February 14, 2017

A Loaf of Love

A Superbly Crusty Rustic Loaf of Homemade Bread

Years ago, I fell hard for the romantic notion of rolling up my sleeves and kneading balls of dough until soft and supple, before carefully shaping them into loaves and letting them rise. In my fantasy, I wore a perfectly starched white apron, resistant to both wrinkles and stains, and had but a few delicate traces of flour on my face, which along with my expert baking skills, would only add to my allure.

Of course, like any fantasy acted upon, the real life version had very little resemblance to the narrative I concocted in my head and was costly and messy.

Sure; I baked loaves of bread, but they were heavy and leaden, more suitable for anchoring small watercraft than slicing and slathering with butter.

I never knew how long to knead the overly sticky dough, or how much flour to use, and I had little dexterity to manage multiple tasks at once, especially in maneuvering the flour onto my work surface. The result--flour everywhere and instead of delicate traces on my face, I would be covered in a thin white film only made worse by trying to dust it off with my sticky hands.

It took very few attempts before I was ready to throw in the towel and drive to the bakery one block over, restoring both order and happiness to my kitchen.

But then, several years ago, while writing an article about sourdough bread, I decided to give bread a second chance. Actually, there was little choice; I had a sourdough starter going and it was a living breathing entity that grew by the feeding and had to do something else with it other than make pancakes and waffles.

Through desperation and a great deal of research I discovered a bread making technique that not only served me well during my sourdough days, but that I eventually morphed into a twice weekly bread baking habit.

Here's a recipe for a loaf that's almost hands off, requires little skill, and makes for the most amazing toast--perfectly crisp, almost flaky, and pure heaven when slathered with butter and good jam.