Except for the time I got caught in one of those Friendship Bread pass-the-loaf schemes, I’ve never ever baked (crusty) bread. No loaves, no boules, no rolls, no baguettes. I guess there’s always been something intimidating in the liturgy—the proofing, the punching, the rising—the whole glossary of glutenography can scare off a kneading newbie. Yeah, I circled the idea for a couple of years and acquired a few bread-ready accouterments—pizza stone, peel, Kitchen Aid mixer. I even mastered some home-style pies but, in the end, achieving a satisfying slice seemed a bit too daunting.
Which, of course, makes no sense. I mean, what’s the prob? It’s (mostly) just yeast, flour, water and salt. Plus, bread is what humans do. Creating foldable, sliceable deliciousness from grains is, arguably, the defining feature of post-hunter/gatherer man. Until homo sapiens entered the bizarre carb phase of the Industrial Food Period, bread in all its related forms (tortilla, pita, flatbread, naan, etc.) had anchored humanity’s nutrition, connection and pleasure.
Fast-forward many millennia to a cluttered kitchen in Westchester, NY on a sunny-enough winter day. For some murky reason, I decided that That Morning–the day my friend, Laura, arrived from L.A.– would be The Day. The Day I would overcome my fear of creating rock-hard cardboard masquerading as sustenance. The Day I would proof, punch and let rise, once and for all. I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen, right?*
No problemo, mes amis! Under my bread buddy’s tutelage (Laura, doncha know, is quite the baker herself), we got our hands, um, floury. We started with Mark Bittman’s Not-Quite-Whole-Grain-Baguettes** recipe, dutifully using the same ingredients but slightly adjusting the method. First, I opted for the stand mixer instead of the food processor (easier clean-up, in my opinion, and I like to use that pricey doorstop whenever possible!). Also, even though Bittman’s recipe didn’t require it***, my pal suggested we knead the dough a few minutes after the mixer did its thing. We didn’t handle the stickyish mixture too long—just long enough for this novice to get a sense of texture and technique. We also messed with it later when forming the boule, folding and smoothing in order to get that special roundness. Except for these small occasions of unauthorized massage, we stuck to the script and a few hours later, voila! Crunchy, crusty and—most gratifyingly—tasty bread.
Now ask me again why I waited so long?
Tartines with Toasted Manchego and Sun-dried Tomatoes
Sliced crusty bread—about 1” thick
Good quality extra-virgin olive oil
Sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
Manchego cheese (or other aged Mediterranean cheese), sliced fairly thin
Turn broiler on. Drizzle a little oil on each bread slice, cover with a layer of sun-dried tomatoes and a layer of cheese. Place each layered slice on tin-foiled cookie sheet. Broil tartines until cheese is slightly bubbly and golden. (Ovens vary; mine takes about a minute to do this.) Watch sandwiches carefully to avoid burning. Rotate ½ way and/or tent with more tin foil if necessary. It might take some trial and error to avoid over-browning but consider eating your mistakes—they’re still probably delish!
*We could head right back to the airport and on to Paris? (As if.) 😉
**I chose the Boule Variation as you can see in the pic.
***To knead or not to knead has been a trendy question ever since Jim Lahey rolled out his no-knead bread.
Copyright 2013, Lori Fontanes