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To make good bread at home, be prepared to get dirty and have fun.
Home-made whole wheat loaves
Recently, thanks to an inspirational evening with Marco Ropke (from the new Pastry Training Centre of Vancouver) and an equally inspirational visit with Heather Campbell on Salt Spring Island, I’ve once again tried my hand again at baking bread.
In the past my bread efforts have been “solid”, with a thick biscuit-like crust. I’d already attributed this to the fact that I didn’t have a wood-fire oven or fresh yeast, but both Marco and Heather commented that one of the most common mistakes among home bread makers (e.g., you and me) is that they add too much flour, resulting in a hard, biscuity dough.
Once I’d seen the consistency of Chef Ropke’s dough I knew that this was my problem (or at least one of them). To begin with, the dough is almost a thick paste – it sticks to everything. But slowly, as you knead it, the bonds start to form and eventually the surface becomes smooth and springy.
Since my epiphany I have eschewed our bread-making machine, and ignored my kitchen aid’s pleas to be allowed to knead the dough for me. With the wetter dough, the kneading process is much more enjoyable. The dough feels alive (which it is thanks to the yeast) and it bounces and stretches and schlurps as I roll it around the counter. .
My second epiphany was that bread making isn’t as time intensive as I’d always believed. True It’s a while from start to finish, but most of that is inactive time. The active time to measure out the ingredients and knead the dough is fairly minimal. In fact, in terms of “active” time, it probably takes more to walk to the baker’s and buy that it does to do it myself.
And because I’m a word nerd here’s a little bonus for you: The words “lord” and “lady” come from the Old English words for “loaf keeper” (hláfweard) and “loaf kneader” (hláfdige). Goes to show the vital role that bread played in communities pre-wonderbread.