Growing up, when I would arrive home from school my mom would often have a few loaves of bread on the cooling rack or be well into making a batch of dough. Fresh bread with butter and honey makes the best after-school snack imaginable. I used to love to watch and sometimes help my mom knead the dough. I loved to see her silver rings covered in flour, feel the cool, beautiful marble bread slab and rolling-pin, punch down the airy dough after the first rise and finally smell the loaves when they emerged from the oven. I loved the ritual that I was lucky enough to share with my mom.
I’ve made bread over the years, though sporadically; I had a bread machine for a while, but I found the process of making bread kind of boring when it just involved throwing everything into a machine and pushing a few buttons. I don’t even eat much bread (though I suspect this will change) so the most enjoyable part for me is the process. I knead bread when I’m feeling tense or anxious and sometimes I bake it just for the smell.
I recently purchased a bag of locally grown and milled whole wheat flour from the Saanich farm stand where I buy my vegetables in the winter and early spring. This flour inspired me to finally start learning bread making earnestly. I want to make bread often enough that I will actually learn from my mistakes and perfect techniques and recipes. So far, my efforts have been consistently rewarding and the resulting loaves have definitely tasted better than the average store or even bakery purchased loaf but not as good as my favourite artisan bakery loaves (I’m looking at you Wildfire and Fol Epi). I’m working on it. Last week I made a recipe from Happiness is a Kitchen in Maine with honey, egg and almond milk; the week before, I tried this baguette recipe, which I am attempting again tonight.*
If you have a recipe or even a special trick or technique to kneading, rising, baking, cooling, etc that you would care to share, I would love to hear about it!
* My baguettes tonight turned out completely differently than my first attempt. Here is what I did differently: I kneaded the dough and put it through its first rise on Friday, then put the dough in the fridge for two days; I really improved my shaping technique, thanks to these videos, which made for a cleaner crease; I used unbleached flour from Millstream Natural Foods; I placed the baguettes by the fireplace for a second rise; I made tiny slashes instead of larger ones. I am really pleased with the results – can’t wait to test them with the homemade pasta sauce simmering on the stove!