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The Staff of Life

 

I love bread. I find it satisfying, intimidating, humble and rewarding, all at the same time. As a young person cooking, bread was a daunting chapter in any cookbook. It was not until recently that I screwed up the courage to take on that food central to survival for so long; the staff of life.

In my teen cooking years, I was thrilled to discover I could veer onto the side road known as “Quick Breads”, and worked up my confidence with Soda Bread, Zucchini Bread, Baking Powder Biscuits and cornmeal muffins.

One of my childhood friends was German, and her mom did a lot of hearty baking. She had an old family recipe for bread rolls that she made once a month. If the universe was smiling on me, I would happen to be stopping at my friend’s house after school, and we would be allowed to have a warm bun with butter. It was my first taste of Nirvana.

buns with butter

I have been working with my sourdough starter for a year and a half now, and I am still humbled every time I make a loaf. Just when I think I am the master, the starter behaves differently or the weather changes or the flour combination seems not work as well… it’s all edible, but I am far from the works of art I see on Instagram and in my cooking magazines. Those elusive bubbles and the intricate scoring patterns are like a foreign language – one in which I have only learned a few greetings and a few cuss words, like any other novice.

Yesterday, though, I think I got back to the heart of the matter. I made a recipe that I turned into a sort of pull-apart loaf and some rolls, and it was divine. It was an enriched yeast dough that I just happened to add some starter into, so it was truly a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques. But never mind, it worked. It tasted good. Even my chef hubbie said so!

I think perhaps that my interpretation of bread being “the staff of life” involves a more complex sort of survival than just sustenance. The shared experience of breaking bread is truly part of the magic for me. The love shared for the meal is also something I crave. (Like they say, we cannot live by bread alone.)

So I’m rejuvenated for another day, another effort, another bake. Leaving more crumbs, in case there is someone else out there, struggling along the same road. I posted my Kindred Spirit Milk Rolls, as a record of my progress and a message for those souls who want a taste of the magic.

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Breaking Bread

I love a Sunday when I can do homey things. There is something especially satisfying about sitting down Sunday night knowing I worked in the garden or did the laundry or baked something.

Needless to say, with snowflakes drifting down most of today I didn’t get to work in the garden, but the other things got checked off the list.I don’t imagine you want to hear about the laundry, so I’ll tell you about the baking.

I love baking. Baking has more instant gratification than cooking. Often cooking means organizing an entire meal, and that encompasses a number of skills. You usually have everyone ready to eat at once, and you might have to deal with different preferences. Baked goods might be part or even the end to a meal with everyone at the table enjoying them, but most often they are enjoyed more spur of the moment, and over time. I started baking as a youngster, and it is still dear to my heart.

Today I decided that bread would be just the thing to warm the house with cozy aromas. I used to be afraid of making bread – the wild nature of yeast was overwhelming, and the time it took was stressful (I never knew until it was too late if I did a good job). A few years ago I decided to conquer my fear, through the best method I know – jumping in with both feet.  I went from baking biscuits to baking whole wheat loaves, sourdough, rye and even a Rosemary Pecan Bread. I will admit I had some less than stellar results at the beginning, but now I seem to have found my rhythm. (Streaming oldies while I knead the dough helps a lot.)

This Sunday I made a sweet bread I had tagged in an issue of Saveur magazine from last winter. I love Scandinavian sweet breads with their aromatic spices, and I liked the design of the loaf  with cuts made to create a design. I love the transformation and surprise of a loaf that shows its wonders as it bakes. It seems to exemplify the expression, “breaking bread”.

I wanted to tweak the spices a bit as my hubbie isn’t a huge fan of cardamom, so I added some complexity to the filling. I also decided to use decorating sugar; the original recipe called for pearl sugar, but I find it’s more like gravel than anything tasty.

Mine didn’t look quite like the one in the magazine, but I was happy with it. The slice I took as it cooled was just the right amount of sweet, spongy and heartwarming. My Sweet Spice Bread was the perfect way to end a Sunday afternoon.

Sunday recreation

I am continuing my efforts in baking bread today. Sunday is a great day to tackle a piece-by-piece recipe like bread; it allowed me to have the house smelling wonderful and still manage to get laundry done and vacuum and dust.

This time I tackled a rye bread recipe. I do have Scandinavian roots, and rye is a grain that flourishes in Northern climates. It also has health benefits over wheat breads, and so is supposed to be a good carb choice. (Just in case you were feeling any guilt about enjoying a slice. ) A rye sourdough is on my list as well, since that will offer even more benefits and a more unique taste.

It’s interesting that with all the data now on the Internet, you can search for the “best” whatchamacallit you’re looking for. If a lot of people have tried out something and recommended it, that gives a bit more background than just a simple reference to material. I’m hoping this recipe for Best German Rye Bread lives up to its title. I won’t list it as best because this is my first shot at trying rye, so I’ll reserve judgement. I’ve listed it as “Rye Bread” and I adapted the recipe with a bit more rye flour and making it only one loaf.

rye-bread-collage

This bread was easy to work. It is also very tasty, light in texture but full of flavour. My only complaint is more about my equipment than the recipe. You see, we have a large standing mixer. It works great for my hubby, who is a private chef, but for me it’s almost always bigger than I need. In other needs, I’m not making enough for it to work well. But those are first world problems, aren’t they? When I started cooking and logging recipes, I had no electric equipment at all; even my beater was a hand-held model that ran on “arm-strong” power.

That said, bread is the kind of thing that seems to respond well to machines, but it is a soulful food. Working it by hand is cooking at its essence, some say. I do find a peace in making it.

 

 

 

Pause-café

Sundays are my favourite day of the week. I love the relaxing decadence of a day devoted to good things, family and best friends. After all, have you ever heard anyone speak of  Monday brunch or Tuesday dinner? We gather on Sunday like no other day. It is a day to share and capture those treasured moments we look back on.

Sundays are my big day for coffee, because I devote the time to sit and enjoy it. In French “pause-café sounds more elegant than a coffee break, and it seems to demand attention.  I am a morning person so I don’t need caffeine to get going. I like being able to enjoy a cup with breakfast, but most days I’m busy so breakie is a quick bowl of yogurt and fruit. Sunday if I have the time  it’s fresh coffee, a hot breakfast with my man.  Then another cup of coffee and a chance to catch up on good news with CBS Sunday Morning with my furry girl. I’ve been watching the show since I was a kid and my Dad and I enjoyed it together. (A shout out to now-retired but always loved host, Charles Osgood, for his birthday today!)

In a world where Mach speed seems the norm, the lazy pace of Sundays should be lauded and preserved. So lean back, put your feet up and snuggle in next to a loved one. You are logging quality time, remember.

P.S. For those who read my post yesterday, the bread turned out great! I’m writing out the recipe later today – look for “Whole Wheat Bread” in the recipe archives.

The Staff of Life

Baking bread is such a comforting activity. It’s a thoughtful process, a hands-on activity, a food meant for sharing… and it smells really good in the oven. Today as I took down the Christmas decorations I wanted to produce something, have a positive counterpart to the melancholy of packing up the lights and love of the holidays. Baking bread seemed to be the right kind of heart-and-kitchen-warming activity, integral to a happy day.

I could have just googled a recipe or checked my Yummly list, but I wanted something more tangible. I have no shortage of cookbooks, so I checked the older volumes for a real stand-by. I was rewarded when I opened “Cooking with Mona“, a book my Dad gave me that contained recipes from Woodward’s, a Canadian department store that had wonderful food floors. It had a straight-forward whole wheat bread recipe – just the thing!

daddys-cookbook-dedication

I measured. I mixed, I stirred, I kneaded… and then I waited. I punched, I kneaded again, I rolled and tucked… and waited again. I baked, and smelled… and waited a bit more. (I did peek in the oven window a couple of times.) I knocked, I tipped and I smelled some more. Then I gave myself a high five. Fresh homemade bread for breakfast – I can’t wait! (Once I taste the bread and confirm it’s as good as it smells, I’ll post the recipe link.)bread-rising

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My Dad might have frowned today if he saw me vacuuming the tinsel off the tree before I took the lights off (my mom saved it and put it back in the boxes to re-use when I was a kid). I think he would have smiled at my bread though. Another happy memory 🙂

 

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