I have been teaching myself how to bake bread over the past three years. I have to admit that the endeavor comes in spurts. Since I generally cook for just one (occasionally two), I only need to do it every so often. But every six weeks or so, I wake up inspired, and start the hours-long process that gets more enjoyable every time. Okay, maybe not every time.
Bread requires patience.
My days off can be really hectic. For example, as I prepared for the upcoming holiday my thoughts were frantic. I need to go to the grocery store, the stationary store and then I have to go buy that frame for that picture I got for whoever. Today could not have been a bread day. Once I tried to bake bread on a day when I was drowning in chores and ended up covered in a sticky mess. I was trying frantically to knead before I went to do x, y and z.
For me, bread days are the ones I wake up with very little to do, or just enough that I can do it intermittently while the dough readies itself for the next step. They’re days when I resign to the fact that I won’t be leaving the house for the first seven hours I’m awake, unless it’s to run to the store because I forgot honey or wanted to add sunflower seeds.
This is why I love baking bread: it forces you to take things slowly and think logically about your every move. There is no rushing the kneading, the rising or the baking. Patience is absolutely required, and so is being fully absorbed in every step of the process. You must be aware of the motions of your hands, cognizant of just how much flour you’ve added, and always sensitive to temperatures. Someday I will take The Chopping Block’s class “How to Bake Bread,” but it seems to me that baking bread is the best thing you can do to learn about the science of baking. Even if you make mistakes with bread, the end result is still edible, albeit chewy or crumbly, and if you’re successful, you’ll be so proud of yourself every time you eat a slice!
Honestly, much of the science remains totally beyond me.
For example, I’m not sure why in my favorite recipe you need to let the divided dough sit for five minutes before you form the pieces into dough. I do know, though, why you need to beat the batter when you’re making a sponge, and why kneading is important. These things really weren’t immediately obvious to me and it’s exciting that I have been able to figure them out just by trying new things and observing the results.
I can promise that my bread is nowhere near perfect, but I know that the impact learning the craft of bread baking has been positive. If nothing else, I always have hearty bread on hand that I know is healthy and less expensive than the bakery-bought alternative, and for the most part, it gets better every time.
My favorite recipe for bread is the tried and true simple yeasted bread from the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. I love mixing in chia and sunflower seeds just before kneading!
What is your favorite kind of bread to make?