Somewhere in the middle of last week I had a moment. A kind of dreamy, baking moment where it dawned on me that I'd never made bread. Not from scratch, with my own hands and in my own oven. And since I fancy myself pretty comfortable in the kitchen, and it is mid-winter and about the nicest way to warm my draughty old house, I put the word out to friends for the best bread starter they knew.
Among the love, I of course got recommendations for my local Bourke St Bakery and Dan's recipes for the Guardian UK, but it was this very brief and sweet NY Times clip that got me excited. That the description was 'bread any six year-old could make' may have been a defining factor in my choice. Mostly I just liked how stripped back and basic it was: flour, yeast, salt and water. It seemed like the best way to start in this whole world of bread, because I can tell you, I understand how it can easily become an obsession. The science of baking is something that both confuses and appeals to me. The delicate balance and the gamble I take each time I put something in the tin and hope for the best.
I made this batch yesterday, and left it near the heater in our lounge room overnight to proof. It became more elastic and fragrant, though didn't rise as such. And after just 50 minutes in my big old Le Creuset pot this morning, my kitchen was as warm and toasty as you can imagine. I used a little semolina at the end, rather than wheatgerm as the clip suggests - it was what I had on hand and what one of my friends used to do, so I went with it.
INGREDIENTS * 3 cups of flour (I used Italian 00 flour, as it is super fine and best for high-quality baking) * 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast * 1 and 1/4 teaspoon of salt * 1 and 1/2 cups of water (I just used tap, there was no mention of temperature) * small handful of semolina
METHOD I mixed the dry ingredients together with my hand, roughly, but so that the yeast and salt were evenly distributed, then added the water. Using my hand still (my rings and watch waiting neatly in an old teacup on the counter), I mixed the batter around for less than a minute - it quickly forms a sticky dough and pulls neatly away from the sides of the bowl. I covered it with a clean tea towel and put on a shelf in the lounge room (the only warm room in our house) and left it overnight.
This morning I put the oven to the highest setting - about 250 C, I think - and pre-heated my big Le Creuset pot for about ten minutes. While this was warming up good and proper, I turned the dough out onto the floured counter with a handful of semolina, folded it in on itself a few times, making sure both sides were dusted, and then delicately placed it in the screaming hot dish, with the folded side up. I put the lid on and baked for thirty minutes, then removed the lid and baked for another twenty. Apparently something about the moisture being trapped at first allows the loaf to cook through, and then crisp up nicely on the top without drying out once the lid is removed. I let it cool in the pot for a bit before removing it to a wire rack for another ten minutes.
I then smothered it in fancy organic peanut butter, made a big pot of tea, read the paper and felt completely smug and 'bread is the essence of life-y' while I crunched away.