I’ve been in my kitchen exploring the recipes of Jim Lahey, Founder of the famous Sullivan Street Bakery. His no-knead bread recipes have turned many non-bakers into flour tossing evangelists of the hearth, this girl included. About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post titled I Don’t Bake after making a disaster of a pumpkin pie and quickly began to assemble a collection of essays on other things I don’t do that are commonly considered to be in the wheelhouse of American women. Jim Lahey made a liar out of me and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m now churning out bakery-quality breads from my tiny little hovel of a kitchen.
In the midst of my bread-baking frenzy, I started to reflect on what I’ve learned in this 18-month journey from non-baker to baker. There are a lot of lessons in the process, and most of them have nothing to do with the task at hand.
It is something I used to have in short supply. By nature I am one of those people who wants everything yesterday. In the process of baking bread the Lahey way, it takes roughly 24 hours and most of that time I’m not doing a damn thing except giving the concoction of flour, water, yeast, and salt a chance to meet, mingle, and coalesce under the proper circumstances. The bread requires more patience than skill to bake up to its potential.
Adding on to the bit about patience, Lahey’s recipes require restraint. I am someone who likes to do things, but with bread baking I have to let go of that impulse. The more you do with this dough, the harder it is to create a crusty, delicious loaf. The trick is to do less, far less, than you think you need to.
Have the right tools
This is one piece of Lahey’s method that requires focus. You need a very hot, reliably calibrated oven and a hefty cast iron dutch oven with a lid that can withstand the heat. There are no compromises here. You can’t make do with a faulty oven and a different kind of pan. The right tools make everything easier.
Try, try, and try again
Your first loaf might not come out perfectly. Your 10th loaf might not come out perfectly either. Lahey is very honest about his bread brick road, and there were many bricks along the way. He’s not shy about dumping bread that isn’t up to his standards but he never lets that deter him on his journey.
Spend your life doing what you love
In Lahey’s book, My Bread, I found his personal story to be even more riveting than his recipes. He put in countless hours of training and experimenting to get where he is, many of them in Rome as an apprentice baker. At the center of all of his efforts is his great love of bread. His motivation is pure and his passion unabiding. These two ingredient are essential to good bread and a good life. Find what you love and keep doing it.
Have you learned lessons in the kitchen that have pervaded other areas of your life? If so, I’d love to hear them!