Adventures in bread baking

"Mommy, yucky!" Athena complained. "You ruined the bread. You put too much flour in it."

"Yeah, Mom," her older sister said, in that you-are-such-a-dope tone of voice she's adopted lately. "This bread is awful, definitely too much flour!"

That's like saying you put too many eggs in an omelet. How does anyone put too much flour in bread?

Apparently I do. I have a sibling-like relationship with bread baking: We bicker and offend each other and hurt each other's feelings and our best laid plans for joint conspiracy are often foiled but there's still a lot of love between us and no matter how much we fight I always come back for more.

The first time I tried to bake a loaf of bread I was 21. It came out as hard as a cement block and it tasted like glue without enough salt. That was when I lived in Berkeley and was in graduate school. I liked the idea of baking bread. The bread I baked, though, was inedible.

When you fail so miserably at something, especially something you've never done before and something no one else you know does, it's hard to go back and try again.

Ten years, though, is usually enough to put your past failures behind you. This time I was armed with "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking," which helped, even if I couldn't manage to knead the dough to that perfect silky consistency.

Kneading is supposed to be this Zen-like activity that clears your mind and makes you feel one with the farmers who grew the grain and the little people who will eat warm-from-the-oven bread with butter melting on top. Three o'clock. Mash dough. Fold dough. Fold again. Still three o'clock. How can I do this for twenty minutes? Fold and push. Still three o'clock, wait the clock is changing to 3:01! Make this torture end soon. And how will I get all this goop off my hands?

Enter my savior in a coat of white armor: a Kitchen Aide with a dough hook. A dough hook takes four minutes to knead dough. And you don't get your hands dirty. And the yeast actually gets incorporated into the dough and does you the very kind favor of rising properly. Dough hooks are an amazing invention. If you want to bake bread but are kneading-challenged, get a Kitchen Aide. That is, check Goodwill or get your father-in-law to buy you one because, if you're baking your own bread and you live in Ashland and you have little kids, chances are you're on the same budget we are, which means you can't afford to buy a Kitchen Aide.

Laurel, the Kitchen Aide and I make a lot of bread these days. Don't give it away to my kids who eat it in thick slices but we still put flour in it. Some people even know me as "that bread lady" because I come to the girls' school to bake bread with the kids.

There's one problem with this happy ending: the yeast has been taking lessons in cooperating from our children. Last week it refused to proof. I ended up with a lump of unrisen dough that I wanted to compost. James saved the alien mass from its terrestrial fate and baked it. Even though it tasted good, my confidence was sorely shaken.

"Honey?" James asked gently as I swore I would never bake another loaf and that the halcyon days of bread making were over. "Maybe the yeast is just old and we should buy some more?"

I bought new yeast. The next loaf rose obligingly. Please excuse me while I take the bread out of the oven.

Share This Story