Twenty-some years ago, outside of Luxor, an Egyptian woman offered a hot pita off her peel. I plucked a puffed round from her board and tore it in two, releasing its fragrant steam.
Visceral memories like that guide many of us today. The comfort of baking has heartened much of America during this unsettling period of social distancing and isolation.
Whether you’re new to bread or bake regularly, the outcome almost always matters less than the process. Concentrating on the steps, measuring ingredients, kneading and waiting for dough to rise all comprise active meditation, a gift during these heady times.
Also, the best breads take time, but it’s the time to that allows the flavor and structure to develop during fermentation and rising, much like wine. Breads that rest after each handling yield better results.
As we pivot to become home chefs and armchair travelers, let these four recipes and wine pairings transport you around the world. These easy recipes range from a no-knead pizza paired with Chianti Classico to an olive fougasse with a Provençal rosé.
A few notes: When recreating these recipes, I use SAF instant yeast, a 1:1 swap with dry active yeast. It goes in with the dry ingredients, just don’t add the salt and yeast together. If you don’t have a standing mixer, these can be made by hand or with a Danish dough whisk. The goal here is fun, stress-free deliciousness paired with good wine.
No-Knead Pizza Dough with Chianti Classico
Napoli may be the epicenter of pizza, but Americans have adopted the tradition as their own. Homemade dough smeared with sauce and fresh mozzarella might best your local delivery spot or frozen grocery store pie.
Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery, introduced breadmaking to a new audience with two words: no knead. It removed the fear around multiple rise times and kneading practices, which made baking suddenly accessible to many. He applied the pared down, no-knead ingredient list and recipe steps to pizza. I cut the recipe in half, and used Diamond Crystal kosher salt and instant yeast. Toppings are personal, but canned sauce cut with a pat of butter and a few slices of mozzarella are as simple and delicious as it gets.
Pairing: What’s more comforting than a slice of pizza with a sip of cherry-scented Chianti Classico? Like pizza, Chianti Classico has long been relegated as the weeknight staple for good reason. The wines offer food-friendly acidity and attractive flavors of sour cherry, violet and pine forest.
Chianti Classico and pizza share an enviable quality: Both are so easy to enjoy that before you know it, they’re gone.
No-Knead Rosemary and Olive Fougasse with Provençal Rosé
The French are particularly known for their breads. Every region of France has a bread unique to its cultural history and local ingredients. Fougasse, a staple of the South of France, is a sibling to Italian focaccia. In fact, this crusty flatbread dates to Roman times. Easy to make and quick to bake, mix olives into the dough and top with herbs to emulate fresh bread from Provence.
Though you don’t have to cut and shape the dough, scoring its surface with a knife will increase the crust-to-crumb ratio and speed up baking time.
With this recipe, if you want to substitute in whole wheat flour, just add a quarter-cup more water to compensate for the higher protein count and absorption rate. Skip the fresh rosemary if you don’t have it, and add a tablespoon of olive brine for a kick of color and flavor. After you form and cut the dough, let it rest 30 minutes before you bake—a key step for an airier bread.
Pairing: Though Provence makes many beautiful wines, pale pink rosé remains the region’s flagship style. Typically, bottles from the Côtes de Provence appellation have aromatics of citrus, strawberry and raspberry, with a delicate floral character and a crisp, fresh palate.
As spring unfolds, bake a fougasse, chill some rosé and spend a sunny afternoon dreaming of lavender fields near the Mediterranean Sea.
No-Knead Whole Wheat with Pinot Noir
Though San Francisco is known for its for sourdough, whole wheat embodies the wholesome, nutritious food culture dominant throughout California. (Plus, really good sourdough demands a really good starter, which might be hard to find.)
A crusty whole-wheat bread is simple to make, and whole wheat flour offers more fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and protein than refined grains.
Though this recipe from wine industry pro Gina Certa Shay calls for white flour, the ingredients swap out easily. You can swap in three cups of whole wheat flour for higher protein and nutrient count, with one cup of bread flour for improved gluten structure. If you want to exclude the beer and sugar, try adding two tablespoons of honey for a hint of sweetness.
The dough rises overnight in the refrigerator. The extra time improves flavor, though isn’t necessary for this recipe.
Pairing: Pinot Noir comes to mind to serve alongside a hot slice of honey wheat with a thick, melted pat of salted butter. The bread has enough density and flavor to stand up to Pinot Noir, while the grape’s silky tannins complement the dairy fat. Look for a fresh style of Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, a cooler region north of Napa and Sonoma known for its red fruits and earthy flavors.
Soft Bavarian Pretzels with Riesling
This popular snack food has religious origins. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church encouraged the pious to eat soft pretzels during Lent as replacement for dairy and meat, and monks handed them out to the poor. Shaped into the form of arms crossed in prayer, pretzels became symbolic of luck, prosperity and fulfillment.
There are many ways to make pretzels, and Papa Drexler’s recipe serves as a useful outline. You can use brown sugar instead of white, and put your dough in the refrigerator overnight to heighten flavor. You can also add more resting time after twisting them into shape and before baking so they rise even more in the oven.
Bavarian pretzel makers dip their twists in lye to achieve a deep, burnished exterior. Home cooks can swap in baking soda in boiling water. To intensify the effect, however, bake the baking soda in advance (more work, more color and crust). Finally, brush with an egg wash and bake on a Silpat.
Pairing: Riesling has a transparent beauty and shimmering quality unlike no other white wine. Similar to Pinot Noir, it’s capable of nuance and projecting terroir. Every region in Germany grows Riesling, yet each has a distinct profile. The Mosel winegrowing region, arguably Germany’s most famous appellation, earned a reputation for striking acidity and complex aromatics. Due to a warmer climate, Rheingau wines are bigger and spicier, better if you dip pretzels in a strong mustard. For dry wines, look for the word trocken on the label.