Friday, June 4, 2010

on baking bread

“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like kleenex?”
–Julia Child


Growing up on an island in Alaska, I was familiar with the kind of bread that tasted like kleenex, cardboard or something along those lines.  Occasionally, mom baked homemade bread; but Oroweat was par for the course.  Because mom had whet my appetite with the real deal, I was privy to the sad, spongy sliced bread that housed my daily sandwich fillings.  It may be the reason that I loathe sandwiches to this day.

Here in Seattle, it is fairly simple to get a good loaf of bread.  Most grocery stores carry artisanal loaves that rival the tasteless sliced sandwich breads lining the adjacent shelving.  I am particularly fond of Essential Bakery’s Pain du George, Grand Central Bakery’s semolina baguette (available only in their cafes and at a smattering of local restaurants), Macrina’s rustic potato loaf, Tall Grass Bakery’s honey oat or honey wheat, and Columbia City Bakery’s ficelle or roasted potato dinner roll.  The best croissants are from Le Panier and nearby Blackbird Bakery, on Banbridge Island, has the best homemade taste with their oatmeal wheat bread.

All that said, I harbor an unfulfilled penchant for baking bread.  My last attempt was in 2007 when I used a recipe from Julia Child’s ‘The Way to Cook’.  I beg to differ, Ms. Child, as I followed the recipe to the letter and my bread, which took countless steps and several risings, made me feel more in tune with ancient Egyptian brick makers than with the perfect bread pictured on page 34.  I laughed it off as those dense little loaves hit the bottom of the garbage can with a thud but it has taken years to shed the belief that I haven’t got the touch.  I must have over kneaded.  Or something.

Bread baking should be joyous, a fruitful labor resulting in home baked goodness and that warm, yeasty smell wafting through the kitchen.  Fast forward three years and I at last readied myself for another go at it.  I researched a bit and settled on a recipe for oatmeal wheat bread.

The first try was not unlike the last one.  The bread seemed to have shrunk during baking and had a strange, sour smell.  My husband, Naud, and daughter, Annabelle, were so excited that they let their desire for home baked bread overrule their taste buds.  They tried to convince me that it was an edible mistake but I knew better and threw it out when they weren’t looking.  Clearly, I was accurate in my earlier assessment that I should leave bread baking to the professionals. 

Ever the optimist, my husband, Naud convinced me to give it another try and I did.  It was better but still needed work.  For my third attempt, I decided to try a free form approach rather than using a loaf pan.  The result was much better, as shown above.  I have been baking a loaf every few days but took a break this week to enjoy some local loaves.  I find that I now have a greater appreciation for the art of bread baking and a desire to learn more.

In fact, I think I’ll bake another loaf tomorrow…

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