Stale Bread Ain’t Just for Ducks

13 02 2010

The Friday of the Snowpocalypse was a very busy day in the oven.  In addition to making the pizzas I previously blogged about, I baked a loaf of bread from my favorite recipe, another via my kitchen crush, Mark Bittman:  Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread.

It’s a bit surprising that I haven’t blogged about bread before actually …  I just started making yeast breads within the last year, inspired first by the Jim Lahey recipe above and then egged onward into the adventure by my spinach pancake friend, who was also just beginning to explore this world of tiny animals who have the power to magically metamorphose flour and water into a golden boule with crackly crust and spongy crumb.  Yes, I do find bread poetic.

But back to the bread at hand.  This particular loaf, or boule, was definitely my best one yet.  As the recipe explains, this bread may be no work, but it does involve a lot of time; in fact, the “dough” (Is that what you’d call it?) has to rise for more than 20 hours altogether.  Thus, the problem I think I had been having is that, in the winter, my kitchen is not exactly the warmest place all day long (or more usually, all night long).  What to do?  This time, I put my bowl in the cold oven before I went to bed, and when I woke up, I found that my sticky stuff had risen almost twice as much as it had any time since it got cold around these parts.  I think being in the oven protected it from drafts, and there may have been some slight residual heat from whatever I cooked earlier in the day.  Anyway, that’s something to consider if you try the recipe.

So, after baking, I started to do what I usually do with the bread I make, which is to cut the whole thing into slices, save a few for eating that day (or that minute!), and put the rest in a freezer bag for breakfasts or sandwiches down the line.  But then I realized that it might be nice to have a really special breakfast on a snowy Sunday morning, so I wrapped about half the loaf in a plastic bag and let it sit on the counter for the next 48 hours.

Yep, I let it go stale.

Seems like a waste?  Sure, maybe, because bread is pretty fantastic when it’s fresh.  But people have been baking bread for millennia, and for most of those years, they didn’t have a freezer to keep it fresh, and they sure weren’t going to throw away just because it got a little stale.  Stale bread is great, too, and Bittman agrees.  That’s part of the reason why we have so many great recipes that involve stale bread, like panzanella, bread pudding, any kind of soup that might need a little thickening, and — my favorite — French toast!  Which takes me to the next stage of this snowy foodietale …

Sunday morning, toddler sleeps in ’til 8:30 a.m., dogs aren’t even putting up that much of a fuss about going out, just me and my honey watching deer tiptoe across a snowy hillside while we drink our coffee.  Toddler awakens, and it’s time to start moving …  The thing about French toast is that it’s basically just bread.  If the bread wasn’t good, the French toast ain’t gonna be good, and that’s why you’ll rarely find me ordering French toast at our local diner — it’s just soggy sandwich bread, no offense.  But French toast made with delicious bread is, as Masher says, ‘wishus (which means “delicious” for those of you who aren’t fluent in two-year-old-ese).  And what made this French toast particularly ‘wishus was a heavy sprinkling of homemade granola (like the bars I’ve blogged about before, only with less honey and no smushing everything together).  

French toast is easy-peasy:  For 8 thick slices of bread, I used 3 beaten eggs, 1.5 cups of milk (combo of skim and whole), a dash of salt, and two teaspoons vanilla extract.  After the bread has soaked up most of the liquid and sat for about 20 minutes, you just fry it up in a pan with a little butter or cooking oil.  So good you might forget to cry over your bread gone stale.

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