Monday, June 8, 2009

Making Bread from Scratch

When I learned to make bread about 40 years ago, it was already an arcane art. I had to read about it in a cookbook. My mother and grandmothers didn't make their own bread. None of my neighbors knew how. And my first loaf wasn't really a loaf. I didn't have a loaf pan, so I used a coffee can. I thought there was something magical about bread, and I put in raisins for good luck. I didn't understand instructions like "develop the gluten." But back in the dark ages of the 1960's and 1970's, white bread was everywhere and whole wheat bread was expensive if you could find it. So, I persevered. That first loaf was heavy and overly salty. I played around with proportions and rising times. With practice (or maybe magic) my bread became light and just the right amount of sweet and salt.

I tried a bread making machine when they came out. My first machine was wonderful. Throw in the ingredients. Turn it on. Walk away. Come back in four hours to a house that smells like fresh-baked bread and enjoy. But after that machine broke, my replacement machine couldn't even make a loaf as good as my first efforts. So, I went back to baking from scratch without a robotic genie to help.

My children had no interest in learning to make bread. Recently, one of my computer repair clients came over to make bread with me. She'd never made bread dough before. She didn't know the texture (like an earlobe) or how it should stretch. She'd never even read of the shortcuts I've developed. I roll my dough out with a rolling pin, rather than knead it. My heavy marble rolling pin gives me a mechanical advantage, and if I decide to make butterhorn rolls, the rolling pin has already flattened the dough out into a circle, ready to cut.

Today, I can buy a perfectly good loaf of whole wheat bread in almost any grocery store. And sometimes I do. But it doesn't taste like the recipe I've developed over 40 years of baking. And it doesn't come in braids, or butterhorn rolls, or other shapes I like to play with.

I've made matzo with my grandchildren, but not bread. I think making bread from scratch is a worthwhile skill. When I mentioned this to a friend, her vote for old-time skills that shouldn't be lost went to playing jacks. I remember spending hours mastering the art of scooping up just the right number of jacks with one hand while bouncing the ball with the other.

My motto for the day -- try to teach something you value to somebody who is younger than you are. Keep fun alive.

No comments:

Post a Comment