Myth Busting Bread

I’ve not been cooking much lately, but I have been experimenting here and there with bread. We’re thinking about putting a pizza oven in the back yard this summer, so I’ve been reading up on bread making, and have become fascinated with creating and using starters. The first loaf of sourdough I made didn’t quite reach high enough, but had a nice tangy sour flavor. After each loaf I make, Jeff is fascinated by the simplicity of bread. “Really, that’s all that goes into it? Just water and flour and salt? Kind of demystifies all the loaves and fishes stuff from my church-going childhood!”

When I was a kid, my mom always made bread. As part of the “Back to the Land Movement,” we often lived in houses with wood-cook stoves, so bread-making was a pretty big ordeal. You didn’t want to have to do it too often especially in the hot summer. The stove was stoked to a high heat and bread was made in great volume. If I remember correctly, I think we must have made four or five giant two-pound loaves a week. That was sufficient for our family of three.

My mom had a very large ceramic bowl that we actually called, “the bread bowl.” She would fill the bottom of it with warm water, add some yeast until it dissolved and then add a little honey and salt. Once that was all mixed, she would start adding flour one cup at a time and stir it with a big wooden spoon. When the dough became too stiff for the spoon, shirt sleeves would go up, and arms would go in. She’d begin the kneading process in the bowl until the dough was stiff enough to pour out on the counter. Then Mom would go into her rhythmic pattern of kneading: fold, push with the heel of the hand, turn counter-clockwise and repeat. I loved watching the dough transform from a pocky globby mess, to a satiny smooth ball. The ball would be left to rise for a few hours in the bread bowl, then later punched down, formed into loaves and left to rise again in the bread pans. When they were of appropriate fullness, the loaves were baked. Unlike the stuff I’ve been playing around with lately, Mom’s bread took only one day to make.

I still prefer to make bread Mom’s way. I never measure a thing and the bread always turns out just right. Using a starter, on the other hand, has been challenging and I am coming to the conclusion that it is the bread-making for chemists, statisticians, perfectionists and homebodies. Making traditional loaves is a wonderful challenge and I am sure it will feel easier once I get the hang of it. The results really are quite stunning!

I’ve become a big fan of Breadtopia. This site has wonderful recipes and great tutorials that really make bread-making seem simple. I’ve made a few of the no-knead sourdoughs as well as a Sicilian No Knead. I prefer the no knead recipes for their speed as well as the fact that they are a stickier dough which makes them easier to prepare in the stand mixer. The heavier doughs need a little knead and more time for fermenting and rising. The whole grain sourdough, for example, took me five days to complete! No single part was time-consuming, so could be messed with my few moments before work, or in the evening. These traditional European loaves prove one thing. There is no way Jesus could have possible fed 5000 people in the course of a few hours! Myth busted!