I take my jar of sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and feed it. The soupy paste is viscous at first, resisting my spoon, curling around it in wet, balky strands. At last it relaxes, and I stir together equal parts starter, flour, and water. It is smooth and thick and quiescent. I leave the jar on the counter overnight.
I don’t have time to make bread. I’m still ignoring my half-finished kitchen floor. I need to buy groceries, clean the bathroom, and finish my taxes.
Bread flour, whole wheat flour, barley flour, spelt flour and salt sprinkle the counter around the scale as I measure each into the bowl, the layers barely striated shades of white. The faintest fairy dust storm rises and I suppress a sneeze, holding up floury hands in a warding gesture, as if it might help.
Maybe I still have time to return my overdue books before the library closes tonight. Is it more important to exercise or sleep?
The sourdough starter is rich and foamy like Ovaltine now. It smells like a yeasty tide pool, teeming with life—or is that just my imagination? I pour some on top of the flour, then add honey and water. Back to stirring recalcitrant paste again. I put my arm into it, and within a few turns it becomes a ragged dough. I cover the bowl, then I wipe the counter down. Sprinkles of flour and drops of honey attenuate into streaks, then succumb to the sponge. I feed my jar of starter again, and return it to the refrigerator.
We go out to dinner and eat and drink and talk and I laugh until I nearly snort red wine out my nose, but only cough a little, then laugh some more, no harm done.
The next morning the rough dough is completely transformed, as if an arcanist called its name while I slept. It has risen to the top of the bowl.
I flour my hands and the bread board, and scrape the light, bubbly dough from the bowl. I stretch the dough out, and fold it over a few times. Maybe I’m kneading the bread, but it’s more like folding a pillow case warm from the dryer. I cradle it in my hands for a moment and it shapes itself to them–pliant, as smooth as skin on skin. Gently, I tuck it in under a kitchen towel, and cover it with an upturned bowl.
I think I’ll lie on the couch and read all afternoon. Oh, this feels so good…why do people ever get dressed, when pajamas are so comfortable? My eyes are getting heavy. Am I napping? Or reading? Who cares?
I put the cast iron dutch oven in the oven, and preheat it to the temperature of hell. When I smell a whiff of brimstone, the ball of dough goes into the dutch oven. I slash the top twice with a ruthless hand. When the bread is done baking, it falls onto a rack to cool for as long as I can bear it. The golden crust is beautiful and the smell of fresh bread is irresistible.
I slice. And butter. And eat.
The complete recipe and instructions for this No-knead Pain au Levain can be found here, at Chez Pim. The bread has a chewy crust, a light, flavorful interior, and rivals any artisan sourdough loaf from the store.
While some advance planning is necessary in order to give the dough adequate rising time, the active time spent making this bread was certainly no more than fifteen minutes.