Because I’m running 13.1 miles on Sunday. On purpose. With several thousand other crazy people. Send drugs now.
In preparation, I am doing what is probably the best part about running a race–carbo-loading via copious amounts of perfectly crusty, homemade whole wheat bread with lots of butter. What, butter isn’t a carb, you say? And carbo-loading is so 80’s? Oh, you just hush. I’m running a flippin’ half marathon this weekend.
You may remember me mentioning something about this half marathon business a few months back, when I said that you may end up hearing more about the whole thing than you really wanted to know. I figured that with all the training being such a big part of my life, some of the details would eek into this space. But that hasn’t really happened. I’ve saved all the complaining about the whole thing for other lucky friends and family members. And I’ve done a lot of complaining. It’s been hard, harder than I thought.
Since the weekday “short runs” became as long as the weekend “long runs” were in the early weeks of training, it’s been tough. Not because my endurance wasn’t there–it’s amazing how quickly the body adapts to such crazy activities; I’ve had many a tearful “Rocky” moment throughout this whole experience–but because I’ve had to do all those weekday runs with a busy toddler who really doesn’t want to be in a stroller that long anymore. Pushing that behemoth of a running stroller full of whining, restless kid on a drizzly, windy San Francisco day when your running legs have seemingly abandoned you is the sort of thing that makes you unable to think of nothing but every other thing you’d rather be doing at that moment. Ugh.
On the plus side, I am fitter than ever and fit comfortably back in my pre-baby pants. I have also acquired new talents such as handing off sippy cups and snacks and fetching teddy bears that get violently chucked off the side of that aforementioned stroller without breaking stride or slowing my pace. Valuable life skills, people. Clearly, bread-baking is a much more practical skill. I think I will switch to bread baking after Sunday. So much for those pants.
Not that making this particular bread requires much skill at all. It’s one of Jim Lahey’s fabulous recipes, the guy who has incredible, actual bread-baking skills and has made his amazingly simple No-Knead method accessible to all of us who have none. I stirred together the dough in seconds one evening and had fresh, crackly, crusty whole wheat bread all set for the gorging less than 24 hours later. I barely had to do a dang thing to achieve such carb zenith. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to get such big results with no effort. It’s a beautiful thing.
Back when I made the original, all-white-flour version of this bread, I found it desperately needed more salt, so I added it here. Also, I followed the ratio of bread flour to whole-wheat flour that Lahey suggests–increasing the whole wheat flour will result in a denser loaf, but experiment and see if you like it. I also needed to add more water then the 1 1/3 cups listed (about 1/4 cup more) to get the dough to the right consistency–you want it to be quite wet and sticky before the first rise.
2 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees) water
Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting
In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add the water. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, adding a bit more water if necessary. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, at least 12 to 18 hours.
When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.
Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. Dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour if it’s sticky. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise again for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled and when you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression–if it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, position a rack so that the pot will be centered in the oven, and preheat it to 475 degrees. Place a covered 4 1/2-to-5 1/2-quart cast-iron pot (such as a dutch oven) in the center of the rack.
Use pot holders to carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Be careful!–The pot is very hot. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue baking the whole wheat bread until the loaf is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.
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