Before I left for this first summer at Reavilleen, I downloaded a bunch of my favorite recipes to my Dropbox so I could access them as I traveled. I also created a chart of conversions between ml. and oz., Celsius and Fahrenheit, and other metric vs imperial oddities. Did I remember to bring them? Hells no! After all the months of research and planning and creating calendars and flowcharts for Tom I forgot the basic things for myself. No matter. This girl has plan B always tucked up her tastefully patterned sleeve. Cause prints make me crazy y’all!
But I digress. One of the recipes I managed to remember was the no-knead bread recipe by Mark Bittman. Seeing as how he’s one of my food gods, I thought it’d be a sure thing, and I longed to add the recipe to my “irish repertoire” as it were. I told Tom that I wanted to create a few recipes here that were Irish-only enterprises, and the bread notion was one of them. He was a titch taken-aback, and who can blame him because I am a woman who normally eschews bread. And carbs in general. Bread?!, he said, shocked. Really?It’s not that he doubted my skills but that he couldn’t believe his luck. This boy is kept alive on bread, good Irish butter, and cups of strong tea. No amount of arm twisting on my part over the years has diminished his carb-heavy ways. So when he saw me measuring yeast, spooning out flour, coaxing Himalayan sea salt from the grinder, and stirring it all in with water into our largest bowl, he rubbed his hands gleefully.
The funny thing about this recipe is that it seems too simple, and it is. This presents both good and bad outcomes. There’s no initial kneading involved. You just mix the slurry and say a little prayer over its shaggy and streaky body, cover it with cling wrap, and go to bed. No, really! This is the good part. It sits on the counter overnight doing its bready thing and in the morning you wake up to a bowl of bubbling, seething, expanding mass of yeasty goodness. It smells very much like sourdough. It is magic. You carefully coax it out of the bowl (much trial and error on this to keep from having the dreaded “wet bread mitts”) and then fold it over thrice and let it rise again for another half hour to forty minutes. This is where the problem lies, I believe. The crumb of this bread is very moist, almost weirdly so, and I think this second rise should be much longer and the bake time different, but I am just a lowly cook and not a celebrity chef so what do I know?
After the interminable second rise is over, you thank your lucky stars as you realize that for carbs, all waiting is possible, and then you tip the dough into a waiting preheated Dutch oven, set the lid, and while glancing up at your newly adopted statue of the infant de Prague (granter of wishes for weather, wealth, and now… bread) you slide the scorching hot heavy contraption into the oven. 35-45 minutes later, your bread is finished. I am anal retentive at a level where no one flinches when I travel with kitchen knives or a thermometer anymore so it should come as no surprise that I use my thermometer pen to make sure the bread is the optimal 205 degrees Fahrenheit. If I’m going to wait 14 hours for bread, I’m going to make sure it’s done perfectly.
A magical golden egg of a loaf emerges from the oven, steaming and smelling like angel’s wings. I tap it cautiously. Did I just make bread? Did it work? All the recipes say: Wait! Don’t break it open while it’s hot or you’ll ruin it.So we all sat there, watching it steam and waiting for some mystical time in space that seemed right. The large loaf of Kerrygold butter sat sweating in its dish. Waiting. Finally, Tom yelled: Cut IT!and we fell upon it like ravens on roadside kill. It was tasty, pleasantly sour, with a tight crumb and some big, blowsy holes that made it look charmingly handmade. It was also damp, but not unpleasantly so, and the bottom crust was thick and so tough we didn’t want to crack our teeth on it. Curiously, I wrapped the cut loaf up in a shallow bowl, and by the next day the crust was perfectly soft and pliable. In short, this bread is an enigma. I don’t know why it works, but it does. I don’t know why it doesn’t work sometimes, too. I made it exactly the same way and subbed beer for water to make stout bread and it was squat, dense, and a completely different crumb. We all just shrugged our shoulders and ate it anyway.
Bread makes me feel brave and smart. Not eating it, but making it. It is such a mystical and cranky foodstuff. Both Sophia and Clare were watching me labor away with perplexed smiles. Clare says: Ma, bread is so complicated to make… why has it been the basic staple of civilization for so long? Darn 14 year olds and their uber-deep mid-morning questions I have to deal with before coffee! I launched into a lengthy explanation of how bread is different now, and it used to be tooth-crackingly hard flat cakes and, and…. and then her eyes glazed over, she cut a huge slab off the loaf, buttered it, and walked off. Sigh.
I’m still going to keep working on this quest. I want to have a trick up my sleeve for when my nieces and nephew spend the night, or our grandkids have a sleepover, and I can wake up in the morning and retrieve a bubbling mass from a bowl and Make. Bread! I can’t wait to see their faces when they butter up a slab that was plucked, hot and fresh from the oven right before their eyes. I probably will eat exactly as much as I did before Ireland, which is to say a single slice (just to make sure it’s not poisoned) and then let my family polish off the rest. A lot of people ask me why I make desserts or carb-heavy items when I don’t really like to eat them myself. I guess it just makes me happy to make other people happy, and there’s nothing quite like sugar and carbs to do that. So as we ride out these last few weeks of our first summer at Reavilleen, you can be assured that there will be a bowl of bread dough fermenting on the counter, and a bunch of eager-eyed people looking into it and wondering how the heck that lacy mass of bubbles is going to magically turn into our daily bread.