“All sorrows are less with bread. ”
-Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (I am totally on the same page with Miguel here… although I might be slightly picky/snobbish/discretionary about my bread these days.)
I have decided that one of my skills to develop this year will be bread making. Mostly, because I can hardly imagine a better pleasure than to be a master of bread making, to be able to confidently knead a lump of dough into perfection, to be rewarded with the luxury of a quality loaf whenever the fancy strikes.
I’m not sure what my first experience with bread making was, but I believe it might have been with my Oncle Willie, my grandfather’s older brother and the local baker in the small Swiss town of our origin. He had developed a top secret family recipe for making zopf, a fluffy, buttery, rich white braided bread traditional to Sunday morning breakfasts. Oncle Willie was insistent that the proper way to indulge was with a thick slathering of butter and perhaps some jam on top. One summer morning while staying with Oncle Willie, he taught us the art of zopf. Gathered around the table in their sunny kitchen, looking out across the backyard garden and green fields beyond, he led us through the various stages of mixing the dough and kneading it.
The reward for correctly braiding the two-stranded bread on the first try would be one franc. Neither my sister or I were able to, but he still gave us our reward anyways. Although the true reward was enjoying the fruits of our labor after the bread had completed its rises and time in the oven.
Over the following years, I continued to make zopf from time to time for traditional Sunday morning breakfasts. Eventually, I had worked up enough skill to have a dependable outcome, but the first several tries were shots in the dark with varied results. This was one of those recipes where you heat the milk until “it feels this hot” and knead until “it feels like this”. In any case, it was the beginning of a new hobby, and I have since branched out to a variety of breads, rolls, bagels, flat breads, etc.
I am now curious to know more of the science behind the bread. How the ingredients interact in different ways, how the gluten develops, how to troubleshoot on my own, and how to manipulate recipes and create my own.
My most recent endeavors to understanding bread making have involved whole wheat challah, pita bread, and a whole wheat no-knead sandwich bread. (As much as I love kneading bread, I want to have a reliable no-knead option in my repertoire.)
The challah was by far the most experimental of the three. I want to work on it some more, and I’ll post about it once I’ve perfected it. Don’t worry about having to wait for too long though–it is already pretty darn good. Absolutely the most pillow-y bread I have ever eaten. Ever. So good. I don’t have any pictures of my loaf but it was based off this recipe, minus the blackberries, so you can use your imaginations.