Earth. Air. Fire. Water.
A confluence of the four elementals in every bite.
From the soil, grain is harvested slender and strong. On vagrant zephyrs, wild yeasts fly to play hide-and-seek in the caverned crumb. In the blistering forge, the crust, a breastplate shielding the tender heart, is tempered to a burnished resilience. Viscous as rain-drunk mud, the dough metamorphoses, yet maintains the moist, salty bite of a sea breeze.
Bread is my anchor. I do not eat it mindlessly. Each bite is a meditation. I remember where it comes from. I remember where I come from. I am a Gressani, from the land of Ciabatta and Grissini. I am a Gregor, from the land of Bretzeln und Brötchen. I am an Iglesias, from the lands of Mallorca and Barra Gallega. I am from soils I have never walked, winds I have never breathed, fires I did not light, and seas I have never swum. I am the bread I eat.
Bread is sacred. Bread is a mystery. The ancients knew this and scratched it into their scrolls. The pathetic beige pillow plastic-sacked on the supermarket shelf is not bread. The sandy bricks that used to emerge from my oven were not bread. So I went on many a pilgrimage to seek the holy icon far from home.
Then, an epiphany. The overnight no-knead loaf. Could such a humble recipe truly give birth to the primeval force that binds the elements, that binds me to my origins, that binds the religions of the world? What a leap of faith to turn my back on the barely mixed dough, to watch it turn into a bubbled mire belching acrid gas, to place the bloated lump into a stockpot.
I waited. I hoped. I kept faith. And Earth, Air, Fire, and Water brought a gold-crusted miracle from my oven.
From Simply So Good
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 ¾ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon yeast
- 1 ½ cups water
Heat ¼ cup water until it is warm enough for a baby’s bath and doesn’t burn your finger when you swirl it. Stir in the yeast and let proof for five minutes. (If you are using instant yeast you can skip the proofing and whisk it with the dry ingredients.) Whisk together the flour and salt. Stir the proofed yeast and 1 ¼ cups water into the dry ingredients and mix just until a shaggy dough forms. Cover in plastic wrap and wait for the magic to happen. After 12-20 hours the dough should have doubled or tripled in size and the surface should be pocked with little holes.
Preheat the oven to 450° F. Gently scrape the dough onto a floured board, trying to deflate it as little as possible. Shape it into a round, place on a piece of parchment paper, and cover with plastic wrap for at least 30 minutes. When the oven reaches 450° F, place a deep-sided, oven-safe pot onto a middle rack and let heat for 30 minutes. When the dough round has risen, slash an X into the center of the round and carefully place it in the heated pot, using the parchment paper as a sling. Cover the pot with aluminum foil if you, like me, do not have lovely cast iron ware with an oven-safe lid. Bake for 30 minutes covered, and then 15 minutes uncovered. The bread is ready when the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when you knock gently on the bottom.