Thursday, April 26, 2012


I wake up when it is still dark. Across the room we shared as kids, my sister stirs in her bed. We are both jet-lagged having arrived in Chicago just a few days before. "What time is it?" I whisper. "4:30," she replies, "go back to sleep." She turns over and succeeds in willing her confused body back into unconsciousness. I do not. At a quarter to six I give up and pad down to my mother's dark kitchen. The house is silent save the waking birds and the wind chimes ringing on the back porch. Even my father, a notoriously early riser, is not yet awake. I want to bake bread, but this being a few days before Passover, bread is not an option. Instead I make lemon curd which I will eat on top ricotta for breakfast, pour over cheesecake and share with old high school friends. But now, I cup a yolk in my hand, as the white slips through my finger tips. I slide it into the bowl along with the sugar and lemon juice. I savor the silence and the solitude as I work. I won't have much of either in the days to come. Eventually, my father wakes and then my mother. The kitchen becomes full of the sound of hushed conversations and morning tinkerings. Curd done, I step outside for a minute. In the garden in this very warm April, the daffodils are already in bloom and the furled peonies are pushing their way up through the black earth. It feels like May. The wide open Midwestern sky is lightening into a soft blue. I take a deep breath. It's good to be home.

The girls wake me. They don't mean to, but there are five of them. Inevitably, they are loud. I want to see them before they go off to school and daycare, so I run down the two flights of stairs from the attic of my brother's house into the kitchen, still in my pajamas. "I'm serious", I say to my sister-in-law, as she tries to find some bread for my oldest niece's breakfast in this post-Passover house, "I'll bake you some bread." When the house is finally silent and my brother and sister in law have retreated to their respective offices, I start my work. I lug the sack of bread flour up from the basement. I measure yeast and test water temperature. I've made this recipe a million times, but I still look up the proportions. I leave the dough rising on the kitchen counter with strict instructions to my brother to cover it and put in the fridge when it was done. I dress and walk through this old New Jersey town to the bus. I cross the river into Manhattan. I lunch with an old, old friend and it is both startling and comforting to see how much he has changed and how much he is the same. The next morning I run down to the kitchen again. My second oldest niece declares that today for breakfast we are eating out. She puts down a menu and takes orders from her siblings. A sign bearing the words "The Jungle Cafe", the handiwork of the oldest, hangs above the sink. I kiss my nieces again and again, their too big knapsacks clumsily knocking against my body. "Goodbye" I cry, "goodbye". Finally, it is quiet again. I pull the dough out of the fridge and shape it into two loaves. I dress as the bread bakes. I hug my sister-in-law and my brother. I cross the river, meet an old friend then cross another river into Brooklyn where I eat with friends, forage for wild garlic in Prospect Park, and drink coffee on the fire escape of an old tenement building. On my way to my grandmother's house, I pass the place where I was born. My grandmother feeds me fresh corn bread and irons all my clothing. Finally, I board a plane. I cross an ocean, and then a sea. I go home.

I wake up groggy and disoriented despite having slept 18 hours. I will remain groggy and disoriented for the next week or so, in a state of physical and emotional jet-lag. It 12:40 on a Friday afternoon. I call my sister. "Did you get flour and yeast?" I ask. This, of all things is vitally important to me.  I pull out my familiar tupperware. I measure flour and water and yeast. I am not sure I am actually awake. I press the container closed and stick it in the fridge. A few days later, still groggy but hungry after a day of keeping myself awake with work, I open the tupperware and grab a fistful of dough.  I pull into into a shape that resembles a roll and let it rise for a bit on the counter. I stand for a while, staring down into the garden below. It's my neighbor's garden and it's lovely to look it, but I can't help yearning for one of my own. The sky is a deep deep blue and the Mediterranean sun is bright. It's good photography light.  I eat the fresh roll slathered in chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt together with my afternoon coffee. Later, I'll go to the shuk. I'll buy broad beans and loquats; the last of the strawberries and the rhubarb and I'll begin to feel more settled into my skin. But for now, it's quiet. I have this bread and my own thoughts. Home.

No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Jenna Sauers on Jezebel who adapted it from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

I've been playing around with no-knead bread for a few months. I know most people are enamored of the Lahey/Bittman version, which uses quite a bit less yeast and a slightly different procedure than this version, but I was never really happy with it. Strangely enough, it just seemed too, I don't know, fussy. Plus, I don't own any cast-iron cookware and don't think I will for a while. What I like about this recipe is that it's so unfussy. You mix up the ingredients in a large tupperware, let it sit for an hour or two and then stick in the fridge... and that's it. The dough will keep for about 3 weeks and each batch yields about 2 loafs, or a bunch of little rolls. So whenever you want some bread you can just pull some dough out of the refrigerator and stick it in a preheated oven. You can proof the dough, or let it come to room temperature if you want to, but you don't need to. And that's it, bread, great bread, in five minutes. And the best part (in my opinion, because I am lazy) is that you don't even have to wash out the tupperware after you've finished a batch. The liquid that will have pooled at the bottom of your container is just the remains of the yeast and alcohol  and will do nothing but make your next batch of bread taste better. Just dump water over the liquid and start a new batch.

Also, a note about flour... the recipe calls for regular all-purpose flour, but if you have bread flour, go for it. Additionally, I have occasionally substituted some of the white flour (up to 1/3) with alternative flours such as whole wheat flour and barley flour. The resulting loaves of bread were slightly denser than the all white flour versions, but they were just as good, and I daresay, had more character. What I am trying to say is, play with your dough.

3 cups warm water
1.5 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon salt
6.5  cups (about a kilo) flour

1. Pour the water into a large tupperware. (I generally test the temperature of the water on the inside of my wrist, if it feels warm, but not too hot, it's good). Add the yeast and salt and give it a stir. Let the mixture sit for a while until the yeast dissolves and starts to bubble.

2. Dump in the flour. Stir until a loose, wet dough forms (though the wetness of the dough will depend on the humidity of your kitchen, your flour, etc, etc). When the dough is entirely mixed through, loosely cover the container and walk away. Let the dough sit at room temperature until the dough rises to the top of the container. This could take anywhere from 1-2 hours.

3. Seal the container and put in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight.

4. Whenever in the next three weeks the urge for fresh bread strikes you, preheat your oven to 450 F.  Grab a loaf pan, a baking sheet, a cast-iron skillet-whatever floats your boat and grease well. Then, remove your dough from the fridge. Flour your hands and grab a hunk of dough. Shape it in whatever way you'd like and place in/on your baking sheet/loaf pan, etc. Give it a good slash or two with a sharp, serrated knife. This will make your bread look pretty and keep the bread from tearing apart at the top as it bakes. Seal the container and return the rest of the dough to the fridge.

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes on 450 F. After about 30, or 35 minutes turn the oven up to 500 F. Bake for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from oven.  Let cool and eat.