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Flashback to Childhood of the other kind


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My husband and I couldn't agree on the kind of bread we liked. So we kept buying two different kinds and regularly I threw bread away, because it was just too much for us to eat as long as it was fresh. I got tired of this and started looking for alternatives, so I thought, may be I can bake the bread myself. I did some research what would be a good book to start with and learn the ropes from and came up with Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". After I got the book I started reading. I didn't know how much was involved in breadmaking and how much it helped to know what was going on, the process of fermentation, what sourdough is, how it is different from commercial yeasts, the different types of commercial yeasts, the enzymes involved, the starches, the sugars and so much more. It is a whole chemistry lab taking place on my kitchen counter in a stainless steel bowl! This is a quote from Peter Reinhart's book, which perhaps illustrates my fascination just with the knowledge part involved "A final reminder before we walk through this exercise: knowledge is power, the power to affect outcomes, in life and in baking, so I encourage you to dive into this process as one of empowerment as well as culinary enjoyment."

I had to order some of the ingredients online because I couldn't find them locally. Finally they arrived...

I had ordered commercial sourdough seed because I didn't want to run the risk of disappointment if I attempted to seed it myself and it wouldn't take. It takes a few days for the seed to turn into barm and become a stable mother (weird terminology!). So I started with some of the recipes in the book that could be done on the same day or in two days using commercial yeast instead. I was amazed on how well that went! The recipes were written exceptionally good, it's almost impossible to fail. I love the feel of the dough. In the first stage when you mix flower, yeast, liquid and depending on the type of dough other ingredients. It's all gooey, almost slimy, a bit unpleasant, yet still resembling of that early childhood love for mud. There are the smells, of the yeast that starts its fermentation process, the some what dustiness of the flower, may be the cinnamon that gets added. Then the dough starts to come together and form a ball, you start kneading it. It is a very physical experience, your hands mashing that dough over and over again, it gains more and more a subtle resilience trying to resist your efforts to work it, yet still feels quite pleasant like firm flesh covered by cool skin under your hands. Then you let the dough rise and the yeasty smell can become a bit more intensive, but quite fragrant in it's own right. Then comes the shaping of the dough, it's one of the most fascinating parts of the whole process. The dough has it's own mind on which form it wishes to assume, which isn't necessarily what I want it to do. Certain shapes are necessary to create the correct surface tension so that the dough will rise in the correct direction to achieve a perfect loaf of bread. It is a quite sensitive process, working with this very pleasant feeling substance.

So I baked yeast breads, sweet and otherwise. And I succeeded! I learned to understand the author's way of giving you a recipe so that I wouldn't misunderstand or take unintentional shortcuts, forcing myself to truly read attentively what needed to be read. Finally my sourdough was ready. There is one bread I really, really want to make. From the looks of it, it is the bread I used to eat back in Germany, the bread I haven't been able to find over here ever in all the years I'm living here!

But I told myself to be cautious. Never before had I used sourdough, never before had I used a hearth stone, so I decided to start with a sourdough bread of a somewhat simpler build. It took three days to get the dough build. On the 4th day it was time to bake (I could have baked it on the 3rd day but I decided to retard the dough, the last stage of rising, the 'proofing', after the dough is shaped can be done in the refrigerator and that way delayed from 4 hrs to overnight and enhancing the flavor of the bread).

I got my dough out of the refrigerator. It would take 4 hrs at room temperature until I could bake it. And finally I decided to open the cloth (even though it was still way to early) to look at it and I got a shock. The dough had dried out a lot! The seams had sprung open. For a moment I thought I had to throw it out. But then I decided to try to save it and bake it no matter what to at least test the hearth stone method. I misted the dough with spray oil, pinched the seams together, turned the loaves around misted it somewhat (but not too generously) with water and covered it with saran wrap. Then I waited. Hoping the dough would recover. It did somewhat, started to look better, though not the way it was supposed to look. Well...

Finally I decided to bake it.

And wonder of wonders, the loaves started to shape better and started to look good! Finally I took them out. Now I had to wait. At least 45 minutes. Part of the baking process will continue after the bread is put on the rack to cool. You can not interrupt that if you want a good product. I just HAD to wait.

Finally...

I cut the bread and it rewarded me with a beautiful crackle, the crust was just awesome. It smelled deliciously and the texture of the bread was just right. I tasted it. It was delicious, really, really delicious. It was bread as I knew it back from Germany (and this isn't even yet the sourdough bread I'm going to attempt next, the one that tempted me ever since I bought the book). It was good bread.

Later I remembered that I had still some raspberry jelly that my mother in law had made and given me for my birthday last year. I always had kept it for a special moment and suddenly I thought "this bread is the special moment". So I had a slice of my bread still very slightly warm, with some cold butter (unsalted) and some raspberry jelly. And while I stood there and chewed, memories came back. Me running inside, being hungry, and my grandmother telling me that she had some good fresh bread (always bought from a baker) and would make me a sandwich ("Marmeladenbrot" or in the dialect of the region "Suesschmier"). For a moment I was back there, chewing the crust, developing the full flavor of the bread on the tongue, enhanced by the butter and the fruity sweetness of the jelly. Jelly was always homemade, it was at that time still a financial necessity for the family, but also within the village a housewife who bought preserves was looked down upon. At the same time also memories of fall came back, the huge walnut tree in the back of our house which changed colors and dropped great quantities of nuts and leaves, the smell of the earth, the chills, the first reminder of winter that often came with fog, the winds that blew hard and made me sometimes feel as if I would take off and fly any moment now.

A memory and impression of my childhood coming back, no pain, no betrayal, no abuse involved, just an innocent experience of enjoying some bread after a long day playing outside.

I had forgotten that there had been those experiences too. I hadn't even been able to think "grandmother" without thinking "and she didn't do a thing either". And here I stood and ate a Jelly sandwich and things were different for a moment.

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