Like many apartments in Jerusalem (and around the country) ours was built around the time the State was founded… and has remained more or less the same since. That is to say, vintage. Now, it could be worse. There are certainly many, many buildings in this city that are much older than 60+ years. For example, when I was nine years old my family lived in an old Arab house that had been divided rather haphazardly into many units. Our apartment was part of what used to be the ancient water cistern, and the mold that grew as a result aggravated my asthma so much that after a night in the emergency room my parents were forced to look for alternate housing (we subsequently ended up in an apartment in which the gas heater had never been checked and we all nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning, but that is another story). Oh the adventures of antiquated living conditions…
This apartment does not seem to possess the same level of danger as those of my childhood (let us hope), but it is also what you might call…basic. Not updated with the modern allowance of electrical units, running anything stronger than an electric kettle trips the breaker in an instant. I tried running my friend’s vacuum — no dice. Hair dryer, forget it. Okay, I am fine with air-drying my hair, and sweeping the rugs or shaking them out off the balcony is not that bad either. I was a bit disappointed, however, about my mixer. Though I am a pretty resourceful gal with an affection for the old-fashioned, there is only so much hand mixing, kneading, and butter-beating that this little baker can do before carpal tunnel sets in.
Luckily, amidst the large number of cookbooks I brought over from the States is the gem, Artisan Bread in Five minutes a Day, which uses a technique I became familiar with in pastry school, autolyse. [Warning: the following information is for baking nerds only, the rest of you can reap the benefits of the technique by skipping to the recipe below] Autolyse is a method that produces a wonderful finished product with practically no kneading, using time rather than effort. After mixing the ingredients together briefly, the flour is given 2-12 hours to absorb moisture and ferment, while developing gluten, thus making it ready to shape, rise and bake at the end of the resting period. The dough is kept in the refrigerator after the initial two hour rise, slowing down fermentation so it stays fresh, and making it easer to handle when shaping.
Light Whole Wheat Bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
Makes 4 one lb loaves. The recipe can easily be doubled or halved.
3 cups luke warm water
1 1/2 Tbs dry active yeast
1 1/2 Tbs salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
5 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
flour for dusting
semolina or cornmeal for the baking tray/pizza peel (if you have one)
Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a 5 – quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
Mix in the remaining dry ingredients with a wooden spoon.
Cover (not air tight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and then collapses on top ~ 2 hours.
The dough can be used right away (though it is easier to handle when cold), or refrigerated for up to 14 days.
On baking day (you can use a 1/4 of the dough at a time, whenever you want fresh bread over the next 2 weeks), dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a 1/4 turn as you go. Allow to rest on a cornmeal covered pizza peel or baking tray for 40 minutes.
Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 450°F, with a baking stone (I don’t own a baking stone, so I just put the tray the dough rested on, in the oven).
Sprinkle the loaf the liberally with flour (you can tap it off when it’s done baking) and slash a cross or tic-tac-toe pattern in the top with a serrated knife.
Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone (or put your pan in the oven) and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm (I check mine with a kitchen thermometer- bread should register at 180-200°F when pierced in the center). Allow to cool before eating or slicing — bread does what is called “carry-over baking” as it cools, an essential part of the baking process.