To begin, I want to make a note about the zillions of pie dough recipes out there: I barely buy it. Not the value of a recipe, mind you, but that new ones will ever come to pass. At their very base, they’re all just some type of solid fat (butter, shortening or lard) cut with powdery ingredients (flour, sometimes salt and sugar) bound with a liquid (usually water, but some folks get creative with milk, cream, buttermilk or vodka), and I’m amused that every year, so many cooking publications feel a need to pronounce that By Golly, They’ve Got It! They’ve found the perfect pie dough. In my mind, it was never lost.
Whoops! I hadn’t meant to abandon you like that, we just didn’t have internet connectivity on our last two days of the trip. It was like 1999 or something. I got the shakes. So, where did we leave off?
For months now, my obsession with bread making has snowballed, leaving me eager buy a bread-specific cookbook to further fill our apartment, and my idle hours, with kneaded deliciousness. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m extraordinarily conservative about the cookbooks I buy. On one hand, it’s a space issue — isn’t it always? — but considering that this hasn’t kept me from buying a pasta-cranker, too many baking pans and, most insanely, six varieties of flours, it’s hard argue that an stuffed apartment is truly a deterrent. More accurately, I find it impossible to make decisions. Berebaum’s Bread Bible? Silverton’s La Brea Bakery? Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice? I always thought I wanted this book, but how can one ever know for sure? Thus, I delay and delay, as if owning two bread cookbooks would be a crime against humanity. (Please, speak up if there is a bread book that makes you swoon.)
At Sunday’s final bread class, I was a little slow-moving after Saturday night’s festivities and the cause of last week’s cupcake extravaganza. We focused on whole-grain breads: semolina, Swiss rye, seeded rye and pumpernickel, and though I was a little, um, dehydrated, I think I did all right, surprising myself by getting all four doughs together before noon. It was at this point that I realized I might just have achieved my goal in this class — which was not, by the way, to effectively knead bread with a margarita headache — but to get comfortable enough with the process that I could dive into recipes confidently and know instinctively what to do if things get off-course (or underslept). I’m almost there, and not a moment too soon, because the instructor dug up a recipe for Russian Black Bread for me with about 20 ingredients and it’s calling to me. No rest for the weary, or at least certifiably insane, I suppose.
Sometime over the last couple years — arguably, just as this carbohydrate castoff moment has crossed the American table, or more likely in subversive rebellion of it — I’ve become obsessed with baking bread. There’s something so elemental, primitive about setting bacteria loose in milled grains to feast! ferment! to their unicellular heart’s content, guiding it along with humidity and simple sugars and just when things can’t get any better for the little guys — Wohoo! It’s warm in here! — well, we off them so they’ll taste better for us. Hey, I said primitive, right?