I don’t remember the first time that I made bread dough, but I must have been fairly young–by the age of eight I’d already won a ribbon at the Fair for my sweet rolls (and yes, they are still amazing). I’m sure the knowledge I had at such a young age came from watching my Mom bake–as I remember it, her loaves were usually whole wheat, sweetened with honey (or at least that is the flavor of bread that always reminds me of those young years). Her dinner rolls remain, in my mind, the stuff of legend.
Although I have remained a maker of bread nearly all of my life, for the past ten years or so, I’ve primarily defaulted to doing so in a bread machine. That way I can set a timer and not have to worry about any of the details of the process. Out pops a tasty loaf in about two hours, or when I walk in the door from work if I’ve set the time earlier that morning. Breadmaker bread is good, and is certainly better than most store-bought bread, but….it also has a uniform texture to it that’s not airy and the crust is not crispy and, most importantly, it robs one of all the pleasure of kneading and smelling and shaping the dough…
So I’ve begun making and baking my own bread again, by hand.* It’s such a time-consuming and mercurial process: the very same recipe rarely yields the same result. And there is so much intuition involved that I have to just “feel” the bread to know what it needs (more flour? a bit of oil? extra time for raising?). Being a part of that process and experimenting with different recipes and doughs is pure pleasure. I’m developing a kind of bread knowledge that allows me to compose recipes in my head and to refine my process with every loaf (though I did also pore over these two books for much of my bread-knowledge, too: The Bread Bible and Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day.)
I’m not sure why I am so keen on making my own bread right now. I suspect that it’s filling a space of domesticity that’s a bit empty because I no longer have many duties in caring for my children. Or perhaps it’s a craving for comfort and the memories of times past. Or perhaps it’s a need to touch and smell something altogether different than the slick manufactured surfaces of keyboards and touchscreens and elevator buttons and chrome.
But whatever the reason, I am again making bread. And it is good.
*I still do the initial bread mixing in either my Sunbeam or my KitchenAid. In that I’m following the pattern of most bread “experts.” I am also using this awesome Baguette Pan that was given to me by a friend.