Since it is finally cool enough to bake again, I’m trying bread. I used to call up Grandma for bread-baking advice, because she knew how to do everything and would have gotten an A in home ec if she’d ever had to take home ec. In her day, taking care of a half-dozen younger brothers and sisters was what they called home ec. By my generation, school or the Girl Scouts had to show you how to sew and cook potatoes so you wouldn’t grow up naked and starving.
(Incidentally, the only thing she didn’t make from scratch? Angel food cake. I tried to make one from scratch, and it turned out an inch high and smelling like burnt marshmallows. I called her up to cry about it expecting some sympathy and/or instructions, and shelaughed at me. “I always bought a mix.” She wasn’t wrong. Angel food cake is a pain in the ass.)
(But so yummy.)
So, bread. Yes, you can buy it in the store. Yes, you can get the frozen dough and do it that way. But I wanted to take a bunch of stuff lying around in the cupboard and be able to create bread from it all, like an alchemist or an inventor. I wanted to make something all by myself. I wanted to see if I could do it. So about a year ago I started trying to bake bread.
“It isn’t rising,” I’d say to Grandma on the phone.
“How long has it been?”
“Um, about 20 minutes?”
“Be patient. You have to be patient with bread.”
An hour later I’d call back. “Still nothing.”
A moment of silence. “How hot was the water you used for the yeast?”
“Hot. It said warm on the package but it was pretty warm.”
“You killed the yeast,” she said, clucking her tongue at me. I was like the Dexter of yeast, always boiling it or drowning it or suffocating it under a two-tight cover while the dough rose.
Once I got it to rise, after about six tries, I put it in the oven, and it STILL came out looking like the sole of a shoe. “What did I do THIS time?” I asked.
“You didn’t let it rise enough.”
“It was pretty high,” I protested.
She sighed. “Put it in the car and bring it up here and I’ll look at it and tell you.”
I very nearly did. She used to offer that we could steal the nursing home’s oven and she could physically show me how I was messing this up and how to correct my mistakes.
(This is the woman who, when I asked her to teach me to make pie crust, told me she was far too old and shaky to show me so she’d just sit still and instruct while I did the work. I hadn’t even gotten the cover off the flour canister before she was shoving me out of the way because I was already doing it wrong. When I finally did make a decent pie crust at home, I took her a piece of the apple pie I baked and waited for her verdict.
“The crust is good,” she said, “but the apples need more sugar.”)
I inherited a whole box of old recipes from her, in unreadable handwriting, all of which are variations on some horrifying 1950s tuna-casserole dish or things like meatballs fried in lard. My mother and I joke about doing a cooking project, likeJulie and Julia, except that instead of being delicious and teaching us valuable lessons about love, the food will all suck. There’s no recipe for bread in there, but I paged through Fannie Farmer and found one. We had whole wheat flour to get rid of anyway, since I never use it for anything.
I kneaded until my hands hurt, and asked the Internet via the Crack Den comments for advice on rising time. I let it rise patiently, baked it for precisely the prescribed amount of time, and the whole house filled with a nutty sweet smell. I only have one loaf pan so I threw the rest of the dough onto a baking sheet in a “rustic” shape (rustic being what Grandma would call sloppy) and prayed.
It rose. It puffed. It was delicious and perfect. I put butter and salt on it. Heaven.

I just wish I could take her a piece.


11 thoughts on “Rising

  1. You forget – this is the 21st century. We 21st centurians use a bread machine to make bread. Just dump the ingredients in it, turn it on, come back in 3 hours, and you have some great bread. No kneading needed.

  2. still gotta try the new machine. got a no knead recipe.
    oh. yeah. 50’s old recipe books are horrible. tho, i picked up a folkways booklet with ETHNIC recipes and i need to try 2 o the bohemian page. butter onion and beef. could be good.
    it is cookie time.

  3. No recipes?
    Find a used copy of James Beard’sBeard on Bread.
    Almost as good as Grandma. 🙂
    Although it’s kinda heavy on things like soda breads, the basics are there, along with a few frills.
    Funny, almost from the start, I never had trouble making bread, even some of the more exotic stuff. And, you won’t find me fooling around with bread machines. Making bread is a very tactile process. After some practice, you can tell when the dough’s been kneaded properly, even when you’ve been fooling around with the ingredients, when it pushes back under your hand a certain way, has a certain elastic rebound to it. It just takes practice.

  4. Recipes are only going to vary slightly. If you have the right ratios of the basic ingredients, you don’t need the recipe.
    Because the recipe isn’t the important part. It’s the art. it’s the intent and the attention and the trying again and the learning about the tools (ingredients and hardware) you’re using and the practice of just doing it.It’s the person making the bread. Whether it’s your beautiful Grandma or my loud obnoxious father, who was sloppy, made a mess of the kitchen, left it for others to clean up in his wake, but turned out perfect bread and rolls and pastry every time.
    Hoppy, bread machines are to bread as the leaf blower is to rake.

  5. I use the bread recipe that came w/my food processor – NO bread machine!!! It works like a champ. I make the dough in the FP, then let it rise, punch it down, let it rise again and then divvy it up into two pans and bake. I’ll e-mail the recipe to you. It’s DEEEELICIOUS! 🙂

  6. There’s nothing like the smell of baking bread in the oven while eating fresh backed, still warm bread.

  7. I’ve gotten kidding-on-the-square marriage proposals for my cooking, but the one thing I can’t do is bake, so I salute you. Never mind bread, I can’t even get chocolate chip cookies to turn out…

  8. I am sold completely on the bread recipe from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day duo…a bit like that no knead bread from the NYTimes, but you can keep a vat of the dough in the refrigerator to use anytime you want. Lately, I’ve been making Naan bread with my dough…no heating of the oven, it’s done in a cast iron skillet and it’s really done in 5 minutes!
    Here’s the recipe:
    3 Cups warm water
    1 1/2 T yeast
    1 T coarse salt
    1 T sugar
    6 1/2 C unbleached flour
    In a large plastic container (with a lid) put the water and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir like crazy with a wooden spoon. Get all the flour mixed in and then put the lid on and let it sit at room temperature till the dough rises to the top of the container. At this point, you can keep the container in the refrigerator and the dough will last about 2 weeks. It never goes that long here, unless we go out of town or something.
    To make a loaf of bread, you will dust the top of the dough with some flour and with a serrated knife, cut off a piece about the size of a grapefruit. With flour on your hands, roll that into a ball and form it up into a compact ball shape. Put it on some parchment paper with flour on the paper and let it rest at room temperature for at least 45 minutes. Have your oven heating at 500 degrees with a pizza stone in it. When the dough has rested, dust the top with flour and score the top a couple of times with a serrated knife and put in the oven. I cook mine for 20 minutes and then take the parchment paper out and turn the loaf around and then cook for 10 more minutes. Let rest after you take it out of the oven for at least 15 minutes before you cut into it.
    To make the naan bread, you cut off an orange size piece of dough and roll it out flat to where it is the size of your cast iron skillet. (I roll it out on parchment paper with flour) Heat the skillet on medium high for a couple of minutes then add a tablespoon of ghee and put the round of dough in the skillet and cover it. Set a timer for 2 1/2 minutes. Turn the dough over, you may want to add a bit more ghee and you may want to lower the heat to medium, put the lid back on and set the timer for another 2 1/2 minutes. It’s done at that point.
    Man, the flavor of the naan bread with the ghee on it! Holy cow it is good.

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