In high school, I numbered the days left until graduation in my planner on the first day of school. I would announce every day how many days we had left, ticking away every moment. This practice drew the ire of many, but I took particular pleasure in the anger it incited in one girl. She was a blonde cheerleader; dull, thin, humorless, and pretty in the way the prettiest girl in your high school looks. She had a look in her eye that said she knew she had peaked at 18 and my countdown was a constant reminder of this. It was cruel of me, but ticking away the days made me feel powerful. I hated high school because of girls like her. Reminding her every day that the days were slipping away was an act of rebellion.
College was a much better time for me-I grew into myself and my looks and discovered a little place for myself in this world. I found some of the best friends a girl could ever have and made my fair share of reckless decisions. In all this change and chaos, I was happy for the first time-maybe ever. I learned the girls like the aforementioned blonde cheerleader were probably just as insecure as me and let go of all the bullshit from high school (mostly). There was no countdown to graduation day in college. It had ended too quickly and the prospect of the real world (and my staggering student loan payments) was not enticing.
Still, it came and I jumped head first into the worst job–and year–of my life. Once again, the countdown began. I desperately needed to get the hell out of there. I cried every day and my unhappiness was reflected in my ever expanding waistline. It was every woman for herself and I had no choice but to gnaw the trap of that job off my leg.
After the Dark Year, I finally found a great job. I had great bosses, smart and welcoming co-workers and I was challenged every day. Then, the job got easy. I still loved my co-workers and my position, but I was on autopilot. This is when I really started to get into cooking. I had time to focus on something for myself, harness my creativity, and devote hours to chopping, dicing and stirring. I focused on my health and whittled my pants size down to a respectable number. I finally had learned a smidge of patience and was able to focus fully on something without wishing it away. Everything had finally fallen in to place. (And before anyone points this out to me, I am in no way claiming I am a patient person. I am merely saying it has gotten much better. On a scale of 1 to 10, I am now a 15 instead of a 50.)
In my go, go, go life of yesteryear, I never would have considered making this bread. Though it seems counterintuitive given my extreme love of planning, I could not conceive of letting a bread rise on a counter for a whole day. It just seemed like way too much work and waiting for the bread to bubble would have been damn near torture. I plan because I want things to happen-and NOW. It is a constant struggle to not drive people absolutely insane with my penchant for planning. I kid you not; cooking (and some maturity) really has made me slow down and see that sometimes the wait is worth it. I’ve finally found something I have a knack for and enjoy.
My new found pseudo-patience has given me this bread. I was a tad nervous when preparing the dough as it was wetter than I expected. Even though the recipe says not to freak when it is wet and sticky, I was freaking. It was goopy and almost impossible to form into a ball. Thankfully, all worked out well and it was perfection. Seeing as I have a job and only so much patience, I could not spend all day kneading, so I made a no knead recipe I have been eying for months. My friend Tinkabelle came over and we enjoyed this with an out of this world spinach salad she whipped up. This bread has made the rounds in the blogosphere and I was pleased I was not the first one to screw it up somehow. The crust was thick, but not tough, and the inside was chewy and dense without being overly heavy. I used two cups of white flour and one cup of whole wheat flour; if I do say so, this was a fantastic call. The whole wheat flour gave the loaf a light nuttiness that went well with the butter slathered on top.
Thank you sweet patience for the gift of this bread. Heaven knows I would not have even attempted this a few years ago.
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (or 1/3 tsp active dry yeast)
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.