Friday, March 13, 2009

Feed Yourself: Bake Bread

If you are unemployed, underemployed, or just hungry, there is a simple and satisfying way to nourish your soul and your belly. Bake your own bread. It requires nothing you don't own already. Sure, there are lots of ways to complicate it, to make it more expensive, but they are not necessary. First take about four cups of any old flour. Mix it with about two cups of lukewarm water. Sprinkle in a couple teaspoons of large-grain salt and a packet of yeast. Now knead. Knead like you have never done anything before. Knead like you are making love for the last time. Turn and press the dough until your muscles ache with soreness, muscles you might not have known you had. Now knead some more. Don't even think of using a machine to do this unless you have kneaded bread by hand at least one-hundred times before. And remember, later, what it felt like to make something so special, all by yourself. Cooking should always be a solitary pleasure. After your dough is kneaded, form it into a ball and place in a bowl, covered with a fresh kitchen towel. Allow it to double in volume. Knead it gently once or twice, and allow it to double in volume again. There is a delicate gas structure that has developed in your risen dough, and overhandling at this point will ruin it. Form it into the desired shape- round and rustic, long and narrow, or individual rolls. Crank your oven up to five-hundred- so much good cooking happens at high heat! While the oven is warming, let the dough continue to rise, covered lightly with the towel. When your oven is good and hot, take a very sharp blade and put a half-inch gash or two in the top of your loaf, scarring it irrevocably but allowing it to expand further in the oven. Before you slide it in the oven, get a spray bottle of water handy. Slide the dough and its parchment onto your baking sheet, and place in the oven. Close the oven door almost all the way, and spray water on the loaf and into the oven itself (but not the light) before closing the door. Let it bake about a half an hour. While your bread quietly goes about the business of driving you insane with its wonderful aroma, think about all the things you want to do to it. If, upon its completion, you find yourself tearing it apart, piece by piece, ravishing it to mere crumbs while still warm, you would not be the first. But try to stretch it out, make it last. It will be incomparable toasted, buttered, and dipped in hot coffee. A humble sandwich can be elevated to the greatest heights. Should it become stale, all is not lost. Simple things like croutons for a salad, or French toast with syrup, will never be the same. A kind warning: your friends may call you impracticle, whimsical, irresponsible, or worse, for baking your own bread. If you like, keep your little secret to yourself. Rush home for no other reason than to bake bread. One thing is certain. You will be better for it.


Michael Natkin said...

Tell it brother Paul! There really is nothing so satisfying, nor is it difficult. You might find yourself wanting to go deep and learn some of the tricks, but the basic mystery is so accessible. Ok, maybe a little messy but so is life, yes?

Scotty said...

I am baking bread as we speak!

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