Sunday, November 8, 2009

Baking Bread, Magic

I know we're supposed to "watch our carbs," or some such rubbish, but there is something magical and mystical and spiritual about baking bread. The whole experience is wondrous.

Two cups of flour, one cup water, a couple of teaspoons of yeast, a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt and magic will produce bread. No joke. The magic part is that you use warm water, and sprinkle in the yeast. Feed the yeast with the sugar. Say the magic words and the yeast will bloom. Ok, so so the magic words are optional, but if you want to you can add your own at this point.

Now add in the flour a bit at a time and stir it up. Put the salt in there now, too. The salt keeps the yeast from growing out of control and it makes the bread taste good. You should always remember to toss a pinch of salt over a shoulder because you might have spilled some. When the dough gets too sticky to stir, dump it out on a flour dusted board and with flour dusted hands get right in there. Keep adding your flour while you knead it. I can't tell you how to knead your dough. The dough will tell you. Push it around, turn it over, punch it down, fold it in half, schmoosh it. Love it.

By now you are smelling a wonderful thing. You should knead that dough until it snaps according to my grandmother, Munny. However, Munny isn't in your kitchen, so you just knead it until it feels right to you. Is it smooth and springy? That's good. By now it's not sticking to your fingers or the board any more. Roll it into a ball. Rub a little oil around in a bowl and then roll the ball in the bowl. Put the bowl of dough in a warm place and cover it with a clean towel. If it's dry in your kitchen, dampen the towel just a bit.

More magic! The dough grows to twice its original size in 45 minutes or an hour or an hour and a half or so. Your kitchen smells delightful and it looks like you really know what you're doing because you have that board (maybe it's your countertop) with flour dusted on it. You have flour on your apron or shirt and probably the floor. Celebrate!

Stick your fist right into that big dough and it poofs right down. Plop it out on that floured surface again and let it rest for ten minutes or so. Turn on your oven to 400 degrees. When the dough is rested (you'd need a rest, too if you just grew twice your size) sort of flatten it out into a rectangle-ish shape with your hands. Does this not feel wonderful? It's alive, you know. It's springy and silky and smooth and it smells great. Roll the rectangle and tuck the ends under so it looks sort of like a loaf. Do you have a bread pan? If you don't it's ok. You can use a cake pan. Nobody said what shape your loaf has to be. Cover it again and put it back in a warm place and let the magic happen again. This time it will be faster.

When it's nearly twice it's size again, you bake it. If you want you can brush some milk on the crust after it's baked a while. I really don't know how long it will take, but you just look at it now and then. When the crust is golden and it sounds hollow when you thump it with your knuckles, it's done. Take it out of the oven, dump in on a rack to cool. Of course you're not going to let it cool before you cut into it. That would be wrong. Cut a steamy piece of bread and let some butter melt on it.

While you're eating that bread that you just made, notice that your whole house smells amazing. This has been a totally sensuous experience. The feel of the dough, the smell of the baking bread that fills your house, the taste of that first steamy slice, the crunch of the crust, the wonderous bubbles that make the bread tender beneath the golden crust. It just doesn't get much better than this.

Give thanks to the people who grew the wheat, dug the well, laid the pipes, mined the salt. That's part of the magic. Baking bread makes you thankful. It keeps you humble. You couldn't make that yeast turn the flour and water into dough. It just does it. It's magic. Be thankful.

Next time, experiment with different kinds of flour, maybe add some seeds. Use honey instead of sugar, or put in herbs. Use milk or buttermilk for some or all of the water. Use some eggs, some oil, some applejuice. You can be as creative as you want with bread. The basics stay the same. The yeast wants warmth and food and if you give it that it will reward you. Trust the dough to feel right. Don't worry too much about measurements. Use common sense.

Most of all be thankful and notice every good thing about baking bread. Carbs, smarbs. I refuse to believe that anything this wonderful is bad for me.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, yes, another totally visual experience! And yes, tomorrow will have to be bread baking day for me after reading this post! Thanks :)