Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Knead? No need!

Several years ago my parents moved into a much smaller home than ever before, forcing them to downsize considerably. They took many loads of stuff to Goodwill, held a yard sale or two...and surreptitiously sneaked things into the trunk of my car whenever I visited them during this period.

I believe that's how I ended up with a rusty ancient 12-inch cast iron Dutch oven--I think I found it in the back seat of the car one weekend when I was unpacking after a trip to Oregon. I was too amused to get rid of it, and I suspected it had been in the family for too long to let it go, anyway. Mr. Thel and I hatched cheerful schemes of taking it camping to cook over a fire.

Since our tiny kitchen had no available space to store the hulking blackened thing, we stored it carefully in a corner of the garage. Naturally it sat there for the next two years. When we moved into this house, it migrated into a corner of the basement. There it sat all year beneath a growing pile of cardboard and camping detritus.

Recently someone (probably Kimberly) reminded me about the No-Knead Bread Recipe from the New York Times over a year ago. Everyone on the internet loved this bread recipe so thoroughly that I wanted to try it for myself...but my crusty, rusty dutch oven deterred me all year.

Yesterday I finally clomped down to the basement and dug it out. I was quite afraid that I'd pull the lid off and find a seething mass of black spiders inside, but was pleasantly surprised to find its sturdy innards completely insect-free. I hauled it upstairs and cleaned it out. Still unsatisfied with the weirdly tacky texture inside, I put it upside-down in the oven at 500 degrees for almost two hours, which seemed to do the trick. Last night I mixed the ingredients for the bread; today I baked the bread.

Now, I already liked baking bread. I don't even mind kneading bread all that much (more of a deterrent for me is the gluey floury mess afterward). But this loaf --this effortless dome of crispy, crusty, chewy goodness--is the best bread I have ever baked. Friends, I'm afraid it may not last until morning in this household.

When I called my mom to boast about my perfect bread, she told me that this particular dutch oven came from my great-grandma Mickey's house. It's probably been in use for over 50 years. Somehow knowing that, and feeling that link to a great-grandmother I hardly had a chance to know before Alzheimer's disease took her away, made my second slice of bread taste even more satisfying.