How one food editor got over her phobia, and learned to love the bread-making process.
Bread and I always had a tumultuous relationship. Although I’ve always loved eating it—especially the deep, tangy flavors conjured by long fermentation—my ballet dancer past often hindered my consumption. In the ballet world, carbs were a cardinal sin—known to thwart weight loss necessary to fit into a tutu. While I didn’t entirely dismiss bread, I did view each slice as a ticking time bomb. I sought packaged sliced breads that promised very few calories, and by extension, not much nutrition.
It wasn’t until college that I understood the low-quality, low-calorie bread I was eating wasn’t really bread at all. It had far more ingredients than the traditional water, salt, yeast and flour. As I started to grow more interested in food—good food made with time-tested techniques—I wondered, where was bread’s fragrant, golden exterior? Where was the beautiful, airy crumb and tangy, funky flavor? Why wasn’t I eating that?
I started to frequent the library, taking home stacks of cookbooks emblazoned with rustic loaves and caramelized crusts. But inside, I found recommendations for difficult baking techniques and a requirement for numerous tools specifically designed for bread baking. I even looked into attending an 8-week bread-baking course over the summer, and dropped that idea when I saw it was nearly $12,000 dollars.
Everything changed when I learned of Jim Lahey. Owner and founder of the New York City-based Sullivan Street Bakery, Lahey achieved fame with his No-Knead Bread recipe, which promised the traditional, pastoral French farmhouse bread of my dreams with minimal effort. No fancy tools. No fancy techniques. In Lahey’s recipe, it is time, not technique, that breaks down gluten proteins into long strands, developing flavor and encouraging dough to form a large, airy “crumb.” Lahey is to bread what Julia Child was to French cooking. His approachable technique took artisanal bread baking out of the fancy bakeries and into thousands of curious home kitchens, including mine.
Lahey’s technique inspired me to adopt a new approach to bread. Don’t gorge on bread. But don’t view it as sin, either. View it instead as a borderline magical process that, through time, heat and a little organization, brings forth a nourishing meal accouterment.
Interested in trying Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread Recipe, too? Click here for the recipe.