The Bread of Life (aka: The Joy of Baking Bread)

So here I was, baking fresh sweet rolls to go with dinner, and totally thinking about writing something profound and creative about the way yeast causes bread dough to rise could be a metaphor for life. But instead, I was overwhelmed with hunger pangs as the smell of baking bread began to drift throughout the house. So if this post is a little lacking in depth, well, blame it on the bread. πŸ˜‰

Bad Bad Baking Bread

Okay, I’ll admit it. I cheat. I’m a big cheatery-cheater-head. I use a bread machine.

I know — shocking. Right about now, all the purists out there are judging me, because surely homemade food should be prepared without relying on modern aids and shortcuts. Well, I don’t care. My trusty bread machine has been faithfully helping my dough to rise since 1997, and I am not ashamed.

Baking Bread

I adore baking bread. Hot, buttery rolls; flaky croissants, and crusty French baguettes. Challah bread beside a bowl of winter stew, and sweet, spicy Finnish Pulla bread with Christmas dinner every year. I can think of no baked item quite as special as fresh, home-baked bread. Now you can talk science all you want, but to me, there is something almost magical about the process, and the way a plain, gooey blob of dough undergoes a metamorphosis, growing, rising, and changing during each step.

Christmas bread

After I have punched, pushed, and twisted the dough into submission, it at last goes into the oven to bake. And then comes my favorite part — the aroma. That delicious, mouth-watering aroma of fresh bread baking. That amazing fragrance that fills the kitchen and wafts into every corner of your home, until at last, you are so overwhelmed with hunger, that you rush to pull those shining, golden-brown loaves from the oven. In your mad impatience, you tear into the hot crust to expose the soft, white interior. Although it is still steaming, you pop your first bite of fresh bread into your mouth.

You burn your tongue of course. But it is worth it. It is always worth the burn to get that first taste of bread while it is still piping hot and perfect. Just as I am going to do right now.

 

 

My Favorite Challah Recipe (Makes 2 Loaves)

Challah bread recipe

2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast

6 cups bread flour

5 eggs

1 cup warm water (110 degrees)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Instructions (without bread machine):

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 4 of the eggs and beat well. Mix in oil, sugar, and salt. Beat in flour to make a firm dough. (You may not need at 6 cups). Turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (between 5-10 minutes should do it). Place dough in greased bowl and turn once. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place 1 hr. or until double in size.

Punch down dough and turn onto floured surface. Divide into two portions (each will make a loaf). Divide each portion into three. Roll each section into a rope of around 15 in. Place the three ropes side by side and braid, then pinch the ends together to seal and tuck them under the loaf. Places braided loaves on greased baking sheets, cover, and let rise 1 hr.

Beat together last egg with 1 Tbsp. cold water. Use pastry brush to paint loaves with egg mixture. Sprinkle on poppy seeds or sesame seeds, if desired. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. Remove and cool before eating. (Or not).

(Note: There’s more than one way to braid a challah. Try braiding all six ropes together, like in this recipe: http://www.chow.com/recipes/29091-challah )

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5 responses to “The Bread of Life (aka: The Joy of Baking Bread)

  1. I love it – fresh bread (including fresh croissants) is really one of the true joys in life. When I was ski instructing in Jackson Hole, my regular meal was fresh bread with havarti -dill cheese, and a fuji apple and organic milk. But it seems harder and harder to find fresh bread at bakeries these days. Working long hours doesn’t help. 😦 I also loved the Great Harvest bakery in Albuquerque, where they would list on the black board the times that all the breads were coming out of the oven every day, so you could get it fresh. 2:15 – Apricot Almond; 3:25 – Paremsan-Pepper; 4:20 – Honey Wheat.

    I wholeheartedly approve of the bread machine. To me, that’s the whole purpose of machines – to save work. Plus my impression is that bread machines tend to be durable and functional. The reason some electronics bring out the Luddite in me is because instead of saving time, so that we have more free time to do more valuable things, they actually suck our time away from us! And since time is our most precious resource (you can spend it, you can waste it, but you can’t save it!), wasting it can’t be a good thing! :).

    • Yep, fresh bread is the best. I try to bake at least once a week – french bread, sweet rolls, buttery garlic twists, etc. :9 My kids love pizza, so I make it using homemade dough every week. When they were little, I tried to make whole grain breads. But now, almost everything is white bread, and our health doesn’t appear to have suffered one bit.

      I very rarely buy fresh-baked bread – mostly because I have no idea where to buy it, and many of the breads from the supermarket bakeries are either too expensive compared to baking it myself, or have a bland taste/texture. I’m not sure why it is so different from homemade. But I do enjoy baking bread at home – both the process, which I find relaxing and fun, and the product. πŸ™‚ As for bread machines, I once read an opinion artcle by a woman who was putting down bread machines as a form of cheating instead of creating a true homemade product. What a bread snob! πŸ˜›

  2. Yeah, I’m skeptical of the claims that white bread is awful and white rice is bad too. I grew up only being allowed to eat whole grain bread and brown rice, but I’m not sure there’s really a significant nutritional difference. Most of the baguettes and various Italian-style country loaves I enjoy now are made with white flower. I like the ones with Kalamata olives too :). I can’t wait to have more free time to be able to cook and bake more. And I love raisin bran muffins too – yum, and blueberry if they’re not too sugary πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • Haha…if someone tells me that white rice is unhealthy, I just smile and point out the general great health and longevity of people in Japan, where white rice and starchy noodles are eaten regularly. As for white bread, I used to shun it when my kids were very small, as I generally favor the healthiest, most wholesome foods for my family. But, as you mentioned, there is not a significant nutritional difference, and we get plenty of fiber in our diets from other sources.

      Hey…I was just about to make raising bran muffins today! What a coincidence. πŸ™‚ I agree — muffins are better when not too sugary and cake-like. My favorites are pumpkin muffins with raisins and walnuts. My kids love banana or oatmeal chocolate chip.

  3. Yes, I think it’s hard to beat Japanese food for health, plus I almost always feel great after eating Japanese food. There’s a wonderful Soba house here, and I like cat’s rice, plus of course sushi :).

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