Oh, New York. You fooled us. You had us stocking up on deli Jesus candles and looting Trader Joe’s for the last bag of lacinto kale. We were ready to hunker down for days in our favorite cozies with a small restaurant’s worth of cheap wine. While feet of snow accumulated outside, we were prepared to catch up on the latest Vanderpump Rules episodes. You even gave the blizzard a name (Juno).
There was some snow. Definitely more than a couple inches of it. But it wasn’t thaaaaat bad. A little anticlimactic even. But good things came from Juno. Some people took a snow day anyway and played in Prospect Park. Some of us found true love via Craigslist. And I decided to try my hand at bread. And not the no-knead variety. I wanted to do the kind that you have to knead and let rise for hours and then knead again. The kind that makes your whole apartment smell of yeasty-wheaty goodness. And I figured, how hard could it be? The ingredients are flour, yeast, water, a little sugar and salt. Simple, right? Obviously not. Working the dough is trickier than it seems and as much as I poured over the drawings in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and as many instructional videos as I watched on Youtube, learning to knead the bread comes down to rolling up your sleeves and doing it a bunch of times until you come to recognize how the dough should feel.
I’ve still got a lot of kneading to do until I master the art of bread baking. My first loaf came out pretty ugly. Not fully risen to fill the 9 x 4 inch loaf pan, it looked like a craggy, dark, deflated football. Inside it was dense and moist. I ate the crust, which actually tasted great – good crunch and a deep flavor of buckwheat – but had to toss the rest. I wasn’t sure if the inside was entirely done and the thought of those live active yeast buds squirming in my stomach made me squeamish. Things I did wrong: I used entirely buckwheat flour and got impatient during the rise. Two lessons. 1) If substituting a wheat or buckwheat flour, you still have to use some normal, all-purpose white flour or else the result will be a dense football of a loaf. You should try to only substitute 1/3 for the heartier flour variety; and 2) your dough has not fully risen until it’s risen to two or three times its original size, depending on the type of bread you’re making. So patience is everything here people. I’ve done a lot of research, test rises, or maybe better said, test fail-to-rises, and the bread recipe below is a an adaptation of the hearth bread from King Arthur Flour. But what’s ON the bread. I’m slathering one of mine with tahini, extra virgin olive oil, honey (from Nature’s Way Farm in Lowman, NY) and crunchy salt, and another with homemade strawberry preserves made by Nancy Buck (from Roscoe, NY). Cocinamos!
- 1 packet dry active yeast
- 1 tablespoon table salt
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 2 cups lukewarm water (not above 100 degrees fahrenheit)
- 1 tablespoon
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups buckwheat flour
- cooking spray
- Mix first four ingredients and let stand for 10 minutes. This is when the yeast is activated – small, puffy clouds of yeast should form on the surface of the water.
- Meanwhile, sift and stir together flours. When Step 1 is complete, slowly add flour mixture to yeast mixture, stirring with rubber spatula or your hands. *Expert tip: when baking, always add dry to wet ingredients.
- Keep working dough until it is thoroughly mixed, using one hand if you’d like (and keeping one hand clean and free to scrape off extra dough or answer the telephone – Julia Child really wrote that!). Dough should be sticky and soft. Return to clean mixing bowl, cover with damp towel and let sit in a warm place. Be patient! This is when the dough acquires flavor and texture.
- After a 2 or 3 hours check on your dough. It should have at least doubled in size and humped into a slight dome. If yours still hasn’t, give it more time to rise.
- When dough has risen, use your fist to punch it down and release air bubbles. This is most enjoyable.
- Lightly flour a surface to roll out the dough. Remove dough from bowl and split into two equal portions. Use your hands, also lightly floured, to roll out the dough into a long, thin tube-like shape. Fold the dough lengthwise and roll out again. It should be a few inches around in diameter. Do the same with the other dough portion (or reserve for later use). Place formed dough on lightly greased baking sheet and allow it to stand for a few minutes.
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Make three or four diagonal slices on the top of the dough. Bake bread for twenty to twenty-five minutes or until finished. Finished bread should be crunchy on the outside and sound hollow when you knock on it.
- Let cool. Slice and serve with your topping of choice.