Joy of Bread
I was reminded how much I love bread making on a sunny Tuscan day, in a kitchen with a stone floor and huge doors that hinted of a previous life as the entrance to the carriage house. The villa is called Il Salicone and the occasion was dinner preparation for a dozen food and photography-mad friends, the participants of Plate to Page Tuscany workshop.
While I have never, ever lost my love of eating good, crusty, tasty bread I have to admit committing the time and patience for baking with yeast dropped off my radar for years. A busy active young family and heavy work schedule meant that baking was relegated to those times when it became a special occasion. Baking for an event, the joy of sharing with others, a celebration, limited to a few times a year. And later, when waistlines expanded, bread, carbohydrates and and all such goodness became forbidden or snuck as a guilty pleasure. Yes friends. I know about the food pyramid and healthy lifestyle, food groups and exercise, but let’s just say that that is a work in progress. Even now, thinking about baking for two seems luxurious and perhaps a bit of a caloric risk.
How different from the time when my Grandmother baked weekly, loaves upon loaves to feed her family of six children. I can still see her kitchen counter lined with bowls of dough, sun streaming in the large window looking out to the rose garden, and the pot-bellied wood stove gently heating the room, maintaining the perfect rising temperature. Waiting with anticipation when the fresh and warm loaf emerged from the oven and a thick slice offered, smeared with fresh creamery butter and a dab of jam. We’d sit at the table, my four year old self and Grandma. Love, indelibly linked to the yeasty, heady aroma that fills your head as you take a warm slice with melty butter or a drizzle of olive oil and bite through the crust to the sweet tangy soft innards. Who wouldn’t be addicted to such euphoria? Thanks Grandma, my cousins and I have this shared memory and penchant for warm bread and butter — a comfort food like no other. And yes, I’ll say it, better than chocolate.
So why, you might ask are am I baking bread again? It is time consuming, has very specific needs to be successful; technique, temperature, carefully measured ingredients and a huge amount of patience with the ability to deal with the ambiguity of how much time it will really take. That and I can buy beautiful breads at local bakeries or even satisfy my addiction with a double pack of pugliese from Costco. In a word, connection.
Connection to those early memories, and now a connection to new friends with shared interests. Connection to that inner creative part of me that wants to master the craft (or a least be better at it) and find a way to share the joy it brings me. That workshop in Tuscany revitalized that passion, that joy and through it I have made some wonderful friends and found an extended community that provides more opportunities to mingle, bake and take on new challenges. With a monthly invitation to participate I can join in as if we were all together in the kitchen again, dusting the flour off our hands on the backside of our jeans before picking up the camera and capturing the moment.
Of the many, many yeast breads out there, I adore those with a tang and crust. So for this month’s Twelve Loaves theme I chose Pane Pugliese. The recipe comes from King Arthur Four Company and I am experimenting with their all purpose non-bleached flour that is now available at my local grocery store hoping to get better rising and texture results than my normal brand.
Self described as “crusty, slightly domed and delicious peasant bread is made with a very slack (wet) dough. The dough is almost impossible to work with, but produces a pleasingly open texture.” King Arthur Bread
I followed the instructions carefully, even weighing my flour on my new scale. What a discrepancy between the call for 4 cups or 17 ounces, my 17 ounces was just 3 cups! What a dilemma? Having never made this type of bread before, do I go with the weight or the measurement? I opted for adding another quarter cup. The most fun though, was making the biga (starter) and finding the sweet spot in my oven’s warming drawer that helped maintain a better rising temperature that my usually too cool kitchen. I just made it the night before and let it ferment for about 16 hours. Since this needs no real attention other than temperature that was the easy part and it certainly provided just the right depth of flavor to the dough.
The recipe wasn’t kidding when it stated that it was necessary to “Knead all of the dough ingredients together, using a mixer or bread machine (this is well nigh impossible to knead by hand.)” Which actually works for me since I don’t have the strength in my arms and wrists to knead continuously for 10 minutes — that’s what they made dough hooks for! The only other deviations from the written recipe was I added a combination of toasted flax, pumpkin, sesame, poppy and sunflower seeds to the top of the dough during the final raise and added a pan of water to the lower rack of the oven during the baking period. The results tasty, crusty and tangy and while not large with a high dome like the commercial variety of pugliese, I liked it very much. I might invest in one of those french loaf baking pans to give it a little more structure. I will be baking this again!
Thanks to the gals Lori at Cake Duchess, Jamie at Life’s a Feast and Barb at Creative Culinary for this month’s Twelve Loaves baking theme of seeds, nuts and grains. This bread fits right in. See all the Twelve Loaves participants at Cake Duchess – Twelve Loaves – October.