Friday, February 16, 2007

Give Us This Day

The absurd heat wave we endured in December and January finally gave way to wintry weather (such as it is in DC), and we've gotten a couple of wonderful snow days - the best perk of teaching! We've had almost a whole week at home together and it's been delightful (other than Natalie's cold, which drags on and on and may be morphing into a sinus infection). We had brunch with Jenny & Ezra at our favorite restaurant* and then hung out at out at our house for most of the afternoon playing games, reading, and knitting. Oh, and doing laundry and organizing baby clothes. We are finally making ground in the War of the Textiles (although I am beginning to think Natalie is a double agent).

The best non-baby activity I've been enjoying this week, though, has been baking bread. Divine, glorious, crusty, infinitely variable bread.

Yummy Crusty Bread

If bread baking has ever scared you, KEEP READING. All of its other merits aside, the true glory of this bread is its simplicity. It's practically effortless, there is no kneading required, and it doesn't need any fancy ingredients or equipment. Flour, yeast, salt, water. Oh, and time. It does take a long time from start to finish but all but fifteen minutes of it is completely unattended. The recipe was published this past fall in Mark Bittman's NYT food column and made the rounds of food blogs and websites but I was oblivious until a neighbor tipped me off a few weeks ago.

Once you've tried the basic recipe, you can tinker. So far, I've baked five or six loaves and have tried adding chocolate chunks in one and substituting some whole wheat flour in another. Next up is something in the cinnamon/raisin/pecan family.

Oh, and it's saving us a lot of dough, too. My biggest financial weakness is food, and Cait is addicted to good bread, so we spend way too much money on artisan bread at the Farmer's Market. Now we can bake our own. My stomach and my miserly heart are united at last!

Give it a whirl and let us know what yummy varities you come up with . Daily bread. It really is divine.

*forever to be known in our house as the Labor Cafe, as it's where we had breakfast on April 14 as then-Harpo began her entrance into the world. Plus, lots of Marxists and hippies like to hang out there.... :)


  • Delurking to say, my dough has been resting for almost an hour now-- how will I wait 18 hours? :)

    Thanks for the tip. I hope this works!

    By Anonymous Bobbe, at 7:52 PM  

  • Hang tough, Bobbe! The longer you hold out, the better it is. Enjoy it.

    By Blogger Jen, at 8:14 PM  

  • i am so going to make this bread!!! *printing out the recipe now to shop for ingredients on monday*

    thanks for sharing! your snow days sound like a lot of fun...

    and that Valentine Natalie is TOO SWEET!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 9:18 PM  

  • I've had more luck with Bittman's sourdough recipe in How to Cook Everything. It doesn't take substantially more skill as long as you have a food processor. But maybe the dutch oven just doesn't like me.

    By Blogger Emilin, at 9:22 PM  

  • I'm not even using a dutch oven - I'm using an old Pyrex bowl covered with a double layer of tinfoil. What was the flaw with yours when you did it in the dutch oven?

    Skill isn't particularly the issue for me - I can bake yeasted bread and enjoy doing so from time to time - it's a question of time and effort. The HtCE sourdough would require hauling out the food processor, tending sourdough starter, and hovering around the oven to spray it for a while. I would (will! sounds like a good sourdough recipe) do this on occasion, but it's more maintenance than I want for baking bread every weekend.

    By Blogger Jen, at 9:52 PM  

  • Well, the dough rested a total of 19.5 hours (I ended up going out with friends after church unexpectedly) and now it's on its second rise.

    I was planning on using my crockpot insert, since it's ceramic, but this morning I realized it's a 3 quart so it probably won't hold the dough. Drat. My only other option is a metal T-Fal pasta pan-- I hope the fact that it's not so heavy isn't going mess this up.

    so! little! work!

    By Anonymous Bobbe, at 3:07 PM  

  • Well, the final verdict is -- wow. Quite tasty on the inside.

    I think I put it too far down in the oven, because it burned a little on the bottom. And the house smells like burnt nonstick -- can't wait till I have enough money to actually buy cookware.

    I've never made my own bread, and I don't buy expensive breads at the store, but this stuff really beats the best bread I've had so far -- at a Johnny Carino's restaurant.

    My three year old likes it too.


    By Anonymous Bobbe, at 6:19 PM  

  • I've been reading so much about this recipe, I'm definitely going to try it now. And I think I'm going to use some of the clippings from my unruly rosemary bush on my balcony for flavoring... I'll let you know how that works out!

    By Blogger Lisa, at 6:55 PM  

  • Mmm, will definitely have to try the bread; it sounds fab.

    By Blogger Tamsin, at 3:54 AM  

  • OK, so the dough is made (I used roughly half wholewheat bread flour) and on the counter rising, in preparation for shaping/baking tomorrow morning. I'll have to make some soup to have with it for lunch... I might even try out a new soup recipe too, rather than go with one of my old favourites.

    I have a question though, how much is a quart in terms of fl oz/pints? And am I right in thinking that an American pint is 16fl oz/2 cups? Our British pints are bigger - 20 fl oz. I'm sure that I'll be able to judge by eye which of my baking dishes/casseroles is most appropriate, if necessary, but I've never known what a quart equates to!

    By Blogger Tamsin, at 8:55 AM  

  • We had burning on the bottom, and the crumb was way too wet for me, even with a half cup of whole wheat flour subbed in.

    The extra couple of minutes doesn't bother me at all. I only tend my starter when I start a new loaf, and I spray the loaf periodically while I clean up the kitchen. The difference in the crust and the crumb are so worth it to me.

    By Blogger Emilin, at 10:06 AM  

  • Tamsin, a US quart is 32 fl. oz. or 2 US pints. I've been baking mine in a mixing bowl that is no more than 12" across and 5-6" deep. (As a cultural exchange, and since you're a food writer, can you tell me what gas mark 6 is equivalent to? I'm on a mostly British babyfeeding listserv and don't know how to convert a particular recipe.)

    Also, let me know how the half whole wheat turned out. I did 1/3 whole wheat and the loaf was denser and more damp than the entirely white flour versions.

    Em, I guess we'll just have to go bread-to-bread the next time we get together! :) I also realized later than our food proc is currently out of commission (for the dumbest reason: the safety lock is out of whack but we can't re-whack it). A new FP is definitely not possible now but perhaps my dad will replace it for my birthday.

    By Blogger Jen, at 10:19 AM  

  • Thanks for the conversion Jen. It sounds like the recommended 6-8 quart pint pan would be decidedly on the large size for a 1 1/2lb loaf (although it all depends on shape/dimensions) though! I'll see what the dough looks like in the morning ;o) Your pyrex bowl sounds like it has similar dimensions to the casserole I was planning to use. I'll also take note of the comments re: the burning, and the damper texture of the wholewheat version and cook mine at a slightly lower temperature. Will definitely let you know how it turns out (maybe a wholewheat version needs a bit of extra yeast??)

    I'll have to also try the HTCE sourdough now that Emilin's recommended it (I bought the book when we stayed in California a few years ago) - I've never had a great deal of luck following sourdough recipes, although I luuuurve me some sourdough bread. However, my food processor is defunct as well - the motor died a while back. Never really used it much, so I don't miss it (plus I have other separate gadgets like a blender for soups and one of those Braun mini-processors which is so much more useful, not to mention easier to wash and store). Hopefully I could use my KitchenAid to make the sourdough bread instead.

    As to your temp conversion, gas 6 is 400F, or 200C (although I don't think you really use Centigrade/Celsius in the US). Basically most temp conversions go up in roughly 25F /10C increments for each gas mark, although a couple of the Centrigrade/Celsius temps don't fit this rule.
    Gas 1 = 275F, 140C
    Gas 2 = 300F, 150C
    Gas 3 = 325F, 170C
    Gas 4 = 350F, 180C
    Gas 5 = 375F, 190C
    Gas 6 = 400F, 200C
    Gas 7 = 425F, 220C
    Gas 8 = 450F, 230C
    Gas 9 = 475F, 240C
    What's the recipe you are wanting to try? I'm interested in finding out more about that listserv too, even if it's going to be some months before I can use it!

    By Blogger Tamsin, at 11:20 AM  

  • delurking as well...
    does this freeze well? I have a bigger family ok 7 of us Wendy myself and our 5 kids...this would be great for me since I have food allergies.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:14 PM  

  • Kerry, I don't see why it wouldn't freeze well. Most breads do. You might want to slice it before freezing so you can defrost a couple of slices at a time. I'd say give it a try.

    Tamsin, the group is Baby-Led Weaning (I think it's listed in Yahoogroups as "B-LW") and it is built around the idea of starting babies with finger foods at 6 mo instead of purees. It's been a roaring success with Natalie. The recipes are for lentil cakes and corn cakes (both essentially pancakes/fritters).

    By Blogger Jen, at 3:52 PM  

  • The bread turned out really well (pics on my blog). I didn't have a problem with it burning (although my Aga oven isn't quite as hot as the recommended temperature), and while the crumb inside is moist, I didn't find it dense or damp, even with the half wholewheat flour.

    I'm feeling completely overstuffed with bread though, as it's so delicious I've already eaten about a third of the loaf!

    Am still going to try the sourdough recipe out soon.

    Oh, and I will look up the Baby-Led Weaning soon - I've heard a bit about it as a concept, but don't know a great deal.

    By Blogger Tamsin, at 10:50 AM  

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