Hopelessly devoted and endlessly grateful … bread, revisited

I’ve been baking bread since I was a teenager and yet every so often I become giddy with wonder at the amazingness of its aroma, texture and the head-to-toe comfort it brings.  I cannot contain my awe in the face of my own bread.  And at the magic of microbes.

small breadThere is an online forum called The Fresh Loaf full of people like me. Except actually these people are way way ahead of me.

They make artisan loafs I could only dream about.  As I read some of the posts, drooled over the photographs and followed the links for recipes I started getting the feeling that I would soon become one of those sourdough people.  I remember when I first read Michal Pollen’s Cooked, where he talks about sourdough bread I read it as if it was addressed to someone else.  No chance I would ever be doing all that.  No way.  I will use yeast.  Thank you for sharing.

I guess that is the way most people feel when I talk about baking bread and especially so when I add in that I mill the flour too.  They don’t ever see themselves doing that.  They likely think I am weird, or if being generous think that I am dedicated to health and willing to put in the extra effort.  Both are correct.  But few really relate to the joy.  Even I don’t, when I am not in the throes of it.

So after more than a decade of baking in the bread machine I have returned to my roots and am baking in the oven.  Well — my roots in a manner of speaking.  Throughout my teenage years of baking I had to do so while resisting the skeptic in my own home who doubted that I (or “we”) could even bake.  If that doesn’t make baking part of my roots, then what would.  I will never forget Gayatri Spivak opining aloud about her roots.  “My roots are fine,” she assured her absent skeptic.  “Maybe my roots are in Pittsburgh,” she continued, “doing their rooty thing.”  Ah, hats off to that pioneer.   I totally connected with what she said in that instant, long before I understood that we were not obligated to entertain those who would publicly ask about our roots.   This woman who introduced Derrida to me (well, to the “West,” which includes me) had to contend with people making comments about her roots AS IF THEY HAD A CLUE WHAT /WHERE they were.  [The secret, which no one will ever understand, is that it is all true, all of it, just not the way you wanted it to be.  That is a cryptic statement to be unpacked later.  Remind me if I forget.]

So, bread.  Oven. Yes, that is the place to bake bread.  That is where you will get a satisfying crust like this.

sliced bread

The bread machine was good to me and I don’t dismiss it lightly but now I use it only to knead the dough.  It is good for that.  My sister has moved on to a sand mixer and maybe I will get there one day but for now I am happy with the dough I get out of the bread machine.  I love being able to load it up, then come back 2 hours later with well kneaded dough ready to go.

On the outside, you can do pretty things like form it into any shape you like, or even braid it.  You can dust it with oats.  You can get really fancy and score it – I have been carefully trying this out, but the folks on the Fresh Loaf are far bolder and get fascinating results.  Bread Art.

Soon after I returned to baking in the oven my sister remarked that I should take the next step and start milling.  For more on that, see Milling.  After I started milling I also tried scoring.  Here is one of my recent loaves.

scored bread rolling pin wheat

With every new skill I learn in the art of making bread, the more there is to explore.

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