Love in the Shape of a Loaf

Something to know about me (and probably it’s not surprising, being as I have a baking blog and all): I have a very particular, very focused and very powerful love of all things bready; if it’s floury and filled with carbohydrates, my will is weak.

Here’s another thing: it’s not my fault. I’m convinced that this love is hereditary, passed down by previous generations; I also believe this love is now being passed on to the generations after me. I say this with confidence, as I have proof.

Here’s my case: below you’ll see photo of two delicious children. The little girl is my niece, Ms. Thing, and the boy is her brother, Mr. Boo. This story is about Mr. Boo.

About two years ago, when Mr. Boo was 5 years old, we were all at my brother and sister- in-law’s for dinner with family and friends. The adults were at one table, and a group of 4 or 5 kids were at a separate table situated behind me. I remember it was kind of loud, with the adults chattering and the kids being kid-rowdy, when I hear Boo’s little voice break through the noise. He was talking to his slice of bread. I heard him say, “Bread, I love you!” I turn around, and he’s holding the bread in his hand and looking at it, eye-to-slice. He’s not showing off, he’s not trying to get any attention. He just wants his bread to know how he feels about it.

Now, I’ve always loved this boy more than I can say, but seriously, that took things to a whole new level. While in some families this would seem weird, in ours, it just further proves who he belongs to.

Crazy as this may sound, it also speaks to the palate of a fussy-eating boy. Boo’s father – who made the bread that night – is an excellent cook, and my brother’s children have reaped the benefits. As in all supportive cooking families, we share recipes. My dad was actually the one who discovered this recipe in Cook’s Illustrated, and for a few years now, it’s stayed in the regular baking rotation of my dad, my brother, and myself.

I should gush about The Bread just for a minute… it has a lovely crispy, chewy crust and a fantastically fluffy, soft and delicious inside. It’s also crazy easy to make; with it’s few ingredients and little need for attention, it’s simple enough to bake off once or twice a week and use as your regular bread, or if you’re not a regular bread baker, just to make when you’re in the mood for something extra tasty. It’s also easily altered, so you can, for example, bake an olive, rosemary and parmesan situation by adding those ingredients at the same time you mix up the flour, and you’ve got a whole different kind of happy.

Enough chatting, let’s get on with it!

Here are the ingredients, all lined up and ready to go to work:

Once everyone is mixed, you’re ready for your first rise. Here’s what my “shaggy ball” looked like:

After it’s initial, long rise, the dough has a second rise in it’s sling

And the final products is…

Almost No-Knead Bread

from Cook’s Illustrated

3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional dusting for work surface

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

1 1/2 teaspoon table salt

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) water, at room temperature

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) mild-flavored lager (Budweiser is best, but I use what I have)

1 tablespoon white vinegar

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8- quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and back covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registered 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

for rye bread: In the first step, replace 1 3/8 cups all-purpose flour with 1 1/8 cups rye flour. Add 2 tablespoons caraway seeds to flour mixture

to make olive, rosemary and parmesan bread: Add to the flour mixture 4 oz. finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups), 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, and 1/2 cup pitted and chopped green olives

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