I learnt to bake bread in self defense. That happened thirty some years ago when I was a green arrival to the frozen vastness of North Dakota. At first, the perishingly cold winter nearly did me in. Food tasted flat and unappetising to my Latin American taste buds came close to finishing the job. Most of all, I missed the crisp, warm baguette bakers delivered twice a day to my Brazilian home. In North Dakota, the pale, unnapetising loaves I bought at the supermarket had a mouth feel of ancient papier mache.
There was good bread in North Dakota all right. It was baked at home by people whose Scandinavian culinary history was rich, if utterly foreign to me. The Norwegian families I knew baked thin pancake like lefse similar to a tortilla, but made with flour and potatoes rather than masa harina. They baked rye and whole wheat bread, delicate pastries, delectable cookies richly flavored cakes and pies. A friend who had perfected her culinary skills at the kitchen of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, took pity on me. Under her tutelage I progressed from basic English muffin bread, to hamburger to bagels, golden braided Challah. I found a little health food store that carried a large variety of grain and flour with lecithin thrown in as a better for you baked goods preservative. I have been baking bread ever since.
Throughout my bread baking career I had two memorable disasters. The first was when I added so much salt to the dough–I am incapable of talking and mixing dough simultaneously–that the bread ended up tasting like a pretzel. The latest disaster happened yesterday when I prepared a a double batch of honey one bread minus the yeast. Actually, yesterday disaster was averted by a little risk taking. Once I realised that the dough had not risen, I decided that adding the yeast at that stage might just work. If it didn’t, I’d have to settle for matzos.
I dissolved the yeast without using a thermometer–another example of risky behavior in the kitchen–and kneaded it into the load. It worked. I got the four beautiful loaves pictured above. One of them I will share with friends with whom I am having lunch tomorrow. It is my belief that baking bread is good, but breaking bread with friends is better.