Sunday, December 16, 2007

The good stuff

Bread. So basic, so primitive, yet so rich and complex in every way.

It was one of the first foods. A main part, if not THE main part, of every meal in some countries. The manna form of it sustained people for years. It’s been passed around, shared among people for longer than we can imagine. It represents our savior, the “living bread,” his body, and his body broken. Generations have reserved and used a bit of the family yeast for daily baking. It’s not so hard to make a loaf, but it requires time, a certain touch, respect for the heritage of the task, and a firm but not necessarily heavy hand.

I’m still perfecting my “hand” at making bread, but I do enjoy the “larning” if you know what I mean. There’s something so deeply satisfying about creating the dough, about watching the flour you dumped in become absorbed. And there’s no other sensation like kneading, just rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands in that lump, working it, using your fingers and the heel of your palm and really breaking it down.

There are endless varieties, different grains to use, ways to make it unique and wonderful, whether it begins with plain old bread flour or wheat flour or blended oats or even with a biga. (No, I haven’t tried that yet—biga is the yeasty starter you create to make ciabatta. Maybe when I feel a bit more confident in my abilities…and have managed to get my hands on a baking stone.)

I’m only sorry I waited so long to try it. Living near the Bread Works factory for years didn’t exactly inspire me to bake my own bread, since they do such a fabulous job of it there. But even with that great, cheap bread down the street, I was still missing out on a simple joy: making dough, letting it rise, and popping it into my own oven so as to fill my home with that delicious aroma of life.

If you haven’t yet, or haven’t lately, get out in that kitchen and make a floury mess. It’s good for the soul.


chris h said...

Sounds great! My dad was a wonderful bread baker -- delicious stuff. I've never gotten into it myself though (I have a bread machine -- how lame).

Mel said...

Chris, I had a bread machine that I'd received as a gift years ago... it never quite did the job as well as good old elbow grease. I finally donated it to a church yard sale a few months ago and that's when I started getting my "hands dirty" and making bread the old-fashioned way. The machines can save time, but they're just not the same. : )

Give the hands-on method a try!