Measure precisely, but be adaptable about rising times. Know the techniques, but follow your intuition. Wait, wait, wait… then hurry up, right now!
Baking bread might be better classified as therapy for the soul, life lessons in patience, adaptability, attention to detail…
Last Spring, Erik carried home from work a dark round loaf and this book: Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. It’s a gorgeous book, well-written and full of detailed instruction on creating flour-dusted, crusty loaves like you might find in a tiny backstreet bakery in Paris.
It’s also the sort of book you admire, but set aside, because it’s all so complicated and really, I can’t do one more thing… And then, in one of life’s serendipitous moments, Ben picked up the book, devoured it, and immediately began measuring and mixing, folding, forming, baking and slicing delicious hot loaves of bread with chewy crusts, a soft interior and complex flavors like we’d never tasted before.
Bread. No matter how many gluten-free, carb-free trends careen through society we always (with the exception of the true celiacs– I’m so sorry) come back to bread. The perfect accompaniment to soups and sauces, sliced into sandwiches, smeared with butter, jam, honey, transformed into french toast, croutons, and even when it’s moldy, torn into bits to feed the birds. Ben told us the Italians never place bread in a basket, but simply throw it down the center of the table where it’s used almost as a utensil to lift food, mop up succulent sauces.
We’ve always subscribed to the mantra, “the whiter the bread the sooner you’re dead,” but this bread, with it’s basic ingredients, high protein flour, lack of preservatives and minimal yeast, simply feels healthy. In fact, some scientists say, gluten isn’t actually the culprit, but rather low quality flour and massive amounts of yeast used to leaven commercial dough. And we’re working on the white/wheat flour ratio.
With Ben’s enthusiasm and instruction, we’re now baking artisan loaves several times a week with the entire family helping with the process. We’ve become addicted to the chewy, complex taste (kids at Gabe’s lunch table beg him to bring slices) but even more so, baking bread lends a deep sense of satisfaction to home life. Cheap, and delicious, therapy.
In another book Ben loves, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan, the author suggests cooking our own food can solve our relationship problems, health problems and create a sense of well-being. I agree. There’s something soothing about creating your own food from simple, healthy ingredients.
We’ve also decided bread baking contains a thousand parables for life. Flour Water Salt Yeast is an exacting book. The author proscribes the correct flour to buy, the kind of salt and yeast, the temperature of the water. Measurements are in grams– never cups and teaspoons. And we’ve learned he’s not joking. Use all-purpose flour and the dough will sit in a hard lump; use iodized salt and the flavor feels just a bit off. But…. once you get the ingredients, techniques and basic timing right, you can be flexible.
And isn’t that life? Make sure you get the right ingredients, but let life unfold in it’s own time. As it’s gotten colder this fall, we’ve had to adapt our rising times– turn the oven into a mini proofing box, increase the water temperature.
At first, artisan bread feels daunting and time consuming. But once you learn, it’s just a matter of following several simple steps. And since the whole family knows the drill, we can easily say, “I have to go to the store, will you give the bread a fold?” It takes all day, but it only take a few minutes every few hours. Mix the water and flour. Wait. Mix in the salt and yeast. Wait. Fold the dough. Wait. Fold it again. Wait. Pour it on the counter, form into loaves and place in proofing baskets. Wait. Bake! When the bread comes out of the oven it crackles and pops like a living thing. We wait one more time, twenty minutes or so, before slicing it open, slathering a slice with butter, drizzling with honey and eating.
We’re entranced by Tartine Bread, a gorgeous book where he waxes eloquently on the virtues of wild yeast– leavening pulled straight from the air for a more nutritious bread with complex flavors. I’ve tried. And failed. And for now I’m happy with my recipe using a paltry four grams of yeast.
I’m getting near the end, and I haven’t expressed this very well. The cooperative quality, the therapeutic value of mixing and forming loaves and sorting through problems together, throwing our own bread on the table, dipping it in vegetable soup and spaghetti sauce, forming an assembly line to make sandwiches for a hike, gathering around the toaster, spreading honey and jam and ooh! try it with Dutch sprinkles, the disappointment on days when we haven’t baked and the relief when fresh loaves come out of the oven, delight in wrapping up an extra loaf for a neighbor and their wonder, “Did you really make this yourself?”
Purchasing all the requisite tools can be a major expense, but well worth the money when they are used often. I’d highly recommend artisan bread baking to someone who is struggling, a family who want to connect, anyone who likes to solve difficult problems with delicious results.
What you need:
2 Pcs Masterproofing Round Banneton Basket–8 Inch