Natural Confections

by Carly Gelfond

Illustration by the author

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have a “thing” about something. You’re looking at me funny, but I know that you know what I’m talking about: that feeling of distaste you get—the intensity of which is illogical—when confronted with that certain something, whatever it is, that you just can’t stand.

For me, that something is wastefulness. In the shower, I use a bar of soap until it’s a miniscule sliver of its former self that dissolves in my hand. (“It’s like you’re using doll soap,” John tells me). “It’s still perfectly good,” I say. “It just needs a little extra time to lather.” Which is true. I won’t apologize.

I swish water in the seemingly empty laundry detergent bottle and use the soapy water for hand washing clothes. I take stale Wheat Thins and pulse them in a mini food processor to encrust a filet of fish. I get chills watching the faucet run while someone is brushing his teeth, and I wash out Ziploc baggies to get a few extra uses out of them.

Now this is the part of the story where I tell you about my kitchen, which is extremely well-stocked with lots of oddball items left over from this or that recipe. I am absolutely certain I should not throw any of them away because one day, I will go looking for that packet of xanthan gum, and I will be so grateful that it has sat those three worthwhile years on my shelf. The same goes for the hijiki dried seaweed, ground flax seed, brown rice flour, orange blossom water, tub of sesame tahini—and oh, I will spare you what’s in the freezer.

Also, there is a five-pound sack of whole-wheat flour in one of the cabinets. This sack of flour I likely bought by accident (too long ago for me to recall) as I don’t often bake much with whole-wheat flour. I find it dense and, to be honest, not worth the health benefits (which are actually substantial since it turns a baked muffin into something I don’t want to eat.)

Then, last month, I came across a recipe by Mark Bittman in The New York Times Magazine that piqued my interest. It was for Whole-Wheat Focaccia, and some food stylist had done a heck of a job because in the photo it actually looked like something I DID want to eat. The recipe appeared to take little time (most of it hands-off), and called for just five ingredients, one of which was whole-wheat flour—three whopping cups of it, in fact. A way to dispose of a good portion of my flour stash without wasting it was too good a chance to pass up. I went to the cabinet and—behind the enormous bottle of fish sauce—took down a packet of instant yeast.

This bread—bread made after work and before bedtime; have you ever heard of such a thing?—was easy-peasy, and even I have to admit, more than just edible. It was actually good. I may just make it again. Now if I could only find a way to incorporate the xanthan gum.

Whole-Wheat Everything Focaccia

Adapted from Mark Bittman via The New York Times Magazine

Yield: 1 loaf


3 cups whole-wheat flour

About 2 teaspoons instant yeast (I used a packet of Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise yeast and it worked fine, but the internet jury seems to still be out on whether “instant” and “rapid rise” are the same.)

2 teaspoons coarse salt

1 cup warm water

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

More coarse salt for sprinkling

Freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

2 teaspoons dried minced onion

2 teaspoons dried minced garlic

Combine flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Turn the machine on and add 1 cup warm water (I heated mine for a minute in the tea kettle) followed by 1 tablespoon of the oil through the feed tube.

Process until the dough comes together, about 30 seconds. If it’s too dry, add more water a tablespoon at a time, and continue to process a few more seconds. Drizzle the teaspoon of oil into an empty, medium-sized bowl. Shape the dough into a ball and roll it around the bowl until the dough is coated with the oil. Cover bowl with clean kitchen towel (preferably not a good one because it will get stained) until the dough almost doubles in size, about 1½ hours.

Coat a large baking sheet with another tablespoon of oil. With your palms, press the dough into the baking sheet, leaving it about a ½-inch thick; dimple the top with your fingertips and coat with another tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion, and garlic. Cover with the towel. Let the dough sit for about 1 hour, but after the 30-minute mark, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

After the full hour has passed, remove the towel. Bake until golden all over and springy to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan before cutting into squares.

March 2013

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