Today I spent the day with two markedly different women who are creators and builders. Both are strong, outspoken, passionate, and live a life of their own design. These are women who’ve walked away from the confines of a cubicle and the overhead glare of lights in search of something extraordinary. Strange hours and weekend work are the norm, but this doesn’t faze them because they design their days. They are the people who walk the park during the day and write their way into the gloaming. I admire them this, their propensity for the hustle and their desire for a career with purpose.
I talk a lot about what I’ve left behind but little of where I’m going. Today, I prattled on about indecision. I’ve never been in a place where this is so much choice, but at the same time there has never been a less clear and definitive path. And while there is a real and pragmatic need to be met (rent, student loans, credit cards, cat, etc), there is also something seemingly innocuous. A figure just beyond the periphery, and I’m trying to be the sort of person who rolls with it, who crosses all applicable body parts in the hope that this path will reveal itself. So I went on about this, spoke mostly about the industry of food and my passion for it, specifically pastry, and my friend shook her head, smiled, and said, From an outsider your path is clear. You’re on to something big. I can see it, and I’m not even an outsider. So when I talk about all these different things, these choices, maybe the path is within these things I’m pursuing, it’s just a matter of organization.
I can’t help but think of this quote by Doris Lessing, which came to me at precisely the moment it needed to:
“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”
I’ve never wanted to own a pastry shop. I never wanted to be a recipe developer. I never wanted to pipe or create insane feats of gastronomy. After reading Provence, 1970, I felt an odd kinship with the great M.F.K. Fisher. Not that I would even dare compare myself to this great light, but the idea that my food writing could be deeply informed by education of technique gives me pause. I have so many ideas in my head right now — my burgeoning magazine, books, all that sort of thing — but I’ve always wanted to have an innate understand of pastry. Deeper than the practiced home baker, but a grasp of the basic alchemy.
I think I want to apprentice in a pastry shop or a bakery. I don’t know how I’ll get this to happen. I don’t have a plan just yet, but I know that this is something I want to try on for size.
So this is me, inching closer to the impossible. Trying to figure it all out.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
2 cups cold water
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, as needed
1 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for the bowl
Sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup warm water (105-115F) in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve. Pour into a mixer bowl. Add 1 3/4 cups cold water and the rosemary and whisk to combine.
Attached the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add half of the flour, then the salt. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed just until the dough is smooth and it cleans the bowl, about 3 minutes. Do not over-knead. Gather up the dough and shape into a ball.
Coat the inside of a medium bowl generously with olive oil. Place the ball of dough in the bow, and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a half-sheet pan, and spread evenly with your fingers. Punch down the dough and transfer to the oiled pan. Using your hands, coax and stretch the dough to fill the pan. If the dough is too elastic, cover the dough in the pan with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes, then try again.
Choose a warm place in the kitchen for proofing. Slip the pan into a tall “kitchen-sized” plastic bag and place two tall glasses of very hot water in the bag at opposite ends of the pan to keep the plastic from touching the dough. Tightly close the bag, trapping air in the bag to partially inflate it. Let stand in a warm place until the dough looks puffy, about 45 minutes.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Fill a spray bottle with water. Remove the glasses from the bag, then the pan. Using your fingers, gently dimple the top of the dough. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over the top of the dough. Using the palms of your hands, taking special care not to deflate the dough, very lightly spread the oil over the focaccia.
Place the focaccia in the oven. Aiming for the walls of the oven (and not the top of the focaccia), spray water into the oven. The water will create steam to help crisp the focaccia. Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before serving. Cut into rectangles and serve warm or at room temperature.