More than three decades ago, I started making homemade bread. Before breadmakers and cell phones, I learned the feel of the dough that marked the end of the kneading process. I fell in love with the smell of bread baking and the taste of the first steamy slice slathered in butter. All of this followed months of failed attempts where I made bricks, and I even sliced and tasted them. The best lessons are learned by failing. I repeatedly killed the yeast with too-hot water to produce those bricks. I recall making half a dozen bricks, at least, before accepting that I needed help.
At the local park I met a mom of two little blond boys. My red-haired daughter caught the eye of the red-haired mom and helped me make one of my first adult friends. The other mom and I got to know each other and one day at the apartment complex pool I told her the funny story of my bread bricks. She didn’t laugh like everyone else. She invited me over the next day to teach me to make bread.
She taught me to proof the yeast with some sugar in a small bowl with the perfect temperature of water. She actually taught me the feel of the water by showing me what was too hot and too cold and just right under the tap.
She taught me to knead, from the raggedy mess of the starting mixture to the smooth and elastic ready-to-rise dough.
She taught me to form loaves and how long to bake them, and to melt butter on the baked crust by rubbing it with a partly peeled stick of cold butter to make the crust delectable.
She saved me from my path to one hundred bricks.
For Christmas this year, my daughter (who has given up on gifting me novels anymore because she said my writing hobby has ruined me as a reader) gave me a bread cookbook call BEARD ON BREAD, first published on Mole Day in 1973. Unlike my pie habit from last year with glorious heaps of meringue and brightly colored fruits, my bread blog entries might be bland and pale and tan, but I’m willing to give it a try.
Last weekend I made the first recipe in the book, called “Basic White Bread” on page 22. Unlike my memorized recipe, this loaf called for no butter or milk, and a flipped ratio of sugar to salt. I followed along like a neophyte.
I proofed the yeast.
I mixed and kneaded the dough.
I let the first rise occur in a buttered and covered bowl until doubled in bulk.
I formed a loaf and let it rise again.
I baked for twice as long as I’ve ever baked a loaf, and even preheated the oven for half an hour and left my pizza stone in there. I tapped the loaf to hear its hollowness and set it on the oven rack sans pan for a few extra minutes to finish the bottom crust.
Then I served it with pasta. It smelled right and looked beautiful and tasted so bland and basic. It made me miss my memorized recipe.
Next time I’ll try a sour dough recipe since I have never had success in that arena and I must learn some new tricks in 2019.