Last week, a good friend and I decided to try our hands at making bread from scratch. She had begun a starter and offered to share it with me, and we arranged for a time to mix the dough and attempt our first loaf.
On Friday afternoon I visited her home and, after clearing the kitchen of her baking knowledgeable husband, we set out to discuss our bread baking adventures. I had always thought making my own bread would be grounding and warm, something I could do for my family and myself that would give me a small sense of accomplishment in the kitchen. I am not a cook or baker, creating in the kitchen has not nor will it ever be my gift. Over the years I have tried to learn, tried to find it interesting, but I run into a few problems. First, I hate to follow directions. I’m more the launch into the world and see how things go kind of woman. Second, I am terribly impatient, and while I try to work on this it just does not come naturally to me. So with these two handicaps, learning to cook has seemed like a pointless lesson in frustration.
But bread, bread is a product so delicious and tempting I am lured into the hope that perhaps I can put my lifelong kitchen angst to rest. And so I attempt this with my friend, who incidentally has the same outlook on cooking as I do.
When I arrive at her house, she showed me a video and tells me that the starter was hard at first, and then it got easier. She explained, “I was being really precise, trying to follow every direction exactly. Then it hit me, pioneer women used to make bread and they didn’t have a scale or fancy tools, so I relaxed and that’s when everything started to work.” After agreeing that this approach is true of most things in life, we set out, mixing the flour, starter and salt. We carefully place the dough in a non-metal pan and agreed to connect 18 hours later after the bread had time to rise.
The next morning she texted me and said that while her bread tastes good, it is very flat and dense. She asks that I report in and photograph my results. I begin mid morning, leery about letting my professionally trained chef husband join me. I fold the bread and place it in the proofing bowl, waiting for it to grow in size before baking it in the Dutch oven. It does not grow and after a few hours of idleness, it looks exactly the same as it did when I started. I decide we need to move forward to the next step regardless, so we bake the bread for 30 minutes at 500 degrees, and then another 15 at 475.
The result was a crusty, dense loaf of very flat and chewy bread. I circled back with my friend and we discussed the possible problems. Perhaps too much water? Perhaps we let it sit for too long? While we agreed the taste was good we decided that our next attempt would follow a different recipe.
As for my first, flat loaf, my husband, son and I slathered some Kerry Gold Cultured Irish butter on our warm from the oven slices and enjoyed. The rest may turn into croutons, but I feel satisfied that my first attempt at bread baking resulted in some delicious, although unique, bread. Next stop, the Tartine recipe for a starter and simple Country Bread.