The first bread I remember baking was a pizza, fresh out of the oven of my junior year college apartment. It wasn’t right. Something about the dough tasted raw, underdeveloped. We ate it anyway.
I kept making pizzas after this, with similar results. But the desire to get it right persisted. The experience with the dough led me to attempt loaves of bread. I would follow each recipe to the letter, and still that incomplete flavor would not go away. It didn’t matter if it was a whole wheat loaf or regular white bread.
Should I have quit? Bread is easy enough to get, even the good, crusty loaves that go well with the kind of cooking I mostly do. But every time I’d look at the ingredients for something that should be fundamentally simple, I’d get all fired up to do it myself again.
To find the first successful dough I can recall making, we have to return to the pizza. This time, though, it was a deep dish. Finally, the underdeveloped flavor wasn’t there. The crust was nicely browned on top, crispy with olive oil on the bottom. And here’s one of the mysteries of this journey. I have no idea what I did differently.
If I’d been approaching this scientifically, there would’ve been notes on the past successes and failures. Perhaps I was using different ingredients, or paying attention to different aspects of the process. I will never know, and that’s okay. This is a journey that plays out with each piece of bread, living in the moment.
Once the deep dish pizza was working, I started to push the envelope. How about a large hamburger, but the buns are individual deep dish pizzas? Yes, I made it. But only once, on a New Year’s Eve.
|Hawaiian Style Rolls (made in a deep dish pizza pan)|
With this confidence in hand, I turned my attention back to individual breads. Focaccia. Rustic Tuscan loaves. Pan de mie. It was starting to work.
|Japanese Milk Bread|
But it’s never a guarantee. Even with this experience, every time I mix the wet into the dry, I’m not sure how it’s going to come out. In that way, it’s a lot like writing. Sure, I’ve done it before, but this time might be different because each dive into the process is unique.
Lately, I’ve had success with the no knead method bread devised by Jim Lahey. The recipe is online, as well as in his book, My Bread. If you have a dutch oven and a desire for a crusty round of bread, this is the way to go. The biggest challenge with this method is the timing (the first rise is 12-18 hours). I’ve found that if I can get it started by around nine at night, the fully cooked loaf will be ready for dinner the next day.
|No Knead Bread|
I keep a challenge list of recipes I want to try. I think the next up will be English muffins. But what’s really looming over me is sourdough. It’s been on the list for years, untouched. The idea of keeping a starter alive, then developing part of it into something usable for a loaf is intimidating. Which is exactly why I should do it.
So do you bake bread? Is there a recipe you’ve always wanted to try? Or is there a recipe you want to challenge me with?
Nico Rosso writes the award nominated romantic suspense series Black Ops: Automatik for Carina Press and can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and his Website.