Tuesday, January 28, 2014

B is for Baking Bread

Photograph by Amber Doty
Ah, the smell of fresh-baked bread.  Is there any other smell so representative of a well-kept home, a cared-for family?  For me, the baking of bread is a transformative, magical process - one I hardly understand but am constantly amazed by.

I grew up in a busy family, where no one had time to make fancy dinners or wait for bread to rise.  Dinner usually came from the microwave, traditionally frozen peas or corn paired with chicken nuggets.  Every once in a while we got corned beef and cabbage from the crockpot, and it was always a treat!  Bread came in a little bag from the overstock store, usually a day or two from expiring, always in the exact same shape.

I grew up around farm people and talk, but was raised in the town, where there were no cows or sheep or connection to the things I ate.  I walked the corn rows de-tasseling for a few summers in my youth, amazed at the huge fields that stretched on for what seemed like forever, but we never took the corn home to eat - this was feed corn, meant for the cattle I never spent much time with.  I grew up completely unaware of how to cook anything, and totally oblivious to the magic that so much of our food undergoes before it becomes the food we recognize.

So this was the person my husband moved in with a few days before our first daughter was to be born - my husband whose mother makes her own yoghurt, cooks her own roti, who I once watched slaughter and cook a rabbit in her garage.  Needless to say, he was disappointed, and I was terribly confused.  In the wake of this stunning clash of worlds, he and I both worked a lot on our cooking skills, and we've come a long way since.  But where I came from and what I grew up with makes me intensely appreciative of the magic that happens in the kitchen.

Simple bread made from five ingredients, changes from a fluffy powder (which ultimately comes from the wheat plant) into a malleable dough, into a wonderful loaf that's often twice the size of the dough itself.  Using yeast, a living organism, to transform this simple-yet-so-complex food from its origins into something completely unrecognizable is truly a magical act.  As a mother of three, I've also made some concessions to busyness - these days, most of my bread comes from the bread machine.  But it is still homemade, far healthier than bread bought at the store, and my children are growing up with the kitchen magic that my ancestors discovered ages ago.

My current favorite recipe comes from my Cuisinart bread machine's instruction booklet, modified somewhat by what I've found to work best for me.  It isn't really an everyday bread for us, but coupled with some pasta or marinara sauce, it's wonderful.

Rosemary Bread for a Bread Machine
1 1/2 lb Loaf
Place wet ingredients in bread pan first, followed by dry ingredients.
1 cup water
3 tbs olive oil
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

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