May 8, 2008
Baking bread: you’re giving the gift of time
I am sure you know someone like my father-in-law – absolutely impossible to buy for. You get that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach as Christmas, Father’s (or Mother’s) Day and birthdays draw near. It’s not that he’s ungrateful for anything you give him – quite the opposite. But after profuse thanks, you mentally note never to get him clothes/tools/cologne/ties/books again. It’s just never really “him.” He is a fan of my cooking, but as we live almost three hours away, we don’t always see each other on those special days. We usually mail him his present and food wouldn’t be very practical. Or would it? After brainstorming about foods that would travel well, I came to the conclusion that a hard crusty bread would fit the bill. (My father-in-law’s bread of choice is Arthur Avenue Italian bread from the Bronx, so I know he’d like such a loaf.)
The problem is I have never made bread before, bread that required yeast, that is. I know, I know – it’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to do and have never gotten around to doing. I had purchased Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking and decided to finally take the plunge. Why be frightened away by a whole new lexicon with strange words like “autolyse,” “levain,” and “poolish” when the end product is so sublime?
I decided to make Tom Cat’s Semolina Filone, no couch-jumping or You Tube crazed laughter required. It’s marked “intermediate” level, but I decided to make it since I already had durum flour. The recipe is over two pages long and quite complicated (for a novice at least), requiring me to flip back and forth to the technique section, so I’m not going to include the recipe here. I would highly recommend buying the book if you love the crunch of freshly baked bread and gorgeous photography.
The recipes says it takes at least 13 hours, but it took me almost 16 from start to finish. I soon realized that this is a wonderful gift – a gift of our ever dwindling time. The ingredients couldn’t be more humble: flour, water, yeast and a bit of salt. But when you add time, you have something truly special. Why don’t you make a loaf of bread to give as a gift along with some infused dipping oil or gourmet jams the next time you’re stumped as to what to give that hard to shop for person on your list? Just make sure to tuck in a copy of the 4 page recipe so s/he can appreciate the hard work you put in.
My very first interaction with yeast.
I had no idea bread dough was so demanding.
The hardest part is elongating the loaf without popping bubbles.
Time to coat with sesame seeds.
I hope he likes it.