My goal, regarding many of the choices I make every day, is to keep self-flagellation to a minimum. When you aren’t working at an office and you have no kids or spouse then you have very little you can hide behind and few things or people to use as an excuse. If you don’t exercise, keep the place neat, pay your bills on time and stay in touch with family and friends you have no one to blame but yourself. There are enough real things I can beat myself up for that I certainly don’t need to borrow trouble from the stuff I can actually control. That’s why, if you should drop by my place any time 30 minutes post wake-up, you will find my bed made. It would have been made immediately except someone like Heloise once Hinted that a bed needs ½ hour to breathe before it is re-made! Something about an unmade bed says “I have given up” and that is not how I feel or the message I want to send to anyone else.
So, after the bread baking debacle of last week any sane person, who, like me, doesn’t eat a ton of bread and lives within two blocks of several artisanal bakeries, would have said, “Oh well,” and moved on to sweeter and easier treats. But, having sufficiently wounded my pride as well as awakened the competitive side of my personality I should have tapped into more effectively in high school, I decided to try again and damn well succeed.For my next yeast foray I turned to Martha Stewart and her Baking Handbook. There is something user-friendly-meets-academic in the word “handbook” so I instantly felt like I was in trustworthy hands and could follow the guidelines of something produced by home-keeping’s most successful perfectionist with confidence. Her recipe for Cranberry-Pecan Rye Bread has tempted me since I bought the book a few years ago. I love the idea of the tang of rye infusing a fruity, nutty bread and was especially happy that in this case cranberries replace the previously mentioned idiocy of raisins, and pecans replace the roof-of-mouth itchiness of walnuts (raisin-walnut being the more common combo). I was also relieved to see Martha called for “Active Dry Yeast,” five envelopes of which were left over from last week’s attempt at improvising “Instant Yeast.”
So, Saturday morning I set up shop and got to work. I was feeling pretty confident, the instructions were straightforward, I’d set aside a nice, relaxed chunk of time and was calm, cool, and collected—until I wasn’t.
Now, as much as I respect Martha’s meticulousness, I realize she is not immune to screwing up (to wit, her stint in the big house). The problem was in her use of the word “foamy” when referring to the result the baker is waiting for when she dissolves the packet of yeast in the 1 ¼ cups of 110 degree water. I was beginning to blame myself for being the purchaser of five packets of dead yeast. Foamy? Um, no. Not at all or in the least. One after the other I poured the cloudy beige yeasty water down the drain along with my calm, cool, collected and time. I was going to be late to the movies once again and I left my apartment. My dry ingredients were still mixed and waiting patiently, pecan pieces toasted and cranberries chopped.Again, a sane person would have woken up Sunday morning and headed to the store to replenish her yeast supply and hopefully buy a little luck—but, not me. Instead, I thought I’d be clever and hit the nice supermarket downtown before heading back home post The Hurt Locker and dinner with friends (see the movie before the Oscars by the way, it’s excellent and already on DVD!) and what do you know? The only yeast they had was the kind I needed last week, “Instant.” Ugh. This meant that I had to go to a different store once I got back uptown, adding several blocks to my walk from the subway all while wading through the pools of melting snow at each corner in my five pound boots. At least I was gaining some calf muscles. And did I mention it was 12:15am?
The good news was when I did wake up Sunday morning I had everything ready to go for "take two" (or should we call it ‘three’?) of the bread project...after making my bed of course. And here is where I handled things differently. Upon reflection, I realized there was no way all of those packets of yeast could have been dead. My luck isn’t that bad. So, this time, I dissolved the yeast in the water and stared at it for the full five minutes. After about three there was a shifting, a change. All of a sudden a cloud of a more opaque-y color and sandy consistency seemed to be rising from the deep up to the surface of the water, which now looked like thin, mushroom soup. Aha! Maybe not bubbly or "foamy" per se but this yeast definitely had some life and I decided to go for it.
And everything fell into place beautifully! The mixer does a lot of the work—however I did give the dough a bit of a knead after adding the cranberries and nuts, just to make sure they were incorporated. The rolling out couldn’t have been easier. It was the rolling up where I got a little wobbly. Not surprising given my yoga mat often looks the same way. My mistake and it won’t be yours.The great thing was that this bread is fantastic--chewy, crusty, salty, sweet, and crunchy deliciousness and I think I have eaten more of it than anything else I've baked in the last three months! As soon as it cooled I brought half the very large loaf down to my parents’ where somehow my phoning Dad to alert him I was coming with bread turned into my mother greeting me with “I hear you’ve brought a spread.” Eh? (I know I speak quickly but how about a hearing test folks?) I have learned two valuable lessons; 1) I will never go “fast no-knead” again and 2) it’s okay to question Martha. But the most important thing is not only did I have an entire day free from self-flagellation but, in fact, full of self-congratulation. Yay me! At least for today. Now, go make your bed and then make this bread!
Should Have Started with Martha's Cranberry-Pecan Rye Bread
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, 2005 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.
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1 cup (4oz) chopped pecans
Vegetable oil for bowl and baking sheet
1 1/4 cups (10oz) warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
10 oz (about 2 cups) bread flour
5 1/2 oz (about 1 cup) rye flour
2 1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
3/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
1 large egg
Sea salt or other coarse salt for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350
Toast pecans till fragrant, about 10 minutes. Set aside and cool completely and turn off oven.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with oil, set aside.
Lightly oil a medium to large bowl and set aside.
In bowl of electric mixer whisk yeast into warm water to dissolve and set aside for 5 minutes until mixture goes from beige water to a creamier, opaque beige color.
Using mixer's paddle attachment, add flours, table salt, sugar and caraway seeds and mix on medium-low until dough comes together. (If dough seems excessively dry add warm water one tablespoon at a time and continue beating till it comes together.)Remove paddle attachment and switch to dough hook. Beat on medium speed until dough is smooth, elastic and slightly tacky, 4-5 minutes.With mixer on low add cranberries and pecans. Feel free to use your hands to knead in nuts and fruit if they are not being incorporated.Transfer dough to oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft free place (I put mine in my oven, which was off) until doubled in bulk, about an hour.In small bowl beat egg with 1 Tablespoon of water.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out with rolling pin into a rectangle, about 13x10 inches and 1/2 inch thick.
Fold 1/2 inch flaps inward on both short ends. Starting at the top, roll the dough towards you gently pressing as you go to form a tight log.Gently roll log back and forth to seal the seam. If seam doesn't stay sealed brush it with beaten egg and press down again to seal.
Transfer loaf to baking sheet, seam side down. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until dough is puffed and holds an impression from your fingertip, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350
Brush the loaf generously with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt.Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until the crust is deep golden brown, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the bread registers 190 degrees on an instant read thermometer, 35-40 minutes.
Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.