Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Ass Would Like to Thank the New York State Board of Law Examiners

I am a savory girl, a salt girl. I know, I know, we have gone over this before. Now, I am not a dessert girl. Yet somehow the combination of salt and sweet, makes dessert an entirely different ballgame. There's something about sea salt sprinkled on top of chocolate that just turns it into something completely new and entirely sublime. It's pretty much the reason why I found the caramel-chocolate matzoh so addictive, it was the crunchy studs of salt that heightened everything else on board.

That is why this article in the New York Times this week, at any other point this year, would have immediately driven me to drop everything, make dough and will myself not to eat it while it was supposed to be "resting" in the fridge. I somehow would have found it in me to let [at least most of] the dough rest for the 36 hours before scooping it out onto baking sheets and gleefully sprinkling sea salt on top. Yet, because of this bar exam, I could do no such thing. I could not taste the dough after twelve, after twenty-four, after thirty-six hours; I could not eat, um, just one of them before giving the rest away to my dear, dear friends (because yes, that is precisely what I would do with a batch of warm, gooey, salt-topped cookies). There is no time for 36 hours of resting time and scooping out and baking of cookies. And for that, NY Board of Law Examiners, my ass thanks you. Oh yea, my thighs thank you too.

If any of you have found the time to make the recipe, please do let me know how it turns out!*

* Translation: Please find the time to make this, and allow me the pleasure of discovering for myself how they turned out by sending them in a care package delivered to my door.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Finding Sanity in Simplicity

I would like to start off by apologizing for my absence. It's been a rough couple of weeks - first my camera stopped fully functioning (still doesn't really work, but I'm making due for now), then my computer stopped working, then the hard drive had to be replaced, and then I really had to start working.

This bar exam thing is really a doozy. The studying seems endless, and sometimes pointless, and yet there is no choice but to keep truckin' on. Everybody says that the intensity really builds up after the July 4th holiday, and yet I am starting to feel as if I can't possibly handle another month of this (or 24 days, to be exact - eek!).

At the same time, this whole studying thing is allowing me to get into a routine, where I am eating healthy (and well), walking tons, and sleeping well. This hasn't been terribly hard thus far - there's really only so much I can possibly study each day. As the day of the test draws near, though, I can't help but worry that the eating well part is going to drop off. The time that I have been taking out of pretty much each day to prepare myself a nice meal is something that I fear will be one of the first things to go as the intensity skyrockets.

Some things, though, are just so simple, and yield such a big reward, that the busiest among us can find the time to make them happen. No-knead bread, which took the food blogging world by storm after Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery shared his recipe with Mark Bittman and the New York Times, is one such thing. There is honestly nothing more comforting or rewarding than baking a loaf of tasty, chewy, crusty homemade bread. Especially when the physical work put into such bread takes no more than 3 minutes total, making it, by far, low-maintenance dough you could possibly imagine.

The dough is mixed the night before baking, left on the counter without the faintest cry for attention, until the next day, when bubbles have formed along the surface. The time commitment therefore is about 75 seconds on the first day, though this creeps up a bit on day two, when the dough must sit and rise for another two hours before baking for about 45 minutes. There's obviously no requirement that you sit around your house and watch the dough rise for another couple of hours, but in reality that's what's likely going to end up happening, though these two hours are a great time to go to the gym, take a nap, or even learn the fundamentals of the law of contracts and sales, or, you know, something fun.

Having been a yeast-o-phobe for so long, this dough is incredibly forgiving. No-knead bread is no misnomer; this bread gets its amazing texture and moisture from the large amount of water in the dough and an incredibly long rise. There's no kneading, period. The reward is exponential considering the effort and cost put into it. This bread is among the best I've had in an incredibly long time, the crust is perfect, chewy without being too hard, and the huge crumb and large holes in the bread itself give it an amazing texture.

This month is going to be among the worst I've experienced in a very long time, and quite possibly the worst I will experience in my legal career. But, hey, at least criminal law is that much better with a side of homemade bread, warm from the oven.

No-Knead Bread
The New York Times, November 8, 2006
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

I have made this bread with both all-purpose and bread flours, and I prefer the texture of the bread flour version ever so slightly, though both loaves were delicious and gobbled up without complaint. It's a great accompaniment to pretty much anything - I have taken to eating it in hunks with cheese, pate and other yummies, though it's unbeatable just coated with a thick layer of butter and some coarse salt.

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 - [I used cast iron with excellent results]) 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.