Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bread, it calls me...

It's been awhile since I've expanded my bread making abilities. I don't really feel stagnant in making the same bread most of the time, since my bread is reliable and durable, it makes good toast, french toast, and is stellar on the baking day. Leftovers not gone at the end of a week become powdery bread crumbs, to make cakes like I recently told you about, or are included in other things. I have to say that I am proud of my bread, and the year that it took me to get to what I considered to be the best I could produce at home and on my own.

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Several weeks ago now, I gave some starter to sL, and he asked me all kinds of questions which I bled out profusely onto a sheet of notebook paper before realizing that I had written a post all about it. In him, I saw everything that I loved about bread and life in general - that twinkle that comes when something profound is realized and undertaken. Talking briefly that day with him about bread made me feel all that more "honeymoonish" about my own bread making journey, and I could tell that my starter fell on a common soul who was not going to easily tire of experimentation.

Giving out starter is a unique feeling. It is not unlike sending my kid to Kindergarten and hoping that he behaves and is well liked, that he is all of the things a parent hopes for as he takes that first step out of the kitchen and into the real world. I gave some to another new acquaintance in January, a girl who was like minded and on her own journey of real food experimentation. She is mathematical in her approach to research, and she's lucky since her husband is equally curious about wild bread. He balances her calculated research with gonzo throw-it-togetherness. I can't wait to see what is new with her - and hopefully we'll meet again soon to discuss.

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Tartine dough.

Maybe a week or so ago, sL sent me a Vimeo link to Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread, another bread book that I was aware of, but dismissed before ever having looked at it. I watched it before bed one night, and I swear I dreamed of it, specifically of Chad's hands swiftly forming wet dough, criss-crossing himself rhythmically to zip it up into a well made package. I rewound that part and watched it 3 times. The next day, I put in a library hold on Tartine Bread, which I picked up on Monday - and now I've read about another man's journey to find what he does best in life, what makes him happiest and fulfilled.

bench rest, before

Questions plague me, now that I'm heading, faster all the time it seems, towards middle age. I can't run off to France and apprentice in bread. I can't live on 5 hours of sleep a day for as long as I used to, and I have family commitments that prevent my daydreams from popping up into reality. Or do I just not want it bad enough? Am I not motivated enough? The seeds of self-doubt are heavy at times, especially when all the work I've done for the past 6 years shows no monetary gain, no concrete "investment for the future" - save perhaps the instillation of good, slow food on my 5 year old son.

bench rest, after
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final shaping.

I know I could be quite happy as a baker. Bakers spend a lot of time alone, they work odd hours and are obsessive, exacting and practical - all things that suit me well. The thought of baking everyday is kind of scary though, could I manage buckets of dough nearly alone - how and where would I learn the secrets of ovens - and could/can I build my own this summer in my yard and maybe at least have a neighborhood bartering tool. I am serious about the bread oven. (Check out these pictures one of my flickr contacts built in Madison: an inexpensive to make, mass heat oven, that if I can manage it, I will build in my backyard this year.)

As I tend to dream without acting, my bread oven may or may not be built. As I have increasing worries over my lack of income, I may or may not actually look into getting an odd-hour job preferably baking the way I like to bake. Since I dream big, I dream that the State of Wisconsin would just certify my clean kitchen and let me sell out of my house so I could combine two of my deep joys: baking and home.

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When I read about the journeys of others, I know that no two journeys can be the same. My bread will never be like anyone else's, and that is the thumbprint of the Maker that I appreciate the most. Now that I move on into high-hydration bread territory, I know my learning curve is steep - I expect I'll fail quite a few times. This first loaf, made as directed in Tartine Bread was quite good however. It was a huge bread that spread out more than I thought when I thought I'd improvise a iron dutch oven lid over a baking stone. When the bread hit the stone, it grew too fat around to fit the oven over the top, and so I didn't have the steam-crackled crust I was after. The interior was maybe just a little wetter than I liked, but the flavor was really good, especially with a spoon of limey rum cherry preserves over the top... It wasn't a failure, but I'm looking forward to round two.

I cut the loaf in half so I could give some away - hoping for my next installment of wet-dough baking sooner than next week. A passage of Chad Robertson's book already stuck in my head as he described his test bakers as having "gone rogue" after a short amount of time, tweaking his initial instruction until the bread was their own. I'm sure that will happen to me as well, maybe in the fashion that the rest of my life has already taken. Maybe I have been rogue by being responsible and respectful, by doing what I thought I should do instead of taking more risks. But in a way, I don't think I'd ever have discovered my great and profound love of bread had I not stayed home these past years. I have not given up on trying to figure it out, so that qualifies me as someone who follows through on daydreams. I would not have had such a calling when I was younger, I did not want to be anywhere near a kitchen when I was 20.

And really, who knows where I'll end up with this love of bread. Shoveling smaller loaves into and out of my backyard oven? Baking at midnight for a little cafe somewhere? For now, my time is mine and I do what work that seems practical and rewarding to me. That puts fresh bread on my table, and words in my heart.



  1. Heh Rebecca,

    I read this beautiful post while eating schiacciatta dipped in fresh press Tuscan olive oil. So grateful to read about your struggle, which is very relateable to many of us who follow our passion, instead of our wallets. Bread is a great analogy for life (see Jesus, et al), your reflections here are quite beautiful. Rising (and raising) takes time, keep the faith. It will happen. I will think on it some more as I tear off another piece of focaccia.

    Ps. Have you tried Naomi Duguid's recipe for Dom's Boule in Home Baking? A favorite of mine.

    1. Thanks, Ivy. I'll check out Naomi - I haven't heard of that one...

      I think the most frustrating thing for me is that I now know what I want to do, kind of - I mean, it's lots of things, but when I was younger and had every opportunity, I had no idea. One of the best things about Chad's book is that he is doing exactly what he wants. I'm sure he's doing ok money-wise while doing it, but more importantly, he's living/working with what makes him most happy. That's all I want :)

  2. Love your analogy of the sourdough starter and sending your son to kindergarten! If you need a hand building an oven this summer, let me know. I know nothing about it, but have always wanted to learn and do it at our place.

    1. I've got to read the book first and "assess the situation", but I may totally take you up on it! Stay tuned...

  3. I loved reading this post since I, too, just went down the Tartine path. Actually, I bought the book last year (about 5 minutes after watching that video!) but didn't get around to trying it until this year. The funny thing is that I am a professional baker who dreams of getting out of the food business and staying at home to make food just for me and my family. ;-) Food has always been my passion and I am grateful for all I've learned but at the end of the day, it's really hard work and doesn't leave you inspired to make dinner you know? I dream of an oven like that in the backyard too. Maybe we should trade help and at the end we'd all have one??

    1. It's such a good thing I've entered high-hydration territory, since yesterday my stand mixer died again. I'm hoping my dad can fix it, but meanwhile, I'm more committed to working with wet dough. I'd love to trade out work, I'll get my library hold on the book soon - and maybe we'll be in touch? It's also too bad that we can't "trade lives" once in a while, I'd love to go to work where you do for a little while :)


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