24 January, 2011

Bake Until Dark

Last Monday I wrote about returning to an old pastime - making bread. Old for me - I began about forty years ago, and also old for our species - we began over 3000 years ago, at least if we're talking about yeasted bread. That's about the same time we invented beer. Wow! Talk about your one-two punch - bread and beer. What a great start to civilization!

It's been a busy week for me. I had given up bread-making as I lost use of my left hand and could no longer knead, but recent conversations have encouraged me to try again. The kneading did prove problematic though so I turned initially to the no kneading technique developed by Jim Lahey in New York City. I took an old recipe and modified it to work with this new (for me) process.

It worked well. That's not to say I didn't make mistakes; I did - which meant I also found ways to get better. The first variety was a Black Olive and Walnut Wheat Bread with Thyme. I tried different degrees of "chopped" and organic stone-ground versus regular bread flour. I like to think it tasted better with each of the three attempts. All I know for certain is that my colleagues liked them all.

Then I tried using just unbleached bread flour with green olives and cracked red pepper - still using the no knead system. I like it, but no one else has had a chance yet. Stay tuned.

Two days ago I used the sourdough starter begun four days earlier.
This was not a no knead recipe, but I made four loaves of Cheddar, Apple, Thyme Sourdough Bread. It tastes great, but I am frustrated that I forgot to carve the tops of the loaves before I baked them. I'm not sure I can continue with the one-handed kneading though. It wasn't easy. Maybe I need one of those fancy mixers - the ones with that corkscrew dough attachment. Nah.

Yesterday, I returned to the no knead green olive bread I mentioned previously. I had some thoughts on making it better, and we'll see if I was right.

Nine loaves. It's been a fun week, and although free time is more limited now that spring classes have begun, I hope to continue this baking effort. I know it's good for my soul. As I wrote last week, there is something very fundamental about this. The chemistry. The connection with earth and with fire. The artistry. The continuation of something almost primal. It is at once meditative and restorative. We can all use that.

It doesn't have to be bread, by the way - as symbolic as that is. Find something you once enjoyed. Make time to re-embrace it. The pleasure that will emerge will make you a happier and most likely a better person.