I’d really like to be one of those food bloggers for whom every recipe is a masterpiece. Really, I would. Furthermore, I’d like to be one of those home cooks who effortlessly turns out meal after meal without (a) glugging down wine while (b) hoping for the best.
But I’m not.
For one thing, I like to drink wine while I cook (this is in the evening only, I promise). For another, I tend to read recipes while also talking with my child, texting my husband, yelling at and/or fighting my way through a forest of fat, hungry labs. So it’s no wonder that I make certain mistakes in the kitchen. Sometimes, things turn out just fine. Other times, they do not.
To whit: for years, every time someone mentioned how terribly easy it is to make bread, I’ve had to resist the temptation to roll my eyes and reply with a caustic, “Really?”
Flour and I do not get along. This most likely started when I burned myself on the light bulb in my Easy-Bake Oven. Since then, my baking has been limited to the boxed variety. And to my family’s credit (or, more likely, because they simply, bless their hearts, don’t know any better) they love the baked goods I turn out. (Thanks, Betty Crocker!)
Then, a few years back, my celeb-chef crush Mark Bittman waxed poetic about bread so easy to make, so effortless, he dared to call it “no-work bread.” His eloquent prose in the New York Times credited Jim Lahey with this miracle; they baked together! It was easy! You, gentle reader, can do it too!
And a mere four years later, I finally did do it. I made bread, gorgeous, crusty, golden brown bread. See? So pretty, right?
Here’s how it went down (drawn from the notes in my iPad How to Cook Everything! app):
January 6, 11:00 AM: No-work bread does not absolve me of obsessing over everything from timing to which pot to use. Obsessing carried over to yeast. Step one took maybe five minutes after I stopped caring that I only have dry active yeast and Mark and Jim want me to use instant yeast. Surely yeast is yeast, no? Opted to coat this baby in oil; set timer to let it rise until 5:00 PM tomorrow.
January 7, 5:15ish PM: Plopped it down on a plastic cutting board and semi-wrapped it in plastic wrap to let it rise for 15 mintues.
January 7, 5:30 PM: Floured it up and wrapped it in a cotton towel (so confused, what purpose does the towel serve? is bread-to-be cold? bashful?). Set one timer for two hours to let the bread rise again, and another timer for 80 minutes to remind myself to turn the oven on. True that it’s not much work, but the math and timing involved should not be ignored.
January 7, 5:35 PM: Took a Benadryl to clear up my sinuses, resulting in the need for a nap. Am off to nap.
January 7, 7:30 PM: Just put it in the oven for the first 30 minutes, covered.
January 7, 8:30 PM: My first homemade loaf of bread just emerged from the oven. I am a baker!!
January 7, 8:31 PM: It’s so beautiful, so crisp and brown, I can’t even wait for it to cool before slicing into its freshness.
January 7, 8:32 PM: Oh, my. Boy oh boy. It’s bad. Not horrible, not inedible, but bland. Flat, like something you might use as a movie prop but wouldn’t force the stage hands to eat.
In short, it tasted like crap. Once again, instead of reading the entire recipe, I’d focused on the logistics: which pot would I use? Will I be home early enough in the day to get it started, and awake enough the next day to get it into the oven? What exactly is the difference between instant yeast and the sorry substitute I had lurking in my pantry?
You see, my friend, I’d forgotten one ingredient so crucial to baking that even I know it’s essential: salt. Yes, I’d made no-work, no-salt bread. Bleh.