In lieu of flowers…I’ll take flour

February 16th, 2008

In the wake of Valentine’s Day, after I gorged myself on way too much chocolate and enjoyed my co-workers beautiful flowers, I got to thinking about how romantic practical gifts can be. So many of the standard Valentine’s Day gifts are cute and romantic but not very lasting or useful. Flowers die, chocolate consumed, teddy bears neglected. My roommate, for instance, bought her boyfriend things he needed for his car. Not the standard “romantic” present but it was by the sheer fact that it was thoughtful and useful…so maybe the thought does count. Thinking back, I’ve been given practical gifts that have been very meaningful and memorable to me. I’ve had a pack of cards for about six years from an ex that I still breakout and has somehow survived all my moves. One guy I was dating brought over 25lbs of bread flour (although, now that I think about it, we weren’t dating yet…but…it did not take long). Given my bread obsession, I’ll happily take flour over flowers. Although, I would never turn down flowers!

I love bread! I love making bread! I love the smell! I love the taste! I love everything about bread! If I have a rough day at work, I break out the flour and yeast and get rid of my aggression by kneading the dough. A productive way to destress. In keeping with one of my blog goals, to teach people how to cook, I decided that I really need to learn how to make No-Knead Bread. I was never too interested because the kneading is my favorite part but…when I saw LyB’s of And then I do the dishes beautiful post, I thought I should give it another chance. No-Knead is easy to make for anyone who is intimidated by the bread making process. The important part is that it needs to be cooked in a pot in order to create the really good crust and maintain a nice shape. Previously, I had tried it without a pot because I do not have one big enough but it did not turn out well. I have two pyrex bowls, 1 quart and 2 quart, so I adapted the recipe to make two smaller loaves. Start this the day before you want to make it because it will need to rise at least a total of 14 hours. My little loaves turned out quite well. A nice crunchy crust and an airy moist inside, absolutely delicious.

No Knead Bread
(Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery, as found in the NY Times)

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water

Cornmeal, flour or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 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. (I left mine for about 15 hours.)

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. Split the dough into two equal portions. 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 each portion of 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 two 1- to 2-quart Pyrex bowls pot 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 25 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 10 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

P.S. If you want to make one large loaf check out LyB’s recipe. In fact, check out her blog anyway. Her pictures are beautiful and she has a lot of ideas for variations.