Sunday, March 09, 2008

Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone

One of the pleasures I've taken in my recent foray into the world of contra dancing -- aside from the sheer joy of dancing, of course -- is meeting new people who are quickly developing an appreciation for my cooking skills.

As you've probably gathered, I'm a sucker for flattery regarding my cooking. Drool, moan, or swoon over my home-baked treats, and you're likely to get more the next time I come out of the kitchen with a pan full of sweetness. And when such flattery combines with a request for a recipe or a lesson in how to make one of my recipes, I am more than happy to oblige you, my friends.

Enter, then, the Renaissance Man. One of my favorite dance partners for his steady and surefooted ways, he's a man of many talents: an avid amateur astronomer and naturalist, an architect and artist, a sailor, a dashing fencer, an enthralling storyteller, and a generally amusing companion.

What he does not claim to be, however, is a cook. So when he asked me to teach him to bake bread, I readily agreed.

Since the snow piled up as we headed into the weekend, this seemed an ideal time to fire up the oven and bake something hearty and filling, so I pulled out my recipe for rosemary-walnut-cider bread and invited him over for Lesson #1.

I knew he would appreciate a recipe that incorporated several local ingredients: cider from the freezer, whole wheat flour from the local grist mill, along with dried rosemary, non-fat dried milk, butter, and egg and milk for the glaze. After all, he's as big a fan of the local farmers' market as I am!

Once we had mixed the dough and given it a good knead (something he approached with the same methodical accuracy he applies to dance steps and blueprints), we let the dough rise before shaping it into two loaves. He obviously has a knack for it -- even I can't tell which loaf is mine and which is his!

With a quick glaze and a few slashes across the top, the loaves were ready for the oven in due course, and after 35 minutes of baking, we had wonderfully fragrant and hearty loaves just waiting for us.

We tucked into a few warm slices right away, slathering them with good local butter and a drizzle of local honey, but we saved enough of the first loaf for dinner.

When I envisioned making this bread this weekend, I thought of the perfect combination: good local Cheddar cheese on this bread for grilled cheese sandwiches, dipped into homemade tomato soup made from my jars of tomato sauce. So once we were ready for supper, I pulled all the ingredients together and whipped up a comforting and filling meal for a still-chilly winter's evening.

It's proof positive that man (and woman) cannot live by bread alone.

But with really good homemade bread, you might not need much else!


At 3/11/2008 9:11 AM, Blogger valereee said...

I wish you could teach me to make bread! EVERY effort results in the same issue: a very dense loaf with very little rise. I have tried various methods, various yeasts, you name it. They always taste good, and they're good sliced thin and toasted, but as far as approaching anything you could find in an artisanal bakery, nada.

At 3/11/2008 10:01 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

To tell the truth, valereee, my whole grain breads do tend to be more dense, possibly because I don't knead them enough... but like you, I do appreciate the taste. Some of my old standby recipes, though, are much more reliable for rising... just not really artisan-style.

Have you heard of the new book Artisan Bread in 15 Minutes a Day (or something like that)? I heard a piece on it in some food podcast, and I have yet to track it down, but that might be a good place to look for good recipes. I know other folks also recommend the bread book from the lady who owns La Brea Bakery (can't remember the title offhand; if some Dear Reader knows it, please chime in!).

At 3/11/2008 11:18 AM, Blogger valereee said...

Baklava Queen, it's Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Got it. :D I've used it, and the bread is not any better than the stuff I knead...BUT it's also no worse! I've found that when I make -rolls- from their recipes, I do get a better rise. The rolls are still dense but get a better rise and have bigger air pockets and are excellent for dinner rolls or for sandwich rolls.

At 3/11/2008 1:16 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Hmmm, that's interesting! Guess I've not really come across that before, but I'm glad to know the rolls work better. (My mother would probably chastise me for not knowing that... I'm sure she taught me, but I've forgotten a lot over the years.)

I know poor rising can come from a number of things, like old yeast or a cool rising environment and so on, but it's good to know that smaller shapes might help. Thanks for sharing, valereee... I'll bear that in mind for future bread baking.

At 3/12/2008 6:09 AM, Blogger valereee said...

Yeah, I've been letting it rise in my hearth room, which is really toasty warm. I've tried various yeasts. Tried mixing the salt with the flour instead of into the water. Tried adding a teaspoon of sugar to the water with the yeast. Tried instant yeast. Tried longer kneading, shorter kneading, machine kneading. Nothing seems to help. I think I must be making some fundamental mistake due to never having actually been taught hands-on by a competent bread baker -- all my breadbaking knowledge comes from reading about it or watching videos, and there's just no substitute for a Grandma standing over your shoulder saying, "There. That's the texture you're looking for."

At 3/12/2008 7:23 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Wow, you've really worked through this methodically. I'm impressed! The only trouble with having someone show you how the dough is supposed to feel when it's "right" is that different recipes (esp. between regular flour and others) have their differences in texture. Frustrating!

At 3/17/2008 2:17 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

that looks scrumptious...and homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese on homemade bread is one of my all time favorite suppers. delish!

At 3/17/2008 3:49 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

And if it doesn't warm up around here soon, Kelly, I might have to make it again! I get hungry all over again looking at that photo... :-)


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