Lately, it’s occurred to me that I would love to test my mettle in a bakery. Though I’m not sure it’s the life for me, just for a week or so, I would love to get up at 3a.m. to pull stretchy dough out of buckets of starter, get lost in the meditative whir and occasional thump of industrial-grade mixers, and feel dwarfed by looming stacked containers of flour, chocolate chips and sugar stored in bulk.
In my imagination, there is a lot of coffee, sticky hands, and glimpses of one’s hairnet in a window pane. I imagine there’s a lot of bicep-burning, sweaty kneading, lifting, pulling, shaping, (dropping?), hefting, sliding. There must also be a lot of steady hands delicately piping, drizzling, swirling, and placing-just-so. Like a perfect all-round workout for the body and mind.
I think that it must feel like honest work: the work where you have a precise, if long, to do list, and scratching tasks off that list comes as a result of hard work, focus, and know-how, not politics, contingencies and lucky guesses. Perhaps, at its most mundane, it might feel a bit rote. But I think that, even in that repetition, I would find delight in imagining the croissant dough I was rolling and folding, rolling and folding, as a gift, with a good coffee and a newspaper, from a doting partner to his tired love, who waits at home in bed.
Perhaps I need to be relieved of my delusion. But if the joy of a crackling and singing artisanal loaf is the same on a grander, every-hour-of-the-working day scale, I’d set my alarm clock to 3a.m. for that.
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons ground espresso
- 1 cup rye flour
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Zataar for sprinkling on top
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
- Mix all the ingredients (except the cornmeal, zataar and cornstarch) together in a large bowl or with your stand mixer using the dough attachment. Mix until all the ingredients are fully incorporated into a sticky dough.
- Place the dough in a bowl and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Allow to rest at room temperature for two hours.
- You can use the dough at this point, or save it in the refrigerator for up to 8 days. This recipe makes 3 loaves of bread, and you can make all the loaves at once or over the span of several days.
- When you're ready to bake, grab off a grapefruit-sized piece of dough and shape the dough into a ball, stretching your thumbs over the top of the ball while tucking the sides of the ball under with your other fingers. This extra working of the top of the loaf creates what is called a "gluten coat."
- Dust a cutting board with cornmeal and set the dough on the cutting board to rise for 40 minutes.
- Place a baking stone on the middle rack of your oven. Fill a baking dish with 1 cup of water and place that on the rack below the baking stone. Preheat your oven to 400F approximately 20 minutes before the bread is ready to bake.
- Make a cornstarch wash for the bread by whisking 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch with 1/2 cup water and microwaving it for 30-60 seconds, or until the mixture becomes translucent and glassy. Brush the wash over the bread. Sprinkle the top generously with zataar. Slash the top of the loaf in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife.
- Slide the risen loaf directly onto the baking stone and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the bread is firm and dark brown.