Thinking outside the pot

“Bread makes itself, by your kindness, with your help, with imagination running through you, with dough under hand, you are breadmaking itself, which is why breadmaking is so fulfilling and rewarding.” — Edward Espe Brown, The Tassajara Bread Book

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that, while the name of the project is “Soup and Bread,” one side of that equation has been getting the short end of the stick. 

Sorry, bread!

Originally I had hoped to solicit donations of day-old bread from local bakeries, but that effort fizzled early on. One possible source would only donate to a legitimately incorporated 501(c)(3) nonprofit; another I just seemed incapable of actually hooking up with (though I’m going to try again next week).

Instead, our bread offerings have been a glorious jumble — a little homebaked, a little Dominick’s; a little banana, a little sourdough. And, it’s worked out well. It is, after all, a lot easier to toss a loaf of bread in yr bag and head over to the Hideout. You can’t really do that with soup. In any case, thanks a bunch to Paula, Celeste, Amy, Chris, and everyone else who’s showed up bearing starches.

Next week I’m going to start “curating” the bread a bit more: On the 18th Daniel Shumski, aka the man behind the brilliant Fruit Slinger (the clarity and concision of which still makes me writhe in envious anguish) is going to bake a loaf or four. Soup chef/Hideout sound dude Pierce Doerr has also promised to bring something for the basket, and who knows, maybe the elusive bakery #2 will finally pan out as well.

I’ll reveal the rest of next week’s lineup soon. In the meantime, here are some pix from my own recent foray into the bread-baking arts.

Tassjara Bread Book

I haven’t baked in a while, and didn’t want to try anything fancy, so I turned to a classic — the  basic yeasted bread from the Tassajara Bread Book. Note the ancient crusty splootches of dough on the page. I started baking from this book during a particularly lonely stretch of adolescence, and whipped up loaf upon dense, impenetrable, bricklike loaf for my tolerant family until I got it right. This was a good warmup for the hippie food co-op years that followed in college.

At some point, though, I got bored with yeasted bread, and wandered off into biscuits and scones and pie. It wasn’t till my parents decided to clean out their kitchen a year or so ago that the TBB finally dropped back into my possession.

sponge

The bread starts with a sponge: a batter of water, yeast, honey, and flour. (Dry milk is also an option, but I didn’t have any, so, eh.) The sponge is set in a warm spot for an initial rise of an hour or longer, allowing gluten to form without the effort of kneading the dough. I actually left mine going for three, as after an hour is seemed to have barely moved at all. No harm done.

more flour

Once the sponge has risen, fold in seemingly endless additional cups of flour, along with salt and some oil or melted butter. It seems unbearably dry — like a bowl of dusty old rags. There’s no way this can incorporate more flour, I muttered, about 14 times. But it did. 

knead

Then, you knead. And knead. And knead. And, jeez, I might sound like a nutcase, but it’s so satisfying! There’s a real peace born of the meditative rhythm — turn-fold-push; turn-fold-push — and the weight of the warm, breathing dough in my hands. Also, oddly, for someone prone to repetitive-stress injuries, it almost feels like PT for my wrists.

rising

Then you set it to rise again. At this point D. came and picked me up to go thrift shopping for soup spoons and more bowls. Several hours later . . . 

risen

Punch it down, set to rise for another hour or so. Then divide into loaves, giving each a quick little extra knead as you shape it into a ball. Place in greased loaf pans and let rise AGAIN — this time only for 20-odd minutes. Then, bake. 

loaves

OK, those are a bit brown. And, frankly, quite dense, despite all that rising. But, every crumb was eaten, so that must count for something.

The bare bones of the recipe are here. But, really, I’d recommend the book. The experience — and, arguably, the end result — just isn’t the same without the wobbly line drawings,  go-with-the-flow Zen ethos, and 25- year-old blobs of dried-out dough.

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