I don’t want to tell you how long it took me to finish reading Morrissey’s autobiography. AGES, my friends–give or take a couple weeks. Embarrassing. In my defense, though, the man had a lot to say. A. LOT. Every page is full of those classic, lovably snotty Moz thoughts, but one of my favorites was a reflection on relationships (or more accurately, the lack of them). The famously coy forever-bachelor wrote that ultimately, there is no better gift in life than to wake up every day and do with it exactly as you please.
YASS, I say. Obviously, I don’t think that rings true for everyone all the time, but it’s absolutely the case for me, at least now. It’s a wonderful thing. Everything gets a green light: every whim, every inappropriate mealtime, every last-minute schedule adjustment, every “let’s blast The Smiths all weekend ’cause I’m reading Morrissey’s autobiography and want to chronologically follow along, which surely any other human would find hopelessly annoying” idea. Also, as every introvert knows, there is no relief greater than coming home and not having to interact with anyone unless you want to.
Most importantly, perhaps, there is the completely selfish pouring of time and energy into treasured little projects, such as this one.
I suspect some of you might be in the same boat. And if you’re in the same boat, maybe sometimes your single, independent self wants bread–but not a loaf of bread. Just one perfect serving, for one bowl of soup, or one really fantastic salad. Or maybe there’s a sandwich idea floating around in your head that deserves this kind of treatment. Whatever your reason, this is not only a recipe but a repertoire piece, for your bachelor(ette) toolbox of living the good life.
It’s true that this is a rather time-consuming project, and your first instinct might be that it’s not worth it for one measly roll. However, on the effort scale, this is probably equal to, I don’t know, making a burrito. Time does all the work for you.
There are only four ingredients here: flour, water, yeast, salt. Scaling down the flour and water commensurately from Jim Lahey’s full recipe was the easy part, but the full recipe only calls for 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. Imagine 1/6th of that…
Let’s not go there. I’ve tried this three times with the very exact measurement of, well, two pinches of yeast (two only because those little granules are so un-pinchable that a pinch feels like nothing at all), and it’s worked every time. I know that a legitimate, precise baker would use a scale, but I also know that a quantity so tiny may not even register. This is where we channel our “cook” side and tell our “baker” side to chill a little bit. Anyway. Mix flour, yeast, salt, and water, cover with plastic and let it hang out for 12 hours or so, at the end of which you should have this:
Wet, and dotted with bubbles. When you pull it from the sides of the bowl, it puts up a fight. Good thing you’re in charge, huh? Scrape it out.
It’s still not quite wanting to roll up into a not-sticky ball… It’s fine. Just roll it around in the flour a bit, gently stretch, fold it back on itself a few times. It’ll pick up enough flour to come together. This takes, oh, two minutes, and is the only step where you have to “do” anything, really.
After you form some sort of sphere, let it rise again–this time for just a couple hours.
Gently transfer that thing to a really hot pizza stone, in a really hot oven, and bake. Jim Lahey’s original recipe uses a Dutch oven–I even suspect that a baking sheet would work, although you wouldn’t get as lovely a crust.
For funsies, I made one with all-purpose flour, and one with bread flour. Place your bets now–which is which?
All-purpose is the taller one–as you might expect, it was softer and doughier, while the one made with bread flour was chewier and denser. Rest assured, both were fantastic. I slightly prefer the denser one, but what else is new? (JOKE, joke, not even true.)
That really is all it takes: few ingredients, little effort, but a lot of time.
Think of this project as Mitch Hedberg’s baked potato. (If we are friends, you definitely either like Mitch Hedberg or don’t know it yet.) Meaning: You might as well get one of these rolls going now, even if you don’t want one. In a little while, you probably will. (Note that this is a great mindset for cooking, not starting relationships.)
Meredith knows what’s up.
Big round of high-fives for all my single people! As for you lovebirds, Valentine’s Day is coming up and you’re totally next.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
- 2 pinches instant yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Cornmeal, wheat bran or additional flour for dusting roll
- Whisk together flour, salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl and add 1/3 cup lukewarm water (around 90-100 degrees is great). Stir just until blended and all of the flour is wet (add a little bit more water if you need to), and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for about 12 (and up to 20 or so) hours.
- The dough is ready for the next step when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Flour a work surface and gently dump dough onto it. Using additional flour to keep dough from sticking, gently stretch the dough a little and fold it over itself a few times, then gently and quickly form it into something resembling a ball, rolling it around in additional flour if you need to to shape it.
- Place the ball of dough, seam side down, onto a kitchen towel dusted generously with additional flour, cornmeal or wheat bran. Cover with another flour (or cornmeal or bran)-dusted towel and allow it to rise in a warm place for two hours, or until dough is more than doubled in size.
- Heat oven to 450 degrees at least a half hour or so before the dough is ready and place a baking stone in the oven to preheat. When dough is ready, gently slide your palm under the bottom towel and plop the dough into or onto the baking stone, seam side up. Bake for around 30 minutes. Bread is done when the roll sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.