Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm baking.

Yup, you heard me right, I'm baking.  I feel as if I'd just taken off the training wheels, or, better yet, found myself wobbling upright on my own two legs.  I wish I could explain the feeling of accomplishment I feel right now.  30+ years of "there's no way I can learn to do this" is washed away in one weekend of "shut up and try."

I stumbled across a web site called The Fresh Loaf and followed the first lesson.  I don't know why this was such a challenge for me, but I decided to make a loaf of bread.  Perhaps the simplicity of the instructions, the fact that I wanted more than anything to bake, the fact that I needed to feel a victory, I can't say, but I mixed flour, salt, and yeast with water, and worked the dough by hand.

Confession time: I hate the feeling of dough clinging to my hands, clumps between my fingers, that sensation of stickiness drives me nuts.  This may have something to do with my fear of baking.

I managed to get past the feeling of the wet dough (with the help of lots of flour) and created a smooth, satiny final product -- that didn't stick to my hands, much to my relief.  It raised, I punched it down and shaped it, it raised again and I put it in an oven.  It baked and I had bread.

That's it.  "Golly, that's all there is to this?"  I felt sort of stupid.  Huh, that wasn't hard at all.  So, I pulled out my bread baking books (I have a couple) and took a look at the first recipes.

I made the first recipe from  Jim Lahey's My Bread, an artisan loaf that is simply made by mixing flour, yeast, salt, and water and letting it set for 18 hours.  You then roughly shape the loaf and let it ferment a second time and drop it in a hot Dutch Oven or casserole dish and cook it at high heat for 30 minutes and then with the lid off until the loaf browns.

This loaf is amazing.  The smell, the crumb, the taste, the texture and the crust are just something to behold.  I was convinced to purchase this cookbook by a focaccia recipe in the local paper.  I managed to make one (actually two; with first, the non-stick pan's "non-stick" coating flaked into the bread, ruining it) and I was impressed with the ease of it.  He gave me the confidence to try a "real" bread and you can see the result.

I then followed the basic recipe from Ed Brown's The Tassajara Bread Book and this is the opposite of the "fire and forget" Jim Lahey recipe.  You make a wet "sponge," let it sit, and then add oil, salt and more flour and then knead the dough, let it rise, then punch it down and let it rise again.  You then split the dough into loaves, shape them and then let them rise once again in the bread pans.  You finally bake it.  This is the labor-intensive loaf that most people (especially me) fear.  The true amount of time needed is considerably less than you would think, so the work is worth it and kneading the dough is fun.

I've much more to learn and a long way to go, but I'm having a blast and I've essentially conquered a fear or overcome a prejudice or basically improved myself in a non-destructive manner.  Go, me!  I had no idea that flour and/or yeast was an addictive substance...


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