Tuesday, December 23, 2008

HOMEMADE BREAD: Tender Loving Care for the Bread and for the Baker

Baking your own bread? That's crazy talk! I know, I know, at first, homemade bread might seem like a stretch to the everyday cook - way too time-consuming, and best to be left to the professionals. It sure sounded that way to me at least, and I even used to make my own bread on a regular basis years ago!

But it had been so long since I made bread and I forgot what it entailed. My mind immediately went to wild stories of complicated steps and secret tricks, only for the skilled bakers to master. But when I reeled myself in, I realized that there was no possible way that this was the case. If I made bread regularly when I was just out of my teens, it must not be too intimidating.

That was it - I became convinced that baking bread was going to be my new (old) thing. So I dusted off my trusty bread-baking books, pulled out the flour, yeast, and honey, and got goin' on the bread-ness, with the quickness.

As I mixed the yeast in some water, reviewed a basic recipe, and dipped my measuring cup into the flour, I shook my head thinking, how does this all go again? But it took no time for me to remember. And that's how bread-baking is - if you've done it once, twice, fifty times, or never ever before, your body just knows. Or if it doesn't, it learns fast. Working with the dough is something that feels natural; it's quite possibly something humans were just designed to know how to do.

Bread dough instructions and ingredients vary slightly from one recipe to the next, but the general idea is the same. Mix some stuff up in a bowl, knead it (which in my opinion is one of the best things ever), let it sit, do its thing, and rise for a while. And then, depending on the recipe, you might punch it down (so satisfying), knead the whole blob again (yay!), and let it rise again, before shaping the loaves that will bake in the oven.

As an added bonus, I have found that thanks to my new bread-baking habit, I'm actually getting a lot more done around the house. I have been very productive during the big, 1-hour windows of time that the bread needs between risings and while it's baking. Cranking out that big sink of dishes, completing that project that's been sitting in the corner for a while, and getting some laundry ready are some of the things that I tend to while my dough is rising. Fun times, I know. But without bread to watch, I'm sorry to say, the dishes probably wouldn't get done as fast, the project would still be sitting, and laundry...ha! For this reason alone I'm a big fan of bread-baking.

As far as recipes go, I'm trying different ones on for size, figuring out which I like best, and which ones are the keepers. Right now the books that I am using are The Tassajara Bread Book and The Cheese Board Collective Works.

I'm so glad I've fallen back into the rhythm of baking bread. What comfort just a handful of ingredients, a few hours, and a few side projects can bring!


Anonymous said...

Tassajara bread book is my fave. Millet bread especially. Happy New Year. I passed out at 945 PM Got your lovely text this AM. Miss you tons. jilly

Leon Sultan said...

Shayna- Thanks for the bread baking motivational speech. By the Way, your pics look fantastic. Another by the way- I was just Googling by for your blog and I found another "Peas and Carrots" blog on blogspot. Interesting as they are really doing almost the same thing as you!!! Check them out :)

Clionadh said...

Remember the time we went to the bread and circus thing and all you wanted to do was scare small children? Remember? I just couldn't bring you places for a while. For that reason and the way everyone assumed we were going out. Good times.

Jodi Davidson said...

I too just started to bake my own bread after creating a sourdough starter from whole wheat flour. I wanted the tang of sourdough with the goodness of whole grains and couldn't find it in the grocery store. I think my starter needs to age awhile longer to get that true tangy quality, but the bread was good anyway. I really enjoyed kneading the bread and taking my time throughout the whole process. The feeling I got was the same as when I'm working in the garden - surprisingly therapeutic!
Jodi Davidson