Sunday, May 18, 2008

Breadfellows

Baking bread: that most basic of all acts, despite its complexity.
Baking bread: christening a kitchen, blandishing the restive spirits of good fortune back into the warm corners of your home.
Baking bread: creating in the face of destruction; healing wounds.
Baking bread: remembering.
Baking bread: the fragrant anchor, falling towards earth.

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All of the sentiments I have for baking bread seem too heavy-handed for Spring. As the days lengthen out like lazy cats on a sun-warmed carpet and the trees begin their verdant inhalation, dappled light decorates my floured countertops and I bake bread to remember, to heal, to cajole good fortune out of its hiding places - but mostly, I do it to celebrate. It's an ungainly festivity - long pauses while dough rises and crust browns - and I do it awkwardly, winging recipes, tugging my apprehensive life forward by the reins - but I must say that the inertia, however unwelcome, is worth celebrating. And perhaps I am the one in the bridle. Lingering.

Companion: breadfellow, messmate; from the Latin com- (with) and panis (bread). But any two people can share bread, if they are hungry enough; it takes a special sort of companion to bake it with you. This is what I celebrate: the one who shapes the dough for the second rise, who walks alongside me in the forest, who holds my hand while I tarry.

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Poem
By Gregory Orr

This life is like no other.
The bread rising in the ditches.
The bellies of women swelling
with air.
Walking alone under the dark pines,
a blue leather bridle in my hand.

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Honey Wheat Bread
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking

INGREDIENTS

2 packages (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast

2 cups whole milk, heated to warm (105-115 degrees F)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs

3 cups whole-wheat flour, plus extra for kneading

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sea salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

DIRECTIONS


In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast and brown sugar over warm milk and let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Whisk in the eggs and honey; add flour, salt, and butter and stir with your hand or a wooden spoon until combined into a rough dough.


Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about five minutes, occasionally dusting the work surface with only enough whole wheat flour to keep the dough from sticking.
Shape into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until it doubles in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

While dough is rising, lightly butter two 9x5 inch loaf pans.

Punch down the dough and divide in half. With each half, evenly flatten the dough with the heel of your hand until it is about one inch thick, then roll the bottom third up onto itself and seal it by pinching the seam together. Continue rolling and sealing until you have an oval log; Place the logs, seam side down, into the prepared pans.
Cover loosely with a damp towel and and allow to rise until doubled again, 45-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dust the tops of the loaves with whole wheat flour and bake int the center of the oven until they are honey brown and sound hollow when tapped on top, 35-40 minutes. Be careful not to overbake, as they will become dry. Carefully remove the loaves from the pans and let cool completely before slicing. (Hot slices are delicious, but much of the bread's moisture escapes via steam - so if you do go in for a hot slice, be sure to stand the loaf up afterwards, cut-side-down against the plate or cutting board, until fully cooled.)


This recipe creates a slightly sweet, springy bread with just a hint of scone-like crumble, due to the higher butter content. It was divine for breakfast and turkey sandwiches alike, and filled the house with an exquisite nut-and-honey aroma.

For those of you curious about/coveting my butter dish: it's a countertop-friendly butter bell (or butter keeper) with a water seal that keeps your butter cool and fresh without refrigeration! It's perfect for those of us who like soft butter handy, but are concerned about spoiling. It works like a charm and has an appealing, antique look. This one was a gift from my FMIL*, but you can find a variety of attractive butter bells online.

*future-mother-in-law :)

7 comments:

family said...

There was a time when baking bread seemed so right. The effort would make me worthy of being a good home maker, the aroma would fill my house with warmth and good memories and the taste of hot bread and jam would excite the appetite of the young. For some reason, this memory of baking bread made me cry. Bread is something that must be shared, and without worry of the expanding midriff. Do we really get too old to bake bead?

I am so glad you are ceasing the moment. Thanks for the blog.

Mom

Kate said...

I'm bringing yeast this weekend, just to prove to you that nobody gets too old to bake bread. ;)

Lara said...

What a beautiful post! Maybe this will be the month I make bread for the first time :)

juju said...

Kate, teach me to bake bread--the heck with the midriff. A butter bell is on my want list. I love you!

Al said...

Yay for a new post! I have checked back consistently, and I'm so glad to see something delightfully warm and cozy, like the bread you baked.

MK said...

Your post made me think of one of my all time favorite Sexton poems:

Song for a Lady
On the day of breasts and small hips
the window pocked with bad rain,
rain coming on like a minister,
we coupled, so sane and insane.
We lay like spoons while the sinister
rain dropped like flies on our lips
and our glad eyes and our small hips.

“The room is so cold with rain,” you said
and you, feminine you, with your flower
said novenas to my ankles and elbows.
You are a national product and power.
Oh my swan, my drudge, my dear wooly rose,
even a notary would notarize our bed
as you knead me and I rise like bread.

Bread is sexy, dude. And butterbells just plain rock!

Germaine said...

Mmm...bread. I haven't baked bread in ages. So glad your posting again!