Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The joy of bread

I credit my passion for homemade bread to my Aunt Pauline. My father's sister, she and her family of 6 children and a husband, made the trip from Pennsylvania to Texas while I was in high school. My mother was not particularly pleased with all the extra people, never mind for how short a time.She was really upset when Aunt Pauline, not content with the very white bread Mother had from the store, proceeded to fill every bowl in the kitchen with rising dough.

I was in heaven.

Not that my early attempts to duplicate the process were successful. My sister and I broke the family thermometer using it to gauge the temperature of the water before adding yeast. This didn't endear us to Mother either. Subsequently, my first married Christmas I tried to make stollen and must have killed the yeast because the loaves, no matter how long we cooked them, never rose over an inch in height. These were dark days for my bread-baking ventures and it's a wonder I ever kept after it.

But the memory of all that yeast and all that bread from Aunt Pauline kept at me. Eventually, I got the proper tools and tried again. Then, flush with success--I didn't buy bread for two years but made my own religiously--I fell once more. My loaves were heavy... or fell in on themselves... on never rose.

I traced that problem to bulk yeast, or rather, my mis-measurement of it. A packet of yeast, the common denominator in recipes, is 2 1/2 teaspoons, not 3 which I had been cavalierly using. This minor adjustment saved my bread-baking career.

Along came bread flour, a special formulation developed in the 1980s for home use. I learned to tinker every recipe to the method of adding the yeast to the flour and using hotter liquid, rather than proofing the yeast. What a time waster!

I narrowed down my favorite recipes to two: one made with shredded wheat biscuits and molasses (or honey) and one with a buttermilk base. They both make three loaves: one to eat, one to freeze, one to give away.

But my bread-making has slowed considerably. Today, I buy bread and then freeze half because we can't eat it fast enough. But then I found Whole Foods' Seeduction.

Indescribable, and that's no small praise from someone who's made as many loaves as I have. I searched for recipes on line and at best, found one. I've not made it because it takes too many strange ingredients (millet flour, anyone?) that I'll probably have to go to Whole Foods to get the ingredients and by that time I should just fork out the $3.99 and get the real thing.

Really. And that's some recommendation from a bread-baker.

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