Wednesday, February 16, 2011

blame the bread

It's not going to help me lose the 20 pounds, but it's so yummy I almost don't care.

When was the last time you ate freshly baked bread straight out of the oven?

In college, I lived in a cooperative house (Mikhail did too, but a different co-op). The student-run co-ops at Stanford were known for many things: nudity, co-ed showers, naked cooking, and the tradition of the student residents baking bread every night to use for sandwiches the next day. My co-op was one of the more conservative ones, so there wasn't a whole lot of public nudity (not so for Mikhail's -- but that's another post). There was freshly baked bread at midnight nearly every night. The smell would creep out of the kitchen and into the dining area, through the lounge, and down the halls. It drew all of us out of our rooms and into the kitchen. Blocks of butter and tubs of jam were pulled out of the huge industrial fridge. Large quantities of bread were consumed. Particularly good batches often didn't survive till the next morning, much less till lunchtime. It was like the secret society of bread lovers, there in those florescent-lit kitchens. And if you were one of the bakers, you felt pride that it was your creation that gathered your fellow students around the enormous butcher block island.

After college, my San Francisco apartment challenged my bread-baking capabilities. The high-ceilinged, drafty kitchen was always chilly, and the vintage stove, while charming, had a temperature consistency problem. Even challah, the bread I thought I had perfected, was inconsistent when I baked it in this kitchen. I learned to bake bread while doing laundry -- on top of the running dryer was the only place I could get the dough to rise. But when the dryer broke and I had to start going to the laundromat, I retreated to cookies and brownies, more in line with a working girl's life and less easily corrupted.

Since then, I've resurrected my challah baking tradition (I even figured out a high-altitude version when we lived in Peru), but I've never baked bread as much as I'd like. Baking bread is a sensual process: the earthy smell of the yeast, the lofty creep of the rise, the silky resistance of perfectly kneaded dough (which bears a striking textural resemblance to my baby's luscious thighs). The magic that a limited set of simple ingredients come together to produce something entirely unlike their separate elements.

Unfortunately, bread baking had become a special-occasion novelty in my kitchen. It just seemed like too much -- too much work, too much time, too much flour all over the house. Then one week ago I was introduced to this no-knead, store in the fridge system. Three peasant loaves, two whole wheat loaves, one challah and a large batch of pecan sticky rolls later, I'm hooked.

Thanks to Mindy, my high school friend & cooking blog author, for introducing me to my newest kitchen obsession. At least I think I'm thanking her.

If you've never eaten freshly baked bread with butter and jam at midnight before, don't worry - there's still time. Tonight, in fact. Tonight would be perfect.


  1. Becca, I was going to comment that I love this book, and lo and behold, there I am mentioned! I guess we can grow fat and happy together! :-) I'm glad you're enjoying the book--you've ventured much further into than I have. I just can't get past those lovely baguettes!

  2. I love to bake cakes all the time and I really must try this artisan bread. Nothing better than the smell of fresh bread, is there!