So when the opportunity arose recently for me to pay her back for the few thousand favors I already owe her, I leapt. She wanted to visit Williamsburg, Va., where her grandmother and namesake worked as a journalist for The Virginia Gazette in the ’70s and ’80s. Her grandmother Hope passed away when Hope was just 10, long before her interested in journalism was sparked, so Hope Junior wanted to do find out about Hope Senior’s career and the influence she’d had on young journalists of her day.
I happen to have an uncle Frosty with a beautiful (and, happily for us, available) river house in White Stone, Va., an hour or so away from Williamsburg, and so I also jumped at the chance to have some quiet writing time here while Hope was off doing her thing. A bargain-hunter extraordinaire — she’s addicted to a Web site called Groupon, such that she’s even achieved “Groupie” status — Hope even found us a cheap flight on Air Tran to Newport News ($59 each way), where we rented a shiny red tin can (Nissan Versa) for four days.
I’ve never been to the river in winter before, so I’m glad I’ve finally had the chance — even if it did take forever to get to sleep last night in Frosty’s spooky, creaky 200-year-old house all by my lonesome. (Hope was away at a friend’s house in Williamsburg for the night.)
By the time I returned, the miracle knead-free bread that Hope had started before she left — it requires a first rising of 18 hours! — was ready to bake. A sublime creation, it has a perfectly crunchy/chewy crust, thanks to the cornmeal and the cast-iron skillet I baked it in. (Ideally, you’d bake it in a cast-iron Le Creuset, a Dutch oven. But you gotta deal with the cookware you’re dealt.) A Mark Bittman recipe (you can watch his New York Times video here), it’s holey and wondrous — perfect for the pooling of butter — not unlike ciabatta, only without much effort.
3 cups flour
Teaspoon or so of salt
Half-packet of yeast
1 5/8 cup of water
In a glass mixing bowl, combine ingredients and stir, but don’t overwork. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 18 hours.
Sprinkle a little more flour on top, then lay down a tea towel on the counter and sprinkle it with a liberal handful of cornmeal. Place the dough on top of the cornmeal-topped towel and put plastic wrap over top for 15 minutes.
After 2 1/2 hours, preheat the oven with the cast-iron Dutch oven inside for 30 minutes. (Hope said not to oil the pan, but I didn’t believe her and did it anyway.)
When the bread-making wunderkind texts (or is it textes?) you to make sure you’ve done everything according to her strict instruction, tell her: Yeah, you got it. And save her a piece or two.
Oh, and check out Hope’s new blog here for updates on her namesake project.