Thursday, October 04, 2007

First Breads

I wanted to mark the occasion of my friend Jenn's first loaves of bread. This is a major milestone ("milestone", get it Jenn? Gosh I'm so clever I never could have made that joke if you lived in Saskatoon) worthy of noting. What's more, they're beautiful boules. Believe me, my first attempt at bread looked nothing like these (I'm not sure it even looked like bread).

It was good timing for baking bread as World Bread Day is just around the corner on the 16th.

I was trying to remember when I first began baking bread and the best I can recall it was the early 90's. At that point it was a special occasion type thing. I didn't really begin baking regularly (every couple of days) until we moved to the country*. I suppose if I were able to get the sort of bread I like easily around here, I never would have started. Once I did however, it became easier to structure my day and timing for bread. The beauty of bread is that if something comes up, it can be interrupted by slipping it into the fridge. It might take an hour to come back to room temperature and begin rising again, but it is flexible. Unless you burn it to a crisp in the oven, bread (even screwed-up bread) is usually pretty edible.

So welcome to the world of people with hunks of dough under their nails-and don't forget to slather your hands in lotion at night before bed, as dough is killer on dry skin. This is one of the things I love so much about the internet-being able to document things like first loaves (with pictures). Of all the habits one could develop living in relative isolation, hyper-house frau-ism is probably the least harmful. I mean, I've never actually tried heroin, but I did read The Man With The Golden Arm, and it didn't sound like much fun. Puttering around in the kitchen has to be more fun that lying about in urine-soaked clothes wondering where the next fix is coming from. At least I think it is. If you really take up baking seriously and start bying equipment, heroin addiction might actually be cheaper.

The first bread baking book I used regularly was Beard on Bread, and I still recommend it although much of his technique has fallen out of fashion. There seems to be a real premium on crusty, open-crumb breads these days. While that's not a bad thing (I like crusty artisan breads as much as the next person) a good buttery Pullman loaf can also be enjoyable. People get very hung-up on punching-down vs. de-gassing and folding. Obviously, if you're making something like an anadama bread it becomes irrelevant. I guess my point is not to be intimidated by some of the tomes out there that come off slightly dictatorial about the correct way to make a loaf of bread. Techniques go in and out of fashion like everything else. I like the James Beard book because anyone can make the breads successfully without investing in a lot of equipment or special ingredients. When the book came out in the early 70's no one (except for my mother-in-law) was baking bread at home.

Again, congratulations on two very beautiful first loaves of bread.

*You'll know you've lost it when you start canning, putting up cordials and making your own cheese. Of course if you do, you'll have bread to go with it.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

I baked parker-house rolls for our Thanksgiving feast, and they were pretty good. It turns out that those twirly things that came with the 20 year old mixer that I inherited from my Mum are for mixing was far less frustrating.

My next project is cinnamon rolls.

I'm spending so much time in the kitchen that we are considering just getting rid of our very expensive sattelite TV service.

I bought a book on canning, but not making cheese. I tried making yoghurt once and it was pretty ugly.