We’ve been anticipating getting new neighbors any day now. Saturday morning, when I saw activity in the house, I got to work. This bread takes 24 hours to produce, so I mixed the dough and set it in a warm place for the requisite 18+ hours. Sunday morning it was fresh out of the oven and ready for delivery, with a couple jars of jam. Husband and I then spent the next few minutes getting to know our new neighbors and welcoming them to their new home.
I watched my mother do this time and time again, only mostly with her homemade pies; but as I can never be as good a pie maker as she, I do MY BREAD (see recipe below from Jim Lahey).
Being the self-appointed Welcome Wagon is a family tradition I’ve pass down now to my own children, as I see them being a welcoming, positive influence in their respective communities.
From the book, MY BREAD, by Jim Lahey:
Bread flour : 3 cups (400 grams)
table salt : 1 and 1/4 teaspoon ( 8 grams)
instant or other active dry yeast :1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) [yes, that is all!!]
cool (55-65 degree F) water : 1 and 1/3 cups (300 grams) [ I usually end up using more water to make it more sticky…like 1 and 1/2 cups]
cornmeal to dust the bread and tea towel during 2nd rising
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and using a wooden spoon mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Make sure it’s really sticky to the touch; it it’s not, mix in another tablespoon or two or water. Cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature (70 degrees) out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubles in size. This will take a minimum of 12 hours and (my preference) up to 18 hours [ sometimes I’ve let it go 20 hours…] This slow rise–fermentation–is the key to flavor.
2. When the first fermentation is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. When you begin to pull the dough away from the bowl, it will cling in long, thin strands (this is the developed gluten), and it will be quite loose and sticky–do not add more flour. Use lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula to lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.
3. Place a cotton or linen tea towel ( not terry cloth, which tends to stick and may leave lint in the dough) or a large cloth napkin on your work surface and generously dust the cloth with wheat bran, cornmeal [that’s what I use], or flour. Use your hands or bowl scraper or wooden spatula to gently lift the dough onto the towel, so it is seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place in a warm, draft-free [ie same place as before, room temperature] spot to rise for 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled.
4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. with a rack in the lower third position, and place a covered 4 and 1/2 to 5 and 1/2 quart heavy pot in the center of the rack [cast iron. you can buy ceramic pots, but they usually have a handle on them that can’t withstand oven temps above 425].
5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel, lightly dust the dough with flour or bran, [I don’t do this…there is enough cornmeal still on the bread that it’s unnecessary] lift up the dough, either on the towel or in your hand, and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution –the pot will be very hot.) Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the read is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15-30 min. more. [ I only cook it with the lid off for 10 minutes more]. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. Don’t slice or tear into it until it has cooled, which usually takes at least an hour. [that’s because the bread is still “cooking” as it cools. You’ll hear a crackling sound–called “talking” as the gluten separates and makes air pockets in the bread as it cools. It’s pretty awesome!]
7.[ Eat and enjoy immensely]