by: Chef Jim Berman
Far better is to knead than be in need as it is a much better condition to be resting dough rather than resting ones feet. And certainly tugging, pulling and otherwise manhandling yeasty dough is preferred to tugging and pulling a rusty lawnmower through a not-so-well manhandled back yard. Bread baking is the great Jacuzzi that lives with us all; give up the chic spa with reckless abandon as rejuvenation and meaningful solace comes from starting a loaf of bread, manipulating it and watching it come to fruition. It is not a rush nor is it a burst of energy to see that mound of flour laden with yeast emerge from the oven. What it is, you see, is the day's frustrations, waiting in traffic, telemarketers, bill collectors and overdue library fees rolled into a stinky mess that emerges from the oven crisped and free of all the cynicism that went in, baked away and to never return. The remnant left behind is glutonous (no relation to gluttony) with high-protein flour, some yeast and other additions all congregated on the stone at the bottom of the oven holding court together, as a leavened and toasty elixir.
My favorite cocktail for drowning today's headache:
2 Cups, 100° water
1 envelope, active dry yeast
3 Cups, bread flour (I like Occidental unbleached Bread flour)
Dissolve the yeast in the water and stir in the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise an hour, until doubled. Refrigerate a day or two. Stir into the sponge:
2 ¼ Cups, bread flour
4 teaspoons, salt
Add a bit more flour if it is a particularly humid day or the dough remains very sticky. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise one hour. Remove from the bowl and divide into (2) equal pieces. I roll them out in a fairly square glob and reconfigure them like a burrito; roll up the bottom, fold in the left and right flaps and the top flap covers the previous folds. You can leave it "free form" or braid or whatever you like it is a forgiving dough, unlike your boss. Set in dusted bread pans (or on the counter, if you use a baking stone) and allow to rise, covered, another hour. Preheat the oven to 450°. Bake for 20 minutes following the last rise and reduce the temperature to 350° for another 20 minutes. When tapped, the bread should sound hollow, perhaps like your boss' head. Remove to a cooling rack or anything else where some air can get at the crust. I use the top of my gas range. Eat when cool enough to slice or save for the next day in a paper bag. And for goodness sakes, do not wrap it in plastic.
What great pleasure comes from the dough oozing between your fingers. And you can actually break a sweat with some ferverent kneading. Alas, something you have created with, perhaps the proverbial chip on your shoulder, has made everything right in your world for the time being. There was no need to elude the kitchen for your therapeutic yoga session. Only redirect your energy.