Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rustic Loaf

My family plans things - meals, outings, things. So, when I was to visit my family in San Bruno for an indeterminate amount of time, a schedule arose. My mother and sister were the main contributors, with my input, naturally. There was an excel spreadsheet involved. One activity was "Bread with Irene." Irene is my mother's friend from the blood bank (nurses), who is now more of a knitting, beading, cruising, etc., retirement buddy. And it seems that Irene has a little yeast phobia.

Was I chosen to work with Irene because I am a bread-making maven? Not exactly. I think what happened was that Mom described how good my white bread loaves were. I made them when she was visiting and we gobbled them up with butter, then cheese, then plain, then jam. And, oh, the crust on these things was divine. So, the description probably went something like that, and I was recruited as Irene's instructor. Well, bread buddy, really.

For my first couple of experiences with yeast, I found the little buggers mysterious. I just put these wee gray things into this liquid with a little sugar and they come to life? Like zombies? Irene had many good points about bread instructions: What does "warm" mean? How do I know if they are "foamy" enough? And so on. There are a lot of not-so-technical, technical terms in bread-making and you have to sort of dive in to figure them all out. For example, in this recipe, it says to stir the dough, with a plastic spatula, until it is "shaggy." I knew what that would look like because, again, I watch too much food TV; but Irene was stumped. Heaven forbid you have never seen food TV and you're working from something like Fannie Farmer who has how many pictures? Three? Any of bread making?

In bread-making, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that each loaf is unique. Each loaf is an adventure. I mean, you should even give some thought to the weather when you're making bread. There is a lot to worry about. My mother opened the garage door while our loaves were rising, letting in a gust of cold air, so Irene and I decided that we would blame any failures on that.
The rustic loaf is different from any bread I have done before. First, the yeast doesn't hang out in sugary water for 15 minutes to rise. Nope. You mix it in with the flour, et. al., then add warmed milk and stir until shaggy. Here is where we let our yeast zombies activate. So, maybe not the best loaf to do with someone afraid of yeast. ... Or, maybe it's the best loaf to do with someone wary of yeast! Once the zombies are clearly out and looking for flesh to consume, we knead; the we do the first rise in a bowl. Then we shape for the second rise on cutting boards. Do you like the green plastic wrap. I think it's fun.

The rustic loaf is, well, rustic in that it is shaped but not baked in a loaf pan. And it did come out good - chewy, with a thin leathery-but-in-a-good-way crust. But there were some major glitches. It was one of those events that you can see in perfect relief, after the fact. The signs are there; the writing was on the wall, but you hoped against hope that things weren't the way they seemed. I ignored my instincts.

It went something like this:

Omen #1. The pans. The recipe calls for a pizza stone because it maintains heat well and bread bakes nicely on it. I would have settled for a 1/4 sheet pan, but there were none of those. Actually, my parents' ovens don't even fit 1/4 sheet pans. So I was using thin, round, flimsy pans.

Omen #2. Irene says that she saw my loaf was brown and spotty ... during the first 3 minutes of baking. That should be the description after about 15 minutes of baking. This should have alarmed me. And I thought of checking it, I did, but figured no way it was browning that fast. Because it wasn't supposed to.

Omen #3. The bread smell 4 minutes into the baking process - too early. This should have told me that the bread was baking to fast and to turn down the ovens.

Omen #4. The burning smell 6 minutes into the baking process. Way, way too early. This time, I checked. Irene's loaf was okay in the top oven, but my loaf was singed. I immediately starting hooting and hollering about how awful my parents' ovens are. I don't think I cursed, but I would have been justified if I did. Irene remained calm, and somehow order was restored.

There is that singe. Everyone liked the bread, even Sam. So, triumph amid travails.


  1. wish I had some of that bread with jam right now!!! Mom

  2. It was pretty good. I'll have to make more in April, since there is still bread flour and yeast in that kitchen.