Friday, June 11, 2010


I have baked bread off and on since I was in Mrs. Warner's Texas history class in seventh grade. That first time, my mother did most of the stirring and measuring, and I mostly learned that bread was hard to handle. The recipe we made that time was for yeast rolls like my great- grandmother used to make, then my grandmother, and now my aunt. If you're lucky and you happen by her house around one occasion or another, you might get to have one of those rolls straight from the oven, dripping butter.

When Jason and I moved to Fort Worth, I looked at Molly Katzen's drawings and description and thought for sure I could make bread. I have perhaps too much faith in what one can learn from books. I tried and I tried to make bread like she said, but the twenty to thirty minutes of kneading it on the counter as she recommended never turned out anything worth sharing with friends. And there was also the unintended lesson about how to explode Pyrex bakeware. Then, around that time, one friend got a bread machine that made better bread than I could and another began making sourdough that put my bricks to shame, so I put away Molly and the Tassajara cookbook someone had given me.

Sometime after I started staying home, I again tried my hand at bread. I had a bit more luck, but I still don't think I quite had it figured out. One day, when I was in a hurry, I did not knead it long and I left it in the bowl to knead it. First of all, you can have MUCH wetter dough if you are not trying to knead it on the counter. Additionally, whole wheat soaks up water in the first rise, so it is MUCH better for it to be pretty wet during the first rise. Finally, twenty minutes of kneading is WAY too much kneading; you can not knead at all and still have yummy bread.

The most recent innovation for me has been a switch to making sourdough, which I feared for so many years. I discovered sourdough is more reliable than yeast packets and easy enough to tend if you're making bread for five people.

So these days, I make bread one to three times a week. I mix my starter with extra flour and water in the evening. I leave it sitting on the counter overnight. There is no magic temperature, although I do cover it to keep cats and debris out of it.

Then, I separate some of the starter and stick it back in the cool box. I add the rest of my ingredients to what's left. To make two loaves of bread, I use four cups of the overnight glop, 7 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of salt, some maple syrup, 4 tablespoons of butter, and roughly two cups of water.

I let it rise until after lunch, then divide it and put it in buttered loaf pans. If it's warm, the bread is ready for the oven by 3:00; if it's cold, I stick it in the oven closer to 5:00. I slash the tops of the loaves and put them in the oven before I turn it on to 350. They bake about 40 minutes, and then we have bread!

If you're as awesome as I am, you grind your own flour at least once in awhile so that your whole wheat doesn't have that off taste, and so you can make your own layered sand looking flour container.

And last but not least, I have yet to taste 100% whole wheat bread that was worth a bit of butter. Don't be too pure or "right"; use some white flour.

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