This week, it seemed like every food blogger was making bread. Using a recipe from John Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery (featured on November 8th in Mark Bittman's column in The New York Times) everyone had a success story to share. They all promised the recipe was foolproof, then displayed proud photos of their perfect, plump loaves.
The recipe called for instant yeast, which I soon learned, is different than the active dry yeast that comes in those little packets. Thinking it'd be simple enough to find some, I went to Met Food on Smith Street, to Govinda, an organic market on Atlantic Avenue, to yet another all natural store on Union and Court Street, and then all the way to Perelandra in Brooklyn Heights.
It was there that I desperately asked a store manager if they had any instant yeast. Before telling me that they didn't have any, he said, "What the heck is going on? You are probably the tenth person who has asked if we have that!" It was nice to know that half of New York City was baking fresh bread this week, though I didn't appreciate that all of us in Brooklyn were being denied instant yeast.
I made one last effort at Key Food on Atlantic Avenue where I found fresh yeast in the dairy section. I remembered reading one blog that said instant yeast was usually located there, so I ran home, with just an hour to get my bread assembled before heading to Allison's 30th birthday party in the city.
Unfortunately, fresh yeast is not the same thing as instant yeast, but at this point, I was not about to give up. Looking at the two types of yeast that I did have, instinct told me to go with the dry stuff, so I mixed it with the other ingredients, crossed my fingers and left the bread to rest.
The recipe said to let it sit for 12-18 hours, and although we didn't get home from Allison's birthday till 2am, I still set my alarm for 8:30am to ensure that Daniel could have some fresh bread before heading to work at 12:30. I think I should win wife of the year.
When I woke up, the bread was covered with little bubbles as the recipe said it would be, so it seemed as if my active dry yeast was working just fine. I removed the sticky dough from the bowl, folded it over once, twice, wrapped it in kitchen towels dusted with flour and left it for two more hours before jumping back into bed.
Though I had generously floured the towels, the dough still stuck to them quite a bit when I transferred it to my Le Creuset pot. Within minutes of popping the pot into the oven, my apartment smelled heavenly.
After baking for thirty minutes, I took off the lid, snapped a few pictures and baked it for fifteen more minutes.
That last stretch was especially painful for Daniel, who somehow managed to get up and go to the gym this morning, and therefore, was starving. When I finally slipped the loaf out of the pot and onto a cooling rack, it really did crackle and pop as it cooled, just as a few people had said it would. I had made my own bread and it was beautiful!
We tried to let it cool a little before cutting our first slices, but after just about five minutes Daniel attacked the loaf. As the bread's crispy outer layer shattered to reveal a soft, chewy interior, he cursed with joy in Portuguese.
We ate our first few slices with soft boiled eggs and hunks of butter, then slathered a few pieces with honey.
Despite my unsuccessful search for instant yeast, this recipe really is so easy and rewarding. The satisfaction of making your own fresh bread from scratch is like no other. Now I just need to figure out what I can make with the fresh yeast that's sitting in my fridge.
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
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.