In the week before Passover, I’m appreciating them even more as I contemplate the eight days of doing without both the eating and the baking of bread (though I may try baking my own matzo this year).
Ah, the baking. The magic of creating something that can grow and transform, the thrifty satisfaction of turning such basic ingredients into appealing and sustaining foods, the fragrance in the kitchen. . . .
Yes, it takes time, but most of that is not active hands-on time (though the hands-on part is fun), and, besides, it’s a good way to slow down and be productive at the same time.
I’ve heard it said that many people are afraid of yeast (yeast-phobia?) and that’s a shame. It is really not so scary! If you are new to bread baking, you do not, repeat NOT, need a bread machine. What’s the worst that can happen? Your bread doesn’t turn out? You haven’t wasted a lot of money or time, and some birds in the neighborhood might be grateful for your efforts. Anyway, we learn by mistakes — don’t we?
I’ve been making bread doughs with yeast or sourdough starter (whether knead or no-knead) for a long time, so I’m pretty confident that I know how the dough should feel, and I rarely look at a recipe.
I know if I start with a cup of water, for example, how much I will need of yeast or starter, flour and salt, and what approximate ratio of whole grains I should use (Yes, I’ve had a few brick-like breads, when I overloaded the dough with whole grains, but the bread was still edible. More or less.)
Or if it is a dough for challah or sweet rolls, I may add an egg and a little oil and honey to the dough, depending on what’s on hand.
Of course, if you haven’t baked much before, recipes are useful guidelines. Professional bakers weigh their ingredients for consistency, but for the home baker, that’s not necessary.
When it comes to quick breads (scones, biscuits, muffins, etc.) I do look at measurements a bit more carefully, though there is still room to play around.
Last week I followed my tried-and-true biscuit recipe (which you can see here) with my new, and bigger, biscuit cutter. This informative New York Times article on tender biscuits and scones offered some tips, and I wanted to see whether cutting my biscuits with a sharper cutter would make them better. I also learned that placing biscuits close together would make them rise up rather than spread. Makes sense.