The Only Bread I Knead
And if I could, I’d marry it
By Jason Frye
At Love, Lydia, the South Front bakery and café from Lydia Clopton, there exists a bread so good that I’d marry it if North Carolina law permitted the union of man and loaf. It’s the ideal focaccia, the focaccia that other focaccias hope to one day become. A thin, crispy bottom touched with just the right amount of olive oil. A tender crumb that’s lightly springy and well aerated. A top that’s alive with texture, with bubbles risen tall and a smattering of divots to catch a brush of oil. And a flavor that’s discernibly but not overwhelmingly yeasty, made more complex by the caramelized bottom and the nutty flavor of the benne seeds dusting the top.
To borrow a phrase from Mary Berry, former host of The Great British Baking Show, it’s sheer perfection. It’s also my kitchen foil, the Dr. No to my culinary James Bond. Except that’s not exactly right as baking eludes me, so there’s no kiss-the-girl-and-deliver-a-witty-line ending, which makes me more of a Maxwell Smart and all those bread recipes my own personal KAOS.
On New Year’s Eve my wife and I, not being ones for resolutions, made a handshake deal to learn to bake bread in 2020. Actually, we agreed to become better bakers in 2020, but seeing how we exercise no control when a cake, cookie, pie or tart is present in our house and we manage to demonstrate a modicum of restraint when a loaf, boule, round or baguette is concerned, we amended that to “bread.” Our experiments in bread making have, to borrow a baking pun, fallen flat, and not in a delicious Dutch Baby sort of way. We’ve made dough that didn’t rise, dough that rose too much, dough that was too sticky or shaggy or soggy or dry, and dough that was absolutely and totally devoid of flavor; once we even made a loaf that wouldn’t toast, and I’m not sure how that’s possible.
Seeing how we can’t produce an edible, much less braggable, loaf, boule or baguette of simple white bread, we’ve steered clear of the focaccia. Why bother when the one focaccia that rules them all is available 5 miles from my house?
Because baking, despite the failures, is fun.
On The Great British Baking Show (a television show so soothing I think it’s like watching a valium), the amateur baker-contestants made focaccia, and it seemed simple. Flour, salt, yeast and water stirred together in a bowl, kneaded for a long time, left sitting to rise and then prove, and then it’s bake, eat, perfecto.
Except I know that when I try this, using a real recipe, not the loose and rambling guidelines of a frustrated (and hungry) wannabe baker, I’ll end up with a sticky, goopy mess that won’t come off my hands. I’ll over-knead or under-knead. I won’t let it rise for long enough. I’ll bake something that’s the lead-paint-eating third cousin to focaccia, then I’ll get in the car, drive to Love, Lydia, and buy the loaf of my dreams.
Love, Lydia Bakery and Cafe, 1502 S. Third St., Wilmington; (910) 769-9179.
Jason Frye is a regular Salt contributor. You can keep track of what and where he eats by following him on Instagram: @beardedwriter.