Before I graduated to pork products, bread and butter was my first true love. Bread and butter: the perfect match! A truly complimentary and harmonious pair! How wonderfully simple!
But, as I’ve grown, I’ve realized that having good bread and butter is not that simple—though it should be. The landscape is littered with poor excuses for bread, and cheap imitations of butter. In restaurants, bread is telltale. You can usually discern the quality of a restaurant by the bread they serve. If, when you are seated, you are presented with days-old bread and rectangular, foil wrapped butter—forget it; cut your losses and find somewhere else to eat.
I’m a bit old-fashioned and have never been promiscuous about my bread—or my butter. As a child, I was spoiled by quality carbohydrates, thanks to my grandmother who baked most of our bread. Then, when I was older, I worked at a wholesale Italian bakery and habitually availed myself of fresh, hot, free bread. Nowadays, the gastro-mechanic, Lou Palma, brings me bread just because. And of course, especially during the winter months, I enjoy baking my own bread. My children—along with my love handles—swell with excitement when they smell the fresh loaf as it comes out of the oven. Hopefully, they will grow up to be bread snobs, too!
Good bread deserves good butter, and good butter is real butter. Real butter is a dairy product. And, of course, I like to make my own butter, too, but, that’s not to say there aren’t delicious store-bought butters available. Plugra, Kerrygold, and my grandmother’s old standby, Breakstone’s, are just fine with me. For some reason, my husband seems to enjoy this other, smooth, yellow, spreadable non-butter substance known as Smart Balance.
Here’s the recipe I’ve been using for easy no-knead bread. The crust is just fantastic, and the inside should show nice air pockets, with a slightly tangy flavor. Mix it up now and it will be ready to enjoy tomorrow. But be patient while it’s fermenting as it’s time well spent.
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.
If you’re feeling extra-ambitious, and want to make your own butter as well, it's as easy as purchasing heavy cream. I recommend Organic Valley, pasteurized, not homogenized, available at Whole Foods. Pour the cream into a ball jar, and add a tablespoon or two of live culture, like Fage Greek Yogurt, to it. Leave the cream and yogurt mixture on the counter overnight and whip it up the next day.
Watch the video to see Allin Tallmadge (remember Tallmadge Cheese Market?) show me how it’s done. It’s worth it! our love handles will thank you!