This time of year I can usually be found settling into my nest – hibernating in the house, listening to a little moody music, and whipping up comfort food while creating excuses to avoid hitting the gym for one more day. I would say it’s the onset of cool weather that undergirds this behavior of mine, but judging by recent Atlanta temperatures that would just be lie-telling. Whatever the reason, I’ve been in my kitchen chasing the Holy Grail of Domesticity lately – baking my own bread. Mmm hmm, you read that right. I know, I’m the antithesis of Martha Stewart, but the idea of home bread baking has always held some strange allure for me.
For ages I told myself that I was going to bake bread, but I never quite got around to it. I wanted the bread, but I didn’t want to deal with all that rising, kneading, rising, punching down, shaping, etc. It seemed like a lot of effort. If I was going to bake bread, it would have to be like virtually everything else I do in the kitchen, simple. Lo and behold, this little gem of a recipe showed up in the New York Times. Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC says this recipe is so easy that even a 6-year-old could handle it. “Perfect”, I thought. That was in 2006.
Fast forward to 2011. A couple months back, my friend Brandi (who is gorgeous, sweet, works part-time, and always seems unruffled by the chaos that accompanies life with three children under the age of 6) invited me to make challah bread with her as she does every Friday afternoon. The finished product was delicious, but mostly she swayed me into finally trying my hand at bread baking myself by showing me how easy it was.
So I went home, and set the laptop on the counter and went back and forth between the recipe linked above and the video tutorial here (because I like comprehensive instruction in the kitchen). Jim Lahey is right, my kids could make this bread. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit to suit my own preferences. I use 1 and 1/2 cups of water, let the dough rise 18-24 hours, and bake it in a Pyrex dish with lid on the entire baking time of 37-40 minutes. Here are a few photos of the progression.
Did I mention that I’m a bread baker now? Surprising friends and family with warm loaves, baking bread that my kids motor through in one meal, crumbs tumbling from their happy little mouths as they enthusiastically mumble, “Mom, this bread is the BEST!” But you should know that I am still solidly in touch with my roots, because yesterday our Thanksgiving meal had both the bread I baked, and a tray full of these bad boys.
After all, these mass-produced little slices of heaven were good enough for my Grandma to serve all those years. And really, it’s hard to argue with their warm, steamy deliciousness, especially if you accidentally scorch the bottom of your chichi, homemade loaf.