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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.