Back in 2011, my dad died in a motorcycle accident.
Already that year, a lot of big life stuff had changed. I quit my corporate job with nothing but $5k and a desire to make a living doing something that really mattered to me. I joined the cast of a rock opera about the zombie apocalypse. Through that, I met the pretty lady who is now my wife. It was a big year. I learned a lot about choices and how they defined me, instead of feeling like a victim of circumstance.
But the loss of my father was a reminder that not everything is a choice. It was so sudden and unexpected, like a falling bomb out of a clear blue sky.
I’m not saying anything new here. Individuals much more astute and eloquent than me have written reams of material on death, its meaning, its effect on the living. I’ll leave that to them. I just want to remember my dad.
He was a good man. He taught me a hell of a lot, about how to be and how not to be. As I grow and try to learn more and get better, he’s the one I look to the most often as an example. I want to be more like him in a lot of ways.
One of his favorite things was cooking. This isn’t flippant, it’s just the truth. Food isn’t flippant, anyway; it’s what makes us physically, it’s the stuff that people use to celebrate births and holidays and unions and to mourn deaths. I got so much of my passion for food from helping him around the kitchen, watching him throw crazy leftovers in the wok or try out a Beef Wellington recipe for Christmas or knead bread. Bread was a big thing for him, he would go on big bread kicks for a few weeks at a time.
To my knowledge, Dad never discovered Jeff Hertzberg’s Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day technique. But I think he would have been really excited about it. It really is what it sounds like; with five minutes up-front prep, then another five minutes day-of, you can have really, really good homemade bread. What you do is, you mix up the ingredients at the beginning, put it all in the fridge, then take a chunk of that when you’re ready to have some bread. The dough keeps for at least a couple of weeks in the fridge, and I’m not sure that it wouldn’t be fine for longer. 1
A couple of things make Jeff Hertzberg’s technique workable. First of all, the dough is a lot wetter than most traditional bread recipes; there’s a lot higher liquid-to-flour ratio. This means that the dough mixes up fairly easily in a bowl with a spoon, no kneading necessary. I had to get my hands in there to incorporate the last little bit of flour, but it wasn’t much. If you do that, just dip your hands in some water beforehand to make sure the dough doesn’t stick to them too much. The other innovation is the ‘gluten cloak’, where you take a chunk of fairly wet dough, dust it with flour, and pull the sides down to the bottom to get a tougher outer covering to contain the loaf. I know I didn’t describe that very well. That’s because videos do a lot better. Here’s Jeff himself.
Like I said, Dad never used this recipe or this technique. But he loved learning new things about food, discovering and sharing new ideas, new tastes, new ways to nourish our bodies with old traditions. He would have loved this.
Thanks for inspiring me, Dad. Love you.
-Josh is listening to John Fullbright
- 680 g (3 cups) lukewarm water
- 1 packet yeast
- 25 g (2 3/4 tsp) salt
- 65 g (1/2 cup) whole wheat flour
- 65 g (1/2 cup) rolled oats
- 780 g (5 1/2 cups) white flour
- In a large glass bowl, mix the water, yeast, and salt, then add in the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. If mixture becomes too thick to stir, wet your hands and mix by hand. Cover bowl and leave at room temperature for two hours.
- After the two hours are up, put the covered bowl in the fridge. It will stay good for the next two weeks.
- Dust the top of the dough with flour, and gently gather up a grapefruit-sized portion.
- Gently stretch the dough from the top of the mass down to the bottom and gather the edges at the bottom to produce a smooth outer surface. Dust with more flour during this process if the dough is too sticky to handle easily.
- Set the loaf edges-down on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Let rise uncovered at room temperature for half an hour.
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- After rising, bake for 35 minutes, then let cool completely (about two hours) before cutting.
- Get a scale. It makes everything a lot easier.
- LET IT COOL. It tastes a lot better.
- No, double negatives are not incorrect, because in the context of my not having tested aging dough for longer than that, I am not completely sure that it WOULD be fine for longer. (Any English majors want to parse out that sentence? I don’t know if that all worked out like I wanted it to.) ↩