I used to make bread all the time. My go-to guide for all things breadmaking was “Laurel’s Kitchen,” published in 1976. Out of everything in that book, what I love most is when she writes about slipping a freshly-baked and wrapped loaf of bread under someone’s chair at a meeting. Making home-made bread and surprising some delighted soul with it has to be right up there in the essentials of sainthood.
But along came kids, work, house, mortgage, liver transplant, and on and on. Somewhere along the way, my bread-baking got relegated to the proverbial backburner. So I decided 2016 is my year to get back to bread-baking. Especially when bread – the locally-made good kind – is upwards of eight bucks a loaf! Knowing what goes into a loaf, they totally deserve it, but I can’t afford it.
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Plus, there’s just something about the artistry in making a good loaf of bread. The mixing, coaxing the yeast to bubble, kneading the plump dough, shaping it into a loaf, that lovely aroma while it’s baking, and then the warm, fresh loaf as it comes out of the oven. You can’t wait to slice into it and see what you’ve created with your own two hands. There’s nothing like it.
Remember that scene in “MASH,” where Charles Winchester leans close to the dying soldier to find out what’s going through his head as he drifts into the next world? “I smell bread,” says the soldier. Yup, that says it all.
One thing I’ve never mastered is the fine art of working with sourdough. Not one to be deterred by a challenge, I’ve spent the last week making sourdough starter, “feeding” it with flour and water every day, watching the bubbles finally form on the top, and then … making a spectacular failure of a loaf that not even the birds will touch.
If anyone can tell me where I’m going wrong with sourdough, I’d so appreciate it! I will not give up!
Here’s the sourdough starter on Day 5. Looks pretty good, yeah?
Here is the first loaf made with the sourdough starter. It doesn’t look TOO bad in the photo, but I can tell you, it tasted like a squishy, dense Saltine cracker. And the dough was not dough-like at all. It was more like the home-made playdough we used to make as kids out of salt and flour and water.
Even the birds are questioning their life’s purpose when they look at this loaf. It’s like their monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “What is this? Do we eat it? Pray to it? Fear it?”
Here is Take 2 with the dough. It looks and behaves beautifully – like the best bread dough I’ve ever made. Soft, pliable, that coveted “baby’s behind” texture.
But it doesn’t rise. Ok, maybe a little, but not plumping out of the top of the pan like my regular yeast dough. It does rise a little during the baking…
But there’s a giant hole in the side. We named this “The Submarine.”
It’s edible, but not quite there yet. I couldn’t charge eight bucks a loaf for this one.