Baking bread. part two.
I have been baking bread pretty much nonstop for the past few weeks, much to the amusement (and, hopefully, delight) of everyone around me. My narrow galley kitchen is permanently dusted with a fine layer of flour and wheat bran; my favorite Le Creuset pot is probably never going to be the same again. Having removed the knob (replacing it with a twist of aluminum foil) for the lid so it wouldn't melt in the blisteringly hot oven, I will probably never be able to find it again. Bags of flour litter the countertops, crumbs are scattered far and wide across the marble floor. Sachets of yeast pile up in the cutlery drawer; half-empty bottles of beer (the recipe calls for beer) litter the refrigerator. My pants feel a bit tight, unaccustomed as I am to eating large quantities of bread. (The one drawback to this bread is that it does not keep well, and as I cannot stop baking it, I always have some on hand, which I then have to eat).
I baked another loaf of bread tonight, mixing together the dough the night before, letting rise for some twenty hours before kneading it again, dividing it into two loaves, and letting them rise again. One loaf went, wrapped in parchment paper, into the fridge so I could bake it another day; the second one went into the oven. I love the soft whoomp of the dough as I drop it into the hot cast-iron pot, quietly settling in as I slash a big X across the top; I can see it begin to rise from the heat, and it will rise even more once in the oven. The recipe I have been using deviates somewhat from the original New York Times recipe; this one is from Cook's Illustrated (by way of The Seattle Times and Nancy Leson's blog). It calls for less liquid (which makes the dough a little easier to control) and replaces some of the water with beer and a little vinegar. Some people feel that this recipe is easier to handle and produces a more flavorful loaf, yet no one who has tasted my versions of both recipes seems to be able to tell the difference. I am not sure if that was because of how I made them, or if we just all lack taste buds.
As soon as the baked loaf was cool enough to handle I sliced some to eat with a little butter and strawberry jam, although it was so good it didn't really need anything at all. As I bit into the thick, warm crust, I thought of Barbara Kingsolver's description of a loaf of bread in Animal Dreams, "nearly spherical, with a deep brown crust and a steaming interior, it tasted like love." Like her heroine, Codi, I ate half a loaf by myself; like everyone at the dinner table who saw Codi and her half-loaf of bread, my friends have taken to calling me the Bread Girl. And nearly fifteen years after I first read those words, I realize that nothing on earth tastes more like love than fresh bread, still warm from the oven.