off your mind and go. Move forward. See what happens and trust that it will.
You can do this. Here’s how it’ll go: First you mix some water, yeast, flour, and salt together real quick-like, cover it and let it rise. This is the first rise. Then you’ll wrap it in a towel for a second rise:
A half hour later you take off the top, let it brown for 15-30 more minutes…and voila:
While you may want to cut right into the hot round of bread, Jim talks about the singing that occurs right when you take your loaf out of the oven. It’s a slight whistling noise that happens due to the difference in temperature, and it’s actually a critical part of the final stages of the bread cooking. So don’t cut it. Leave it to cool, but have some soft butter on hand so that when you do slice it, you’ll be ready for action. Maybe you’ll be smiling like a fool and call your mom to tell her how awesome the bread looks, tastes, feels–how much you love Jim Lahey. Maybe you’re an old-hat at this baking thing and this is no big deal for you. If that’s the case, I challenge you to a standing bridge pose.
Please note that the rising times for this bread aren’t indicated in the time breakdowns above – the first rise is almost a full half day, so plan ahead.
I played around with the flour ratios here, adding a bit more whole wheat flour than the recipe calls for and decreasing the amount of bread flour. I wanted to get as close to a true whole-wheat bread as possible. Jim encourages experimentation, so I took him up on his offer (although he does warn against using 100% whole wheat flour as it results in a gritty, tough bread). As far as specific notes, if you’re using a Le Creuset pan, the little black knob is not oven-safe up to 475F, so you must unscrew the black knob, place the screw back in (to cover up the hole) and proceed with the baking. This is simply to save the top of your Le Creuset. A cast-iron pan like Lodge wouldn’t have this issue.
Adapted from: Jim Lahey’s My Bread
Equipment: 4 1/2 - 5 1/2 quart- heavy pot
For the Bread:
In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add the water and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, mix until you have a sticky, wet dough–about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is doted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 14-18 hours.
When the first rise is finished, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a spatula, lift the edges of the dough in twoards the center. Tuck in the edges to make it round.
Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust with flour. Place dough on towel, seam down and dust top lightly with flour. Fold ends of towel loosely over dough and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 2-3 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your ginger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 20 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 F with a rack positioned in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 quart heavy pot in center of rack. Using pot holders, remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Be careful–the pot is hot! Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15-30 minutes further. Use a heat-proof spatula to carefully life out of pot and place on rack to cool completely.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.