Last week Not Martha posted about her experiences with Cook's Illustrated's "No-Knead Bread 2.0" (the recipe is buried in the comments for a different post). I can't wait to try this. I didn't make the famous bread myself until this summer, but I've made it many times since. The dough has looked different every time, and when it's especially wet and slippy, I worry that it won't work out. One time I realized after the 18 hour rest that I had absentmindedly added about 1/2 cup too much water, and I worried that it wouldn't work out. But it has always been delicious. I know you all know, but it's like magic.
When I was in grade school my mom and I would bake soft, delicious bread in a teddy bear shape, so I'm not sure why adult-me has been spooked by yeasted breads until now. Inspired again by Not Martha, who drew her inspiration from the Amateur Gourmet, last month I finally baked Nigel Slater's Really Good and Very Easy White Loaf from Appetite, a recipe I had eyed longingly for years. It's true--it's really good and very easy. I cut the recipe in half, which makes a loaf about the size of the one yielded by the no-knead recipe. Its crumb is denser and whiter than no-knead bread; I think it would be better for sandwiches, and I can tell you that it makes amazing toast. I made it again for my family after Thanksgiving, and they seemed gratifyingly impressed.
Newly cocky, last week I tried the focaccia recipe in The Art of Simple Food. It revealed that my baking skills are, alas, not terribly advanced. I probably didn't let the yeast-water-rye flour sponge get bubbly enough. Then the dough felt all wrong from the start, tough and rubbery. I should have added some water when the flour sucked the initial allotment right up, but I wasn't confident enough to fiddle with the recipe. Once baked the focaccia was not pillowy and tender; it was, like the dough, tough and a little dry. On the third or fourth bite I realized what it reminded me of: bad pizza crust. (To make matters worse, I had tried to roast kale in the oven as the focaccia cooled; Michael Pollan mentions doing so in The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I was intrigued. It sounded easy enough, but I ended up with a steaming mass of kale that was soggy in the center and charred at the edges.) Luckily we were hanging and trimming Christmas wreaths as all this was going on, so I couldn't waste too much time on disappointment.
I haven't figured out how to take a good picture of my wreaths, but I did figure out what to do with my unappealing leftovers. The focaccia was more than edible over the next day or two when I toasted it and dipped it into minestrone soup. I chopped up the kale and cooked it with garlic and canned tomatoes, and we ate some of it on top of pasta. On the fourth day, with half the focaccia and about two cups of kale left, I was yearning to make pizza but didn't want to waste my leftovers. So I turned on the broiler. I sliced the focaccia in half through its thickness, ending up with very thin pieces, and heated the kale in the microwave. I put the halved focaccia on a baking sheet on the top rack right under the broiler for 2 minutes; then I removed the baking sheet, spread the kale over the bread, and put it back under the broiler for 2 minutes. I grated some Parmesan cheese, sprinkled it over the kale, and broiled 1 minute more. It wasn't pizza, but it was actually quite yummy and comforting.