Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Wake and Bake: The lure and fear behind bread baking

When I was little my mom made bread once a week. She did the requisite 2 sandwich loaves on Tuesdays, she made dinner rolls and French bread. She helped my dad to make a cinnamon swirl bread for my sister’s preschool bake sale and made special sweet breads at Christmas and Easter.

The homemade sandwich bread was a constant in my childhood. I’d wait for the loaf to cool so we could have a fresh slice with butter on it. When we were low on cereal she’d toast a couple slices, break them into pieces in a bowl, sprinkle a little sugar, pour milk over it and call it breakfast (which I loved, since it was the only time we were allowed sugar on our cereal). If we wanted a snack, we were given peanut butter on toast.

But although I watched her bake bread every week for at least a decade, once I was an adult I caved and bought mine at the grocery store. Bread baking just seemed too mysterious, too fraught with the risk of failure. This was brought home to me when I first tried to make bread on my own, and ended up with pale, loaf-shaped bricks that fell onto the counter with a thud when I turned the loaf pan over. They smelled great, but they were inedible. After all the kneading I’d done and the 3-4 hours I’d spent mulling over the instructions in the Joy of Cooking, I figured I’d be better off letting Key Food give me bread when I needed it.

I got good at cooking other things, but the spectre of bread kept nagging at me. I finally did some reading and realized that my mistake last time was almost certainly in mishandling the yeast. After a little digging I found a very easy recipe—if you follow the temperature specifications. A thermometer can make all the difference between bread or a brick—I didn’t have one the first time I made bread, and behold—bricks!

So anyway. Here’s a link to a decent, relatively easy bread. It’s pretty pedestrian, but it’s tasty. No doubt real bakers out there will have issues with it, but it’s a good “starter” bread. Enjoy!