I've been brainstorming.
A home is not a home until bread is baked in it.
Bread baking makes a home?
Let's see, how about this:
A loaf in the oven, a home complete.
That last one isn't so bad, but still, I don't know. I'm not going to become famous for my phrases anytime soon. But I really do think that it's true, for me at least, that the first time you are motivated to bake bread in your new apartment, the first time the warm smell of yeast and rising dough perfumes your rooms, is the first time you can really settle in and sigh with contentment about being home.
Every once in a while, I find you simply need to force yourself to stay home for a few days, unplugged and quiet. Read in bed in your nightgown past lunchtime, organize your books alphabetically (or by spine color!), stare out the window at the cloud patterns for a bit, and if you're lucky enough to be somewhere rainy, listen to the droplets falling on windows and the sound car tires make when they slide past on wet, asphalted streets.
Those are the days for bread-baking, for easing yourself slowly into the start of the autumn chill.
So, I'll be honest: I've been a little bored by the newspaper recipes lately. More than lately, actually. All summer, I think. I've been clipping dutifully and hoarding as usual, but I haven't found anything in months that actually makes me impatient to go to the grocery store and get cooking. Instead, this weekend I started nosing around in my other recipe clippings and emerged feeling inspired. Imagine: a sweet butter-and-milk-enriched yeast bread from Ethiopia, of all places, spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and ginger and an entire tablespoon of ground coriander. Doesn't that sound like something you'd want to make right away, no question about it?
Let me tell you that you should. It's simply lovely.
Your house will smell like Christmas, first of all. Also, you'll get to feel all exotic and interesting: you're baking Ethiopian bread! Best of all, the bread keeps well, so you will have homemade bread for breakfast for a whole week at least (it toasts nicely, too). Gene Opton says that Ethiopians usually just eat this bread spread with butter and honey, but I found it most delicious eaten only with unsalted butter. The bread is sweet enough from all the honey in the dough, and the spices need a little bit of cooling balance, which is just what a nice thin layer of butter provides.
I always find September both comforting and sort of terrifying. On one hand, it's the loveliest month of the year. Still sunny and warm, but with just enough nip in the air to make for cool nights and perfect sleeping weather. Limbs still tanned from the summer, but you can pull out your thin sweaters and look forward to warm shoes again. On the other hand, it's just a few warp-speed weekends until Thanksgiving and then Christmas. When you get to September, the end of the year suddenly looms. Did you get everything done that you wanted to this year? Is it turning out the way you hoped? Do you have your ducks in a row for the months still ahead that will zip past so fast you might just get whiplash?
Don't worry. Take a deep breath and breathe. And remember this: when you bake bread, everything slows down. Life feels more manageable again. And coming up with phrases about bread-baking to accompany you into posterity seems the most important thing you can do.
Ethiopian Honey-Spice Bread
Makes 1 loaf
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 large egg
1/2 cup mild honey
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup whole milk, warmed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1. Combine the yeast, water, sugar or honey, and ginger in a small ceramic bowl and set in a warm, draft-free place until it bubbles vigorously.
2. Combine the egg, honey, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Add the milk and butter. Mix in 1 cup of the flour.
3. Add the yeast mixture and beat until all the ingredients are well blended. Add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, using only enough to make a soft dough. Use your hands, if needed, to work in the last bit of flour.
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the bread by folding it end to end, pressing down and pushing forward several times with the heel of your hand. (The dough will be sticky. Use a dough scraper to clear the board and turn the mass of dough. Avoid adding more flour.)
5. In about 5 minutes the dough will become smoother and more elastic. Shape into a rough ball and place in a large oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise until doubled in bulk.
6. Heavily butter a 3-quart round baking dish that is 3 inches deep, such as a casserole or an enameled Dutch oven. Punch down the dough with a single blow of your fist. Knead the dough for a few minutes, shape into a rough ball, and place in the prepared pan. (Press the dough down so that the bottom of the pan is covered completely.) Cover and let rise again until the dough has doubled and reaches the top of the pan.
7. At least 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
8. Bake for 60 minutes, or until the bread is nicely rounded on top and a light golden brown. Leave in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove and transfer to a rack to cool completely before slicing.