Friday night of the big snowstorm our friends Jim and Michael were in town from London and staying with us. What had started as a 1 night stay became a 2 night stay as all flights in and out of NYC on Saturday got canceled. In truth I think they were lucky to be able to leave on Sunday.
It was fun having them here for the big storm. Nice to share it with someone and have company already here, bit canceling because all the transit options have shut down!
The first night I had planned a dinner party (see menu above) the second night we made an off the cuff dinner, the boys had gone out around noon on Saturday and got very lucky as they market was still open as was the Mexican restaurant they wanted to eat at – an hour later and everything would have been closed. Saturday night a very brave friend of Jim’s came here on the subway all the way from Bed Stuy Brooklyn. The subways ran throughout snowmageddon except on routes where the train goes outside.
The layer cake in the menu was inspired by season 5 of the British Baking Show, which I spoke about at length here just a while back, I couldn’t help wonder every time the bakers are presented a challenge: how would I do? Could I do make Phylo by scratch in two version in 3 hours? It made me really feel like I wanted to up my game.
So I presented myself with 2 challenges, the first one is to over come my fear of layer cakes and become better at all those decorating skills that I have always been so bad at. You know like piping fancy designs and words, using fondant and conquering Italian meringue.
The second challenge is to make sour dough bread from my own starter. Years ago I had a starter and took a class on sour dough bread making and made some good bread. Someone tho it never really inspired me, it was time considering and I never really felt confident that the bread would actually turn out. I realize in retrospect that I wanted it to be easier and quicker than it was. Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread recipe had just come out and it seemed to me that there was no point in sour dough when I could make great bread over night by simply adding flour, water and salt letting sit for 12 hours, shaping it up letting it rest and baking. The results were reliable and good. I made a whole wheat version for Jim and Michael and they loved it. If only they had come a week later they wouldn’t have gotten snowed in and they would have been able to eat my first loaf of sour dough Country Bread — I can’t believe how much better it is!
Beyond radically changing the quality of the bread I make, this kind of natural, slow process of making bread has given me craft to hone, a practice, if you will, something to take pride in. Every day I spend a few minutes feeding my starter (the closest I get to having a pet). Making 2 loaves (the basic recipe) you have to start the night before, mixing table-spoon of starter with 200 grams each of flour and water. The following morning you mix the leaven with more flour, water and salt, let it rest, then put it in a container and every 30 minutes for up to 4 hours you knead it.
Then you let it rest.
Then you fold it, then you let it rest for another 3 or 4 hours or overnight in the fridge (preferable as a slow rise adds flavor). Then you bake it, as you would with no knead bread in a covered dutch oven for 20 minutes, the 20 minutes with the lid removed.
I finally get how cooking can be meditative. When you’re engaged in a time-consuming task that requires focus that focus allows you to get way more done than just making bread. It actually has improved my productivity in other ways totally non bread related.
Pictured below are the three breads I made for last nights dinner party: top left is an olive, walnut loaf with Herbs de Provence and lemon, below it Country Bread and next to them Potato, Thyme and Pecorino Romano Cheese Focaccia fresh out of the oven)Tomorrow my uphill battle with making the perfect layer cake apparently the 4th time is the winner.Just about to go into the oven.Ready to be eaten!
If you make sour dough bread I’d love to hear your stories or if you wanted share a recipe! I haven’t enjoyed reading a cookbook as much as I have Tartine Bread in years, maybe ever, totally engrossing.