by Barbara Joy Cooley
In the summer, I am accustomed to having really good, simple bread from the bakery around the corner. We’ve spent summer in Paris since 1998, but my husband Tom and I will not be going to Paris this year because of the pandemic. We are self-isolating at home due to his underlying medical condition.
So now I bake bread – a fresh loaf every other day. I use Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread recipe, which gives us a simple bread with a taste, a crunchy crust, and a chew like the breads made in the best bakeries in Paris. Even though the very first loaf I made weeks ago was really fine, I experiment with different flours in different proportions, trying to achieve even more bread perfection. (Try 2 cups of bread flour and one cup of spelt flour if you like a light, country-style bread.)
To make a loaf of Lahey’s No Knead bread, you need approximately 3 cups, 385 grams, or almost 1 pound of flour. I say “approximately” because, as I have discovered, bread flour is heavier than all-purpose flour. So I use either 385 grams of all-purpose flour or 3 cups of bread flour – which is almost a pound of flour. A 5 lb. bag of flour will only produce 5 loaves, which is okay if flour is readily and reliably available in the grocery, but it is not. Almost everyone must be baking, and flour can be hard to find. Yeast is difficult to find, too, but I am fortunate to have plenty of instant yeast now.
I don’t eat much bread, but Tom thrives on it. He’s very French that way. Needing to find a reliable flour source, I turned to a restaurant supply web site. There I found a 50 lb. bag of King Arthur’s Sir Galahad Artisan flour for $50. A dollar a pound is not bad for ordinary flour these days; but this is no ordinary flour. And I had no choice; all of the 5 and 10 lb. bags were sold out!
I’ll use up the bread flour before trying the Artisan flour – probably early this next week. Then I will have to calculate the right amount of Artisan flour for Lahey’s No Knead Bread. My guess is that it will be 385 grams, like all-purpose flour, because Artisan flour has a similar protein content. Meanwhile, that Artisan flour arrived yesterday. I lugged the weighty package into the elevator and figured out how to store it in the pantry.
I put some of the Artisan flour into a cannister. It is lovely! I can’t wait to start experimenting with it. According to the King Arthur people, Artisan flour is good for breads and many kinds of baked goods – even fancy pastries – and it is equivalent to a type of French flour that is milled from hard winter wheat.
This tendency to take the time to get it right – or the “experimenting,” as I call it – makes me think of my grandmother, Marie McAdams Thurner. I learned so much from her! In the kitchen and at her sewing machine, she was careful, methodical, and precise; above all, she was patient.
She taught me how to make pie crust; people love her pie crust! She taught me how to sew, and if a seam, a hem, or a dart didn’t turn out right, she taught me how to persevere, summon up the patience, cut out the stitches one by one, and start over. She taught me how to make ice cream, which also took patience and work, because the ice cream machine was hand-cranked. I never saw her be impatient, or uncaring. She did not take shortcuts or cut corners. She did not get angry. I strive to be more like her.
She did not teach me how to bake bread. But if and when I finally come up with the perfect bread recipe, I’m naming it Marie McAdams bread, because it takes patience.