one loaf at a time: life lessons learned from bread

scottish morning rolls

scottish morning rolls

lardy cake

lardy cake

my 2014 new years resolution …….. to work my way through the Bread Bible by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter.  to do this i was going to bake one loaf per week.  Why? at the time I’d have said simply to teach myself how to bake but over the last year I’ve come up with a better answer …… its a control thing.  let’s face it all cooks, chefs, gourmets have control issues when in their kitchens, aka “there’s too many cooks in the kitchen.”  good cooks feel they have control over all aspects of their food, thus is why baking can be so terrifying.  yeast, humidity, flours, egg temps ……. a thousand and one variables that can be uncontrollable effecting your baking process, determining success or catastrophe.  my plan to make baking my bitch.  i figured great bakers must know how to get some element of control over these sometimes wild and crazy baking variables and by god i was going to spend a year figuring it out.

harvest festival sheaf

harvest festival sheaf

so 45 loaves of bread later i have come to realize i’ve learned a lot from baking bread but it wasn’t necessarily what i thought i’d learn.  i could tell you how salt controls yeast or about the trick of spraying your oven with water but you can find that out just by reading a recipe.  instead here is how i found what i am calling the Zen of Bread…………….

lesson #1:  Patience

the section on french breads taught me the true meaning of Patience.  have you ever looked up the definition of patience?  i mean we all know its “a virtue” but the true definition?  patience is defined as  ……….. “endurance without complaint.”  the best things in life often don’t come easily, if you whine, complain, fuss, of course by the end you won’t enjoy it.  look at croissants.  croissants take ALL DAY to make them, from chilling dough multiple times, to pounding butter into submission to rolling dough till you run out of counter space.  BUT in the end you get a FUCKING CROISSANT, that you can top with nutella and drink wine with.  “endurance without complaint”  this should be the motto of the French.  by knowing you are about to go all in and give it all its worth, the end results mean nothing but beauty, joy, bliss, life …….endurance without complaint.

pain polka

pain polka

epi

epi

lesson #2:   Don’t Bake Angry

if you bake angry nothing will come out right.  dough won’t rise, bread won’t bake, eggs won’t whip, it’ll fail making the experience ever more horrible.  if you aren’t feeling it don’t even enter that kitchen.  it’ll be a disaster, it won’t taste good and no one will be happy ……… eat out! don’t put yourself through it.

how does “don’t bake angry” translate into the broader everyday?   easily …….. don’t do things you don’t want to do. this i’ve come to realize is a big key to living a full and happy life.  now of course this isn’t some sort of free for all but if you are constantly placing yourself in elements that you don’t enjoy you my friend are “baking angry.”  when you start doing things you enjoy for yourself you’ll surround yourself with a positive atmosphere, thus you’ll be “baking happy.” bread will brown, dough will rise, eggs will beat, you’ll have a damn good loaf of bread.

rustic olive bread

rustic olive bread

lesson #3:   Never Eat Your Bread, Always Give It Away

pane toscano

pane toscano

i’d say i give roughly 95% of the breads i bake away.  there are so many reasons why giving bread away is a good idea.  one it’ll prevent you from getting fat.  another is by the time you reach loaf 20 you are pretty tired of bread anyways.  BUT  the most important reason is …….. bread makes people happy.  i love that i’ve become the “bread fairy.”  when i hand over a loaf of bread i’ve handed over a small loaf of happiness.  they are happy because; someone thought of them, they get free food and now they probably have been inspired to do some at home meal planning.  I’m happy because i made someone smile, i’ve unloaded another loaf of bread out of my kitchen meaning i can bake another, and i get to hear about all the wonderful cooking my loaf inspired ………….. “we made triple decker sandwiches” , “he cooked french toast for me” , “i took it to a soup potluck”  giving bread away is a way to unselfishly bestow love, appreciation, and happiness on my nearest and dearest.

12th night bread

12th night bread

cheese and onion bread

cheese and onion bread

lesson #4:  Some Things in Life Need to Rise a Second Time

why do we give breads a 2nd rise?  anyone?  anyone?  by allowing a bread to rise twice you’ll end up with a loaf of bread that is lighter, fluffier, and many times richer in flavors.  love is something i have come to realize is one of those things in life that takes more than one time to rise.

when dough rises the first time, it can be crazy fast.  dough can sometimes triple in size, it bubbles, and grows taking on the size of the container it is in but if you don’t knock it back in time it’ll fall and your bread won’t bake. by knocking the dough down and giving it a second rise your making your bread more refined. you can shape it, add spices and seasonings, candied fruits, cheeses or even coins to the dough.  to me love has become the same process ……… mix in a bit of patience, surrounding yourself with happiness, and then giving it all away unconditionally and you might perhaps end up with something that could be a perfectly baked loaf of bread.

pan gallego

pan gallego

shaped dinner rolls

shaped dinner rolls

lastly …………..

lesson #5: If You Want to Do Something Well, Do It All the Time

i can’t tell you how excited i get when people tell me my breads inspire them in their own pursuits.  my advice, whether its bread or meatballs or cupcakes or painting or needlepoint or speaking german, if you want to do it and do it well  you have to do it at least once a week.  unfortunately that age-old saying “practice makes perfect” is too damn true.  if you want to be able to do something then you need to start doing it.  face it too many of us live life in the state of “what if” instead you need to start asking the question “why not”

mallorcan ensaimadas

mallorcan ensaimadas

irish soda bread

irish soda bread

now since January 2014 the grand total of breads i’ve baked is up to 51.  how many more to go ?????? 41  all in all it’ll take me around 2 years to bake my way through the Bread Bible.  maybe i’ll learn a few more life lessons as i go, but no matter what,  the Zen of Bread has become one of the greatest processes i’ve gone through.  what’ll happen when i get to my last loaf?  who knows.  i am certain that with each new culinary adventure i go on i’ll learn a new skill and possibly a little bit more about myself.  perhaps 2016 i’ll see what the italians have to teach.  the Pasta Bible is sitting on the shelf, seeming to whisper ……….. Ciao Bella!

portuguese cornbread

portuguese cornbread

welsh clay pot loaf

welsh clay pot loaf

 

split tin loaf

split tin loaf

fougasse

fougasse

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2 thoughts on “one loaf at a time: life lessons learned from bread

  1. Alex says:

    So, I decide I want to bake bread. I cook, don’t bake, but why not? French bread. It’s not too bad. Inspired, I buy “The Best Book of Bread” by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shafter. I make the decision to bake my way through the entire book, starting with an English Granary Cob. It’s awful. So a week later I turn to the Internet to determine whether it was me or the bread and I find THIS blog…and a post where you tell almost the exact same story. And the way you tell it, I love! Now I’ve got some archive reading to do.

    • with french baking it all basically comes from baguette dough starters, each loaf is a tad time consuming but usually worth it. if you are new to baking i’d start with real basic bread recipe so you can get a feel for yeast, kneading, and rising, the 3 essentials. once you have a handle on those feel bold and go for baking some french bread!

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