Monday, April 26, 2010

Finding comfort in being constructive

Freshly baked bread is one of my top, all-time favorite comfort foods. I've been craving it pretty much ever since I first got teeth. My mom used to bake bread for local restaurants when I was a kid, and I've yet to find a commercial bakery that can match her pumpernickle.

Years ago, I'd bookmarked a New York Times adaptation of the Sullivan Street Bakery's amazing no-knead bread. I don't know why it took me so long to try it -- maybe I was intimidated by the long rise time -- but I finally did a few months ago.

And you know what? I've been making it frequently ever since. (That's the latest loaf right there, in the picture.) As I wrote over at The 36-Hour Day a couple of weeks ago, this bread is a working mom's dream, because it practically makes itself.

I've tweaked the recipe a bit, increasing the amount of yeast and salt. But it's incredibly simple. In a large glass bowl, I stir together three cups of all-purpose flour, 1/2 a teaspoon of yeast, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and precisely 13 ounces of room-temperature water. (Why that much water? I don't know... I assume that bakers with more experience than I came up with the amount.) It forms a shaggy, sticky dough, which you leave in the mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise in a warm spot. For 12 to 18 hours.

I mixed up a loaf around dinnertime last night, left it to rise, and it greeted me in the morning. I slapped it around a little bit, covered it back up, and let it sit for another hour while I wrangled the kids. I heated a cast-iron Dutch oven (and the lid) in a 450 degree oven for half an hour, dumped in the dough, covered it up, and let it bake for 20 minutes while I encouraged the kids to hurry up and get dressed already.

After 20 minutes, I uncovered it, put it back in the screaming-hot oven, and went upstairs to get dressed. I came back down when there was one minute left on the timer, and there it was: crusty, golden perfection.

And there I was, feeling like a hero as my kids devoured warm "Mamma Bread" slathered with butter. I still don't believe that working moms have loads of leisure time at their disposal, but pulling bread out of the oven sure made me feel like I had been constructive that morning. And being able to add something significant to my to-do list and cross it off immediately was even more comforting than biting into a slice.

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