It felt so good to be back in my kitchen making a mess and cooking up a storm this weekend. I was beyond thrilled to hit the Farmer's Market for the first time since February (eek!) but the sunshine didn't exactly mean great produce - I left with two small herb plants and a large bunch of peach blossoms. Oh so beautiful, but not exactly the bundle of joy (ahem, spring vegetables) that I was hoping for. I need to keep reminding myself that it is only April!
What I did set out to do this weekend, though, was bake bread. I know I haven't really written about it on the blog, but over the past few months, I've been honing my bread baking skills, inspired by Jim Lahey's no-knead method. While I had cut out Mark Bittman's article on his method way back when I lived in Virginia, I didn't actually spring to action and try it out until I read about it again on Big Girls, Small Kitchen.
I followed along with their description (the pictures were much more helpful than my deteriorating newspaper cut-out) and could not believe the results. Not only did it work, it worked fabulously and (what felt like) effortlessly on my part! I was blown away, and instantly addicted. I could barely hold myself back from sprinting to Barnes & Noble to buy Jim Lahey's book, My Bread. (Side note: the James Beard Foundation just named this book one of the top baking cookbooks of all time).
The book is absolutely beautiful. Lahey writes with a real passion for baking, and explains everything in great detail, without becoming overly scientific or complicated. His goal is to inspire the everyday cook (like you and me!) to become comfortable baking their own breads, to dispel the fears surrounding bread-baking and encourage us to appreciate homemade, artisan bread. Well, it worked in my apartment.
Taking Lahey's suggestion, I spent a couple of months working on his basic recipe, simple white bread. I tried to incorporate whole wheat sometimes, and tested out a few different flours and yeasts, really just getting used to the process and how it all should look and feel throughout. This is tough because many of his recipes are very tempting - cheese bread!! - but I stuck to my guns and waited until I felt comfortable to take the leap into more out of the ordinary breads, like the one you see pictured here - Pan co'Santi, or Walnut Raisin bread.
The wait was well worth it. My walnut raisin bread was, if I do say so myself, out of this world. I almost melted when I heard is loudly "singing" as it cooled. Maybe it was being back in the kitchen after a month away, maybe it was knowing how many loaves of bread I'd gone through to work up to this point, or maybe it really was just that good - whatever the reason, I was in heaven eating this bread. I am thrilled to be baking again.
I'm going to lead you over to Big Girls, Small Kitchen to get started on your bread baking, as that is the description that I used before I bought the book. Keep in mind that this method takes 12-24 hours, so think ahead about when you are going to be able to bake the bread. Good luck!