Saturday, July 3, 2010

Rise Up: The Bread Miracle

It's been about a month since my bread pledge ended, but I'm still baking. Sure, not every other day, as I was in the throes of enthusiasm and experimentation, but still at least 1-2 a week. And there are still so many breads I want to try, more even than when I first conceived the idea. We haven't bought a loaf of anything since early April, only some refrigerated biscuit dough and saltine crackers. And I'm still loving it. With a lot less stress about it than when I started. I have learned so much about the feel of dough, the texture of bread, what I like, what I don't, what works best for sandwiches and what works best for dinner. It's opened up a whole world to me--the history of bread, the anthropology of food cultures around the world, the science of yeast and leavening and gluten, the sociology and psychology of communities of and also individual breadbakers, even the spirituality of the homemade. Along with kids and my experiences in physical therapy (and all I've found out about my musculoskeletal issues), meditation/mindfulness and vegetarianism, even blogging, my bread pledge is one of the most positive transformative events of the last five years.

Lessons Learned
Philosophical:
  • Grown ups become childlike in the face of a loaf of warm bread.
  • Rarely does a loaf of homemade bread go uneaten.
  • Giving the gift of bread is a great way to express your love and appreciation of someone.
  • The breadbaking community is diverse--it's not just stereotypical grandmotherly types.
  • Bakers can say it's easy to bake bread but then they say something like "you just have to know," which, for a beginner, absolutely contradicts the "easy" part.
  • It seems like breadbaking might be like riding a bicycle: once you get the hang of kneading, recognizing "smooth and elastic," etc etc, you can do it even with a long time since your last loaf.
  • It doesn't matter how it looks--it's what's "inside" (how it tastes) that really matters.
Practical:
  • Don't bother with taking the temperature of the water: if it's too hot for your finger, it's too hot; if it's not warm to your finger, it's too cold. Basically, yeast likes the temperatures we do. Also, tap water is generally at 120F at its hottest. Way too hot for yeast. And my finger.
  • I messed up the order of the ingredients a few times when forming the dough--forgot to proof the yeast and thus added everything together from the start (as long as it wasn't a sponge-making recipe), added the salt before the flour (some say that yeast doesn't like the salt right away and the flour helps as a buffer)--and, at least for me, I couldn't tell at all.
  • I'm not religious about measuring flour. Yes, officially 1 cup of flour is 4 oz. Lots of books recommend weighing it. Barring that, you're supposed to spoon flour into your measuring cup gently and then level it with a knife (thank you, Fannie Farmer). Big bother. Look, I bet my great-grandmother didn't have a measuring cup. I stir up the flour, scoop a cup, perhaps a little less than full to account for the packing from the scooping. Voila. No worries.
  • I've found that times are just a suggestion. And also really forgiving. To navigate proofing and such, just know this: bread is well-kneaded when you poke a hole in it and it bounces back quickly; bread is well-proofed when you poke a hole in it and it doesn't bounce back quickly or completely. Remember that and you need not watch the clock so closely.
  • If you are trying to convert a bread machine recipe to conventional baking, mix it altogether, knead about 6-8 minutes (see tip above), rise about an hour, then preheat oven to about 350F, finish the top as you like (i.e. washes and slashes), and bake between 25-45 minutes, depending. You're looking for golden brown on top and a hollow sound when thumped (which, I must add, is about the dumbest instruction because you can't thump the bottom of a loaf of bread until you've "de-tinned" it, which means it's out of your oven. Are you supposed to put it back? I thump the top and it sounds pretty hollow there too). I usually make dough in my machine and then bake it off in the oven--I like the shape and crust better but it saves me the kneading.

Favorites (As I Remember It Today):

Resources:
  • To learn the art of breadbaking, my first recommendation would be anything from King Arthur Flour: from their website to their cookbooks (my favorite being the 200th Anniversary Baker's Companion) or even to the back of their flour bags, I learned the most from their step-by-step instructions and dependable recipes. They also, of course, make great flours and sell other wonderful baking accoutrements (I got my sourdough crock from them). Of course, the best resources are friends who bake, but KAF is a close second!
  • All my wonderful bread machine recipes come from the indispensable The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. I love the ease, simplicity, and variety of her recipes--and without fail they come out deliciously!
Happy Baking!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for citing our cookbook and resources in your blog. We also offer a Live Chat option on our website and a Baker's Hotline. We're here to answer questions, problem solve, or just talk baking with our baking friends. Call us at 800-827-6836 and ask to speak with a baker! Irene @ KAF

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