You can think about cooking and baking as an art form, as something in which to immerse yourself. And then (if you are anything like me) you won’t ever have time to really do it. You’ll end up settling for stuff you picked up on the run and things you can pull from the freezer or pour out of a can.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Much like meditation, which (as I learned from Dan Harris and Mary Curtis Powell) can be done in under ten minutes a day and doesn’t necessitate any special equipment (incense! a special pillow! chimes! a retreat!), good food can happen quickly without disrupting your life. Even something I always thought was an all-day, major-hands-on, artisanal proposition…bread.
And look! I can tie it into our space theme:
“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
I just read the most amazing book, “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School,” and among the stories of ordinary women transforming into confident cooks, thoughts about culinary creativity and responsibility in food choices, the author Kathleen Flint, includes truly useful recipes like this one, which she adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. (a side note: she also includes a truly well-curated bibliography which I have already plundered for further reading):
No-Knead Artisan Bread for Busy People
All you need is water, yeast, salt, flour, and cornmeal (just a little of this). That’s it. Not even an egg!
First: While you’re fixing breakfast and packing lunches, pull out a big bowl or plastic container. She recommends 5 quarts. If you’re worried your bowl isn’t big enough, grab a pasta pot. My bowl wasn’t big enough, and it looked a little like an invasion by the Blob. Combine 3 cups lukewarm water, 1 T of yeast (that’s exactly how much is in one Fleischman’s packet. I measured), and 1 T salt. Give it a stir and then dump in 6 cups of basic, all-purpose flour. Don’t worry about sticking your hands in there or any kind of kneading. Remember the title of the recipe? Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon until there aren’t any dry clumps, then cover it loosely with plastic wrap (but don’t make it airtight!) and stick somewhere out of the way (at room temperature) for 2 hours. You can keep it for up to two weeks in the fridge!
Next: Two hours later (or 30 min to an hour and half before you want to bake your loaf), sprinkle cornmeal on a cutting board (I used my sole Pampered Chef stone baking thingie). Get your flour back out and sprinkle some of that on the dough. Pull out a grapefruit-sized handful. It’ll be sticky, but if you work quickly and use flour, you can smooth out the top and tuck it under the bottom to form a round loaf. Put it on the cornmeal dusted surface and let it hang out for 30-90 minutes to puff out a little bit.
Finally: Preheat your oven to 450 and stick a metal pan in the bottom. If you have a pizza stone, get it heating. I don’t, so I skipped that part. Sprinkle the loaf with more flour, make a few slashes across the top with sharp knife and either get it on your pizza stone or (if you’re me) stick that stone baking thingie in the oven. Here’s a cool thing. Pour about a cup of hot water into that pan on the bottom and close the oven. Apparently, the steam makes for a good, crispy/chewy crust. Bake about 30 min or until it’s getting brown.
My kids loved this bread (much more than the tasty potato leek soup I served with it). I got 3 good loaves out of it, two the day of and one two days later from the leftover dough I stuck in the fridge. Literally, this took me less hands-on time than standing in line at the grocery store, and I only had to be in the house with it for the 30 minutes it baked. Which meant I could throw it together, go get the kids from school and help with homework and deal with a “regrouping” meltdown (we called it “borrowing” back when we did math) and snatch the dough back up and form loaves before leaving to run carpool to karate and then get back in time to stick it in the oven.
Really the big question is…why haven’t I been making this “thrown together bread?”