Saturday, January 07, 2012

Basics: Two Ingredient Bread

A little over 15 years ago, my mother in law died very suddenly. This was, as you can imagine, hard on everyone, but it was particularly hard on my father in law, and for reasons beyond the obvious lonely/sad that comes with the loss of someone who’s been part of your life for most of your adulthood. My mother in law, as is the case for so many men of his generation, was his conduit to the world. She arranged his social life, sent out the Christmas cards, and was the primary point of contact for their kids.

She was the one who called us, extended invitations for holidays, organized family gatherings when we were visiting. She knew what was going on in our lives and what we were planning—buying and selling houses, changing jobs, etc. With her gone, my father in law really didn’t know how to connect with us.

As he struggled to forge a different kind of relationship with Alex and me, he sought a common interest among the three of us, and settled on food. The problem is, my father in law is a really bad cook. Alex describes his “signature dish” from their childhood, which evidently consisted of a can of corned beef hash mixed with ketchup and a few other components (after the canned hash and the ketchup, I’m always too nauseous to absorb the rest of the ingredient list, so I can’t tell you what’s in it beyond that, but really, does it matter? Ick). This food (I use the term loosely) was known as “Special Dish” and was evidently the pinnacle of my father in law’s culinary abilities.

So our conversations about food were primarily limited to his descriptions of what was currently in his refrigerator, along with what kind of soup he’d recently made or was planning to make. With my mother in law gone, he became an almost fanatical consumer of soup, it seemed. Any and every ingredient was fair game. I remember his coming for Fourth of July one year and Alex made, as he did every year, a big pot of dirty rice to take to an annual party. At the end of the party, there was still quite a lot left, and my father in law lamented that he couldn’t take it home and make soup out of it.

On a related note, he was also notoriously bad about throwing things out that were past their prime. During one visit, my sister in law and I decided that we couldn’t bear the fug of the refrigerator any longer, and launched a campaign to clean it out. He agreed, but insisted on overseeing the operation. Things went fairly well until we came to a little Styrofoam bowl of mashed potatoes. As we pulled them out, he kept insisting that those were “perfectly good” and that they were “just from when Shirley was here!” (Shirley being my husband’s aunt, and her visit had happened a good six weeks earlier. "That's just from when Shirley was here!" has become a catchphrase in our family, used when disposing of leftovers or containers of ingredients that are past their prime.) My sister in law made the mistake of opening them and actually taking a whiff, causing her to lunge for the sink, unsure if she was going to be sick, and to immediately dump the offending potatoes down the drain. She said later she had no idea why she’d bothered to smell them, as the green fuzz growing all over them left not a shadow of a doubt as to their fate. Doubtless they would have found their way into a pot of soup if we hadn’t intervened.

All of this is a very roundabout way of getting to the recipe I have for you. Not unlike my earlier ramblings on Christmas cookies, these stories and this recipe have only the most tenuous of connections. The recipe is for the world’s simplest bread. It’s two ingredients, and both of them are cheap and easy to come by. If you can turn on the oven and stir, you can make this bread. It’s great hot from the oven, but also makes good toast if you have it left the next day. I urge you to use the cheapest beer you have for this. Anything with any real distinctive flavor is going to make the beer taste in the bread too strong. When I was in college, we went to the grocery store and happened on generic beer. It came in white cans and had the word “BEER” written in black letters on it. If you can find this, it would be perfect. Budweiser or PBR is fine too. The flour must be self-rising. Regular all-purpose won’t do the trick. You should be able to find self-rising flour along with all the other flours in the grocery store. And don’t bother adding salt either. Self-rising flour has salt already in it, along with the leavening it contains.

I love this bread because it means we can have hot bread with dinner on a cold night with very little effort. You can leave it plain, or you can jazz it up with a couple of handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese, or some chopped herbs, depending on what you’re having with it (of course, then it’s no longer two ingredient bread). It’s nice with chili, stew, or even soup, if that’s what you happen to be having. Too bad I never thought to give my father in law this recipe when he was in his soup phase all those years ago.


Two Ingredient Bread
Makes 1 loaf

2 ½ cups self-rising flour
1 can (12 oz) cheap beer

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan (mine is about 8 ½” x 4 ½”—you can use any size you like, even two smaller ones, but if you use one substantially larger, your loaf will be wider and shorter as the batter spreads to fill the pan).
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour with the beer. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
3. Bake about 40-50 minutes. The loaf will sound hollow when you knock on the bottom, but really, if your oven is reasonably accurate, after about 45 minutes, this bread will be done. It’s such a cinchy thing to make that I don’t want to stress you out by even worrying about knocking the bottom of loaves, or checking it with skewers or thermometers.
4. Allow to sit for about ten minutes, then slice and serve.

1 comment:

our girl said...

i loved this story. thank you for sharing. gonna make this one.