When I would hear the word bread, I immediately used to think “carbs”. Followed by my brain launching into the word, FAT (yes, it’s probably body-dysmorphic disorder, but I blame Hollywood). I am the quintessential professional 30-something year old female, living that life. Organic, sustainable, fresh, simple, etc. Everything perfectly researched (since I am a scientist), experimented, and all results documented and filed away in hopes of creating the perfect food experience. Having said that, bread has always been somewhat, filed away, in the “fat” file…
Until one Sunday morning, at a brunch I was invited to on the rooftop of my friend’s apartment in the West Village. There was this wonderful spread of cheeses from Murray’s, fruits, fresh juice, fresh lemon curd, and then there was this boule. A boule is a round loaf of white bread (boule means ‘ball’ in French). It came out of my friend’s oven, with an intoxicating smell of freshly-baked bread; infused with figs and walnuts, wrapped in a floral, maroon dish towel. It was a beautiful bronze and rustic. The crust was perfectly crisp and the thickness was perfect. It was at this point, that I realized that all the other things on the table were there to honor this boule. Every combination, of bread and cheese or bread and curd or bread and fruit was distinct and delicious. I immediately asked about the recipe only to be pleasantly surprised that it requires no kneading, a long rise time, and only 4 ingredients! I left that brunch with the recipe, and a determination to try it as soon as I reached back to Boston.
There is something sacred about fresh bread. Perhaps it is the spiritual concept of “breaking bread”, or just the simple earthly ingredients. Since that Sunday brunch, well over 5 years ago, I can count on my fingers how many times I have actually bought bread at a grocery store, rather than baking it-it’s that easy! I also now use it for French toasts, breakfast cheeses with a drizzle of honey, or with soups and stews; my favorite is toasting a slice and dipping it in olive oil, with a side of fresh steak tartar. However, the thing that brings me the most joy is to bake a loaf, and take it as a gift to my next dinner party-as substitute for wine. Words cannot describe the enjoyment that fresh bread brings to a group of people, and to know that something that simple and fresh can connect people is priceless. So the next time you’re thinking organic and simple, and you walk to the Whole Foods to pay $2.49 for a French baguette, think about the definition of organic and what it is you are purchasing. Perhaps the true definition of organic, is something that you’ve created with 4 ingredients, in your oven.
Try it with walnuts or red onion in the batter. I don’t even do the second rise-and the boule tastes just as good. But as a purist, I do stick to the cast iron pot to bake it in. It is key to warm the dutch oven up to the appropriate temperature before placing the dough in it. Also, let the boule rise to its appropriate time, as all good things happen when the time is right.
If you want to design your special breaking bread party, work with Mahin and you can serve your homemade bread with other beautiful whole food condiments.
I have since then relabeled that “fat” file as “boule”, and subsequently, the file has been moved to the “important” section. Cheers to breaking bread!
Recipe: No-Knead Bread
Published: November 8, 2006
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.