Bread Baker, Bread BakerPosted: May 2, 2012
So, my plan for today was to wow you all and humble my mother once and for all with my bread baking prowess. The best laid plans never work, though, and so today, instead, it is I who is humbled by my bagillionth bread baking flop.
Last week, I made a bread starter. I meticulously gauged the temperature of my waters as I built it and constantly checked back in with my recipe to make sure my starter met its descriptions. I let it sit in the oven for 72 hours, stirring it daily and mostly remembering to hold my breath while it belched alcoholic gasses in my face. And then I moved it to the fridge and continued my daily stirring until Sunday I pulled out 4 ounces and set to work on a loaf of bread.
Everything was going swimmingly. The first rise was perfect. The dough tripled in size, a swollen belly of impending deliciousness. I even paused in a Skype visit with one of my brothers to go punch it down at the perfect moment. It burst as my fist surged through, sighing in the same way my last dough did and leaving me brimming with excitement. It’s the little stuff in life, right? I sealed the bowl tightly and placed it in the fridge to slowly ferment for another 24 hours. Everything was going great.
But then Monday I didn’t get home until after 6, and there was bath time and a pile of new library books demanding to be lingered over. Suddenly it was dark and I was sleepy and I–oops!–didn’t get around to the subtly sour dough waiting patiently in my refrigerator.
This morning, I pulled the dough to let it come to room temperature while Maxine and I ate waffles and ran to the bank and such. When we came home, I returned to the recipe in hopes that maybe I could salvage the dough. I have this idea that bread is an intensely persnickety mistress, but every time I mention this to an avid bread baker they just chuckle and insist that bread works for them, not the other way around. I held tight to these words as I turned the dough onto my butcher block and began kneading it into a firm ball.
The ball wouldn’t firm up, though. I kneaded that stuff for an entire episode of “Caillou” (don’t even get me started on that twerp) before deciding I should just charge ahead and hope the second rise happened anyway.
It didn’t. After an hour, all I had left was a flat and slowly spreading raw pancake. After deliberating for a moment about whether I should bake it anyway, I turned the pre-heating oven off. I’ve had enough second rise flops in my day to know that there is no miracle a hot oven can perform on this sucker.
Now I’m wondering what to do with my starter. Is it the source of my problem? Was the whole endeavor really thwarted by leaving the dough in the refrigerator for an extra 9 hours?
In my fantasy life, I am the woman whose family eats only fresh bread. I’m the woman who comes to dinner parties with a loaf still warm from baking wrapped in a tea towel. I’m the woman who rises early one morning a week to quietly sip coffee and knead loaves, watching the sun rise over the back brick wall and breathing in the grapefruit-scented breeze.
It’s funny. In writing this I’ve realized something. I’ve wondered for a while now what the appeal of baking bread is to me. I know its partly that I believe firmly I could subsist on bread, cheese, and wine, but I’ve also known there’s another reason–a bigger reason. Baking bread perfectly straddles the cusp between the personal and the familial. Only one set of hands can knead dough, can pull starter apart and blend it seamlessly with dissolving yeast. The end result, though, is enjoyed by everyone in the house. Baking bread, then, is a ritual of both/and. It makes space for me–if you’ve ever kneaded, you know how meditative it is–while honoring the space of my family. And that, I think, is why I’ve got my sights set on becoming a bread baker.