Malcolm McDowell Woods

All you knead is love

By - Feb 2nd, 2010 02:27 pm
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Rediscover the love of baking your own bread. Photo by Liz Setterfield

Rediscover the love of baking your own bread. Photo by Liz Setterfield

“Knock, Knock”
“Who’s there?”
“Olive who?”
“Olive YOU!”

That’s my favorite knock-knock joke, and one that I share with friends and family often. It is also an occasional segue to one of the ongoing conversations that we have around the boomerang table about love. When thinking about or discussing love, I often refer back to Aristophanes’ speech from Plato’s Symposium. I first read Symposium for an LGBT literature class that I took at university. It’s the story of several prominent Athenian citizens hanging out, eating, drinking and talking of love and knowledge as broad concepts. In the course of the dialogue, Aristophanes tells a tale that is both a creation myth and solid defense of the idea of “one true love.” I love the creation myth part, but wrestle with the true love idea as he lays it out.

Part of what I wrestle with regarding the “one true love” part is how limiting it seems. The ancient Greeks had several words for love, encompassing emotions, feelings and the way that we interact with each other and the world around us. Ultimately, I believe that there are many ways to love and be loved as there are pop songs about the subject.

Of course, the same can be said for loving food and drink and the planet that feeds us. While plotting to write this, I was trying to figure out what food I love most of all. It’s really a difficult thing to decide on. I love sushi (or most forms of it), chocolate, bananas, donuts and mayonnaise, among other things. I love the foods that trigger a sense reaction or remind me of certain times in my life. Mostly, I love the foods that are made with my friends, family and lovers that we get to enjoy together.

Of all the things that get cooked and baked in our house, lately the ones that I’ve enjoyed making the most are breads. Yeast breads, to be exact. It started several years ago with the curbside finding of a bread machine. After several months of dumping ingredients into the canister and just pushing a button, I wanted more. I began using my food processor, then graduated to a larger food processor and now use a nice stand mixer most of the time. I’ve acquired a number of books on bread, ranging from The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott about building stone ovens to A Blessing of Bread by Maggie Glezer. My go-to book is usually the 1968 edition of Beard on Bread by James Beard. They’ve all taught me a lot, as have my successes and failures.

Sometimes, though, I feel the “knead” to venture out on my own. The following is a very successful experiment that I’ve been able to duplicate several times. It’s slightly time-consuming, but totally worth it, I think.

Olive and Herb Bread
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups warm water
3 tsp. bread yeast
3 tsp. organic sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
4 tbsp. olive oil
~8 oz pitted kalamata olives, drained
1 tbsp. minced oregano
1 tbsp. minced rosemary
1 tbsp. minced thyme

Special Tools:
A baking (pizza) stone, clean kitchen towel, banneton or bread rising basket, parchment paper, a spray bottle of water with a mist setting.

First things first … plan ahead. The day or night before you bake, you want to make a poolish, or preferment.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl mix:
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar

I mix it with a whisk, and then cover with plastic wrap and a clean towel. I realize that I don’t need the towel, but it’s sort of magical to me when baking. Set the poolish aside in a warm place and let it sit for a while. Eight to 24 hours should do the trick. The longer it sits, the more sour it will taste.

On baking day, start by draining the olives and roughly chopping them. I like to dry them with a little paper towel, too. Set them aside for a moment, and mince up the herbs.

Now that the poolish has had time to ferment, add it to the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. You can do this by hand, too, but it will take longer. To the mixing bowl add 3 ½ cups of flour, 3 tablespoons of olive oil (reserving one), ¾ cup warm water and everything else. You should have ½ cup of flour, ¼ cup of water and 1 tablespoon of oil left over.

Start the mixer on low and combine the ingredients. As it comes together, you can increase the speed a bit. Basically, we want the dough to form a ball and for the sides of the mixing bowl to be relatively clean. Mix at this speed for about five minutes. If you’re doing this by hand, sprinkle a clean work surface with some flour. Once the dough comes together, turn it out onto the floured surface, and knead it for eight minutes or so.

Using the remaining olive oil, grease a large mixing bowl. I leave a little puddle at the bottom, usually. Transfer the dough ball to the bowl and turn it to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and the towel and let rise until doubled in size — usually about an hour.

After the dough has risen once, punch it down and knead it again for a few minutes. Take the remaining flour and sprinkle it over the towel. Place it in the basket and deposit the dough on top. Cover with the edges of the towel and allow it to rise again (about another hour). If you do not have a basket, you can place the loaf on a piece of parchment paper and allow it to rise on the work surface covered with the towel.

Place a cake pan filled with water on the floor of the oven. Put the baking stone in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. This should be the upper rack, set to the middle position. As an inexpensive solution, I use terra cotta trays that I purchased from the hardware store’s garden section.

After the dough has risen and the oven is hot, open the door and pull the rack with the stone out. Working quickly, transfer the dough to the stone. Using a very sharp knife, slash the top of the bread. Spray the ball of dough all over and slide back into the oven. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Open the oven and spray the loaf again, rotating it a half turn in the process. Lower the temperature to 425 degrees and allow it to bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. The bread will be done when the crust is golden on top, and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom with a wooden spoon. Take the bread out and allow it to cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before cutting.

French Kiss
After all your hard work baking bread, it’s time to enjoy a cocktail and some tunes with your sweetie.  Nothing says, “I love you,” like a French Kiss:
(Makes 2)

4 oz. vodka (Rehorst, please!)
1 oz. Chambord
1 oz. Cointreau

Mix the alcohol in a cocktail shaker. Shake for 40 seconds over cracked ice and pour into two cocktail glasses. Garnish each with three fresh raspberries. Enjoy while listening to Joan Jett and The Blackhearts’ cover “Love Is All Around” or the 2006 George Martin/Beatles remix album Love.

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