Raindrops on roses and yeast in my kitchen

Let’s just pretend that it hasn’t been six months since I last posted.

Indeed I’m alive, and still cooking.  I’ve been feeling badly, though, about not doing something else that I truly enjoy-–writing.  Even if it is about nothing and nobody reads it. It’s therapeutic in the same way as baking bread, although the latter often feels so much more rewarding and makes your house smell better.

In the time since my last post, we’ve moved, hopefully for the last time in a long time.  We closed on the purchase of our (first!) house in late November, and what ensued was a whirlwind of travel for my husband, his return home to a major furnace project which left us without heat for a month, the holidays, and an endless slew of house projects that force us to make good use of our daughter’s college fund.

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…she knows…

It’s not that nobody warned us.

But hey, it’s the price you pay to live within the city limits, where most homes were built between the 20s and 40s.  I suppose it’s worth it, to both of us…as I love nostalgic spaces and my husband loves (and is proving to be quite good at) fixing things. He was hiding all of that ruddy talent underneath the moniker of a city-dwelling renter.  Now I wonder if he may have missed his first calling.

Our little darling turned two recently, and she is pretty much the apple of my eye.  She’s a chattery one with a very impish sense of humor. She now often tests my authority (and patience) all with a sly grin on her face.  She also sings her abc’s (skipping a letter, or five or ten but NEVER the last part) and impersonates opera …which usually means she shakes her head back and forth while singing an extended note quite austerely. Ah, does this music nerd’s heart good.

And now that I’ve caught you up on life’s major milestones, let’s get back to the good stuff.

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I think you know what I’m talking about.

Gluten-y, yeasty, lacy bread. I’ve been baking a fair amount of bread over the past year, starting last winter when the smell of it baking in my kitchen was the only thing standing between me and the insanity brought on by the endlessly dark and wet days of a Pacific Northwest winter.

There are few tasks in life which are more rewarding, calming, humble, and simple.  Homemade bread is therapeutic–both in its creation and consumption.

As a society, we seem to be quite intimidated by this task.  Something about yeast and the possibility of killing it scares people away.  Or the immense amount of fermentation time that loaves require just doesn’t fit into most people’s schedules.  There have been plenty of shortcut recipes to remedy this situation and promise to make even the most unskilled baker an “artisan” baker. Then there are the purists who swear that obtaining quality bread can be nothing short of a two-day process.

I fall somewhere in the middle.

There are those days when I want to knead dough; when I want the activity of baking bread to be time consuming. I want to hold that dough in my hands and throw it on the counter for a good 10 minutes.  I want to smell the yeast and feel the flour and water transform into an elastic ball, soft and supple.  In shaping that loaf I’m caught in a “pocket of unhurried time” (as my friend calls it), and as I’m doing that humble and age-old task my mind finds the room to think, to breathe, to transcend to a place where it can once again contemplate loftier things.

Sometimes bread baking should indeed take more than 5 minutes a day.

But then there are the days when I just didn’t plan ahead.  And yet I am desperate for the scent of a fresh-baked loaf wafting through my kitchen. I cannot forget that I am, after all, an American and therefore cannot completely evade my need for instant gratification. And guess what! There are a few bread recipes out there that yield some pretty great results in a considerably short amount of time.

So today I decided to post a few of my current favorites — on both sides of the spectrum. However you go about it, just get thee some bread in the oven. Your therapist will thank you.

“No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread.”– M.F.K. Fisher

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Bread for Contemplation (Plan a bit ahead)

1) Peter Reinhart’s Classic French Bread – Peter Reinhart is considered America’s bread baking guru.  His passion for the craft is contagious and accessible.  This bread needs to be prepped the night before, but yields an easy-to-handle dough and lovely baguettes or boules.

2) American Sandwich Bread from America’s Test Kitchen – this was the first bread I ever attempted to bake; my recipe came from The New Best Recipe Cookbook, but I’m linking to Brown-Eyed Baker’s copy of the same recipe – it’s marvelous and bit more rich and soft with the addition of milk and butter. The dough can be kneaded by hand or in a Kitchen Aid. And you don’t need instant yeast if you don’t have it on hand.  Just add 25% more of regular yeast and you’ll be good to go.

Busy Day Bread

1) Jason’s Quick Coccodrillo Ciabatta Bread – Magic! I found this recipe on the bread-baking forum The Fresh Loaf, and while it takes just as much prep time as the sandwich bread recipe above, it takes considerably less time than other ciabatta recipes which usually require a two-day ferment. So far, this has yielded the best bread that I’ve ever made. The crumb is chewy, delicate, lacy, perfection. The crust is just as it should be. It’s a messy business because it’s such a wet dough, but it will all turn out great in the end. Trust me!

2) 40 Minute Hamburger Buns –  I desperately turned to this recipe last night because I really wanted pulled bbq chicken sandwiches but had no buns, and I only had an hour.  I thought they would be lame, but I was wrong.  They were great.  If I had more time, I would make traditional buns, but on a busy day, these can be definitely be trusted. I swapped out some of the white flour for whole wheat, and they were still soft and moist!

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