Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Simple and Complicated Life of Bread: Part I

When I tell people we make our own bread they usually respond with, “Do you have a bread machine?” (that’s if their first response isn’t “You can make bread?”). Depending on my level of snarkiness that day, my usual response is: No, I have a husband. Now, I know that not all husbands make bread, but I’m pretty sure all wives would be jazzed if their husbands did. To clarify, when I say we make our own bread, that truly means my husband, Andy, makes our bread. Despite the fact that Andy prefers to be the sole bread-maker, bread making has changed both our lives. Bread may have simple ingredients, but bring fresh loaves into your life and you may get complicated (and delicious!) results.

You may start with bread, but you'll end up making pizza dough...

Andy’s bread making began with the convergence of two books; Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and the larger-than-convenient Country Wisdom and Know-How. In Defense of Food provided the “why” of making your own bread, and Country Wisdom and Know-How presented the “how.” Andy and I both began reading labels more often at the grocery store, trying to purchase foods with the smallest ingredient list possible. We did really good at picking better foods and it was shocking to read about all the “food” we didn’t realize we were eating. One trouble spot was bread. The only bread I found with a short ingredient list cost $5 and wasn’t practical for a recent grad.

... or even spinach spaghetti!

Commercially made breads have ridiculously long ingredient lists, all to make one of the world’s most basic foods softer, whiter and sweeter. From Country Wisdom and Know-How we learned that bread is really simple (in addition to learning about how to build a rabbit hutch and weave baskets). It’s made of four basic ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. Andy wanted to make bread that would be inexpensive yet more nutritious than anything we could buy, so he set to work.

Andy is a tinkerer at heart and bread is an infinitely tinkerable food. This is a hobby that was destined to last. Since he started making bread he owned it. Bread is his territory, and I can be invited in, but it’s not my business. Though I am all about the taste testing. We began to buy bread less and less and with Andy’s first few loaves we realized that bread has taste, good taste, it’s not just a stale encasing for sandwich bits.

Not all bread needs to be loaf shaped, it can be braided, pretzled, or just smushed into an oblong form

To be honest, there were some bad aspects of the early breads. As with any new activity, things are not always going to turn out perfectly. A lot of my early sandwiches were held together by mustard and cheese slices, the bread was too crumbly. It took practice, patience and time. The bread was so delicious that I was fine picking it up in pieces from off the table to eat, instead of in the “traditional” slice form. We stopped buying bread altogether and would run into troubles when Andy was on bread making hiatus, we learned to live without.

Our revolutionary mixer and a honey whole wheat loaf resting.

One of the biggest breakthroughs with the bread came when we got married. A wedding gift from his parents was a KitchenAid mixer and it revolutionized our bread options. We had a garage sale bread maker at one point, but the loaves turned out large and cube-like and really didn’t improve the process that much. The mixer on the other hand was a fantastic addition. Recipes from Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise were put into rotation and delicious honey whole wheat and focaccia loaves made their way into our lives. We were eating better than ever and quite content. Andy tinkered with abandon on his recipes and I lunched on sandwiches that stayed together.

An option for a focaccia lunch, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, with dipping sauce, and of course beer.

Believe it or not there’s more to our bread lives! I’ll let you know all about the glories of stone ground flour and mayhaps share a recipe. Because it just wouldn’t be fair to talk about all this delicious food without sharing.

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