Okay, so I had a meltdown last night.
This endless winter is driving me batty. I didn’t commit any misdemeanors or felonies but I was rude, loud, and, well, assholish. The Loved One, the dogs, and the cats are still giving me sidelong glances even this morning.
Honestly, all I want to talk about is how unfair the sky has been to us the last three months. But, I suppose, that would bore you, dear reader, to death. So I won’t do it.
Instead, how about if I tell you about my breadmaking session last night?
I’ve made homemade bread on and off since 1980. It connects me with humanity’s earliest civilizations. I think of women making bread in one form or another in the Fertile Crescent or the Indus valley thousands of years ago. I picture bakers outside Agrigento where my mother’s ancestors came from or those surrounding Łódź, where daddy-o’s kin survived.
Breadmaking is a peaceful pursuit. I need to think peaceful thoughts because this goddamned wint…, oh, wait. Sorry.
Anyway, I made a nice French bread dough with whole wheat and unbleached flours. Here’s the fully risen dough:
That’s my bread machine to the right. I don’t actually bake the bread in it. I use it to knead the dough, which it does far more efficiently than I can.
Here’s a bit of bread trivia. Napoleon, acc’d’g to lore, is responsible for a word we use today to describe a popular deli loaf. The story goes that while he and his army were slashing through Prussia, he told some locals that he needed bread for his horse, Nicole. He told them to fetch pain pour Nicole. The bystanders — Germanic speakers, natch — heard something on the order of pumpernickel.
Sounds like horseshit but it’s a good story.
Anyway, I cut up that big mass of dough into six loaves. I rolled the smaller dough wads out and placed them on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal (this prevents the dough from sticking).
I paint the unbaked loaves with water to make the final crust a bit more golden brown. Another trick is to paint the loaves with an egg wash with 10 minutes to go in the oven. This makes the bread crust shiny and super crispy.
More bread trivia: archeologists working digs in Europe have found starchy residues indicating baked flour paste dating back 30,000 years ago to the Upper Paleolithic Era.
I always put a tin of water in the oven to produce a more damp heat. In this way, I make sure the crust doesn’t come out too dry or hard. After a half hour in 375〫heat, I pull out a half dozen beautiful loaves.
My mother made a ton of homemade bread every Friday when I was a kid. It’d last us through the week. She turned up her nose at store-bought bread, which she dismissively referred to as “white bread.” Every day she’d pack a lunch for me to take to school. It’d be some kind of sandwich made of her homemade bread. It embarrassed me no end. Ma’s bread was weirdly shaped, not a perfect square like packaged bread. The other kids would look at me and giggle. “What kind of bread is that?” they’d say, as if it were made of mud or animal droppings. I learned to hide my mother’s sandwiches after a while. Still later, I’d throw them away on my way to school. That’s how nutty the kids’ teasing made me.
I always felt as though I were betraying my mother when I’d do that. And the truth is, I was. I wished to high heaven I had sandwiches made of “white bread” even though I couldn’t stand the taste of it. All I wanted to do at that point in my life was to fit in.
As I grew older, I wanted to fit in less and less. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was proud of my mother’s homemade bread sandwiches. The other guys must have sensed this because all my lunch partners would eventually hint they’d love to try half of my sandwich.
I got up this morning and made a delicious chicken sandwich for lunch.
BTW: That’s a cork from a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola Rosso on the right. It’s a nice fruity red table blend. I highly recommend it. I didn’t drink it this morning, in case you’re getting suspicious.
So, that’s my alternative to grousing about this weather. Now, I’ve got to bundle up and brave the snow and cold. In March. Spring is just 17 days away.
Very nice food-lore, Big Mike. Baking can make the Winter blues less blue. Maybe it’s the warmth, maybe it’s the distraction. Certainly, loving hands make good food. Recipe?
I couldn’t agree more. Spending time, real time, in the kitchen is a treat. It’s difficult for me to find the time. But a day like yesterday was perfect. I made two soups, pickled eggs, made a batch of spiced nuts, made some sweet potato chips and almost…… ran out of time, almost made my first batch of goat cheese. I adore warm days in the kitchen like yesterday.
Also spent the snowbound weekend in domestic bliss in my kitchen. A real treat for me and mi familia! It grounds us. And yes, spring will arrive this year. Count on it.
You deserve that meltdown. Congratulations on turning it into something delicious.