Nothing about cooking scares me. Well, almost nothing… I love to experiment, construct, deconstruct and frolic through the enormous culinary play ground that is cooking. I might not be perfect on the first go around but I am usually having a great time creating exciting and memorable food for my family and friends. It is all fun and games until I stray a little too far from my happy places and end up in the land of baking, specifically; bread baking. Now do not get me wrong, I like to bake and I can make some pretty good stuff, but baking bread, I mean good, deep golden, crusty, spongy artisan bread, has always scared me to death! I think a real part of the fear is the science and the preciseness behind the art of real baking. I am not a math person, and to be honest I am not a patient person, the two together are a deadly combination when it comes to making bread. So either as a sadistic act of public humiliation or a beautifully crafted act of vulnerability and exploration, I have decided to embark on a very public journey into the heart of bread baking and am inviting you to come along on the journey.
I think that I am drawn to baking bread because of the history, craft and art form that real bakers knead into every ounce of their bread. There are a few sort of primordial culinary practices that make up all cuisine in my mind. These are cooking meat over fire, growing vegetables in soil, fermenting food into drink and last but not least, baking. Bread is one of those amazing things that transcend all cultures. It does not matter whether you are in the deepest jungles of South America and Africa, the finest tables of Europe or in the remote tents of Bedouins in the Arabian desert you will find fresh-baked bread. At the very core of Christianity you see a loaf of bread. Bread is a core piece of all cultural and culinary anthropology, and for these reasons I am committing the next year to studying, creating and baking bread.
I am enlisting the help of one of the top recommended bread books from one of the top bakery’s in the country to guide me and give my journey a firm foundation from which to launch. The Tartine Bakery in San Francisco is world-renowned for its loaves that are as beautiful to behold as they are to devour. They have produced a beautifully illustrated and arranged self titled book Tartine Bread from which I will draw my base knowledge and inspiration, thanks in great part to my mother-in-law for the Christmas present. I am working through their book beginning with a self cultured starter. In all honesty this has been extremely intimidating. Again, science, math, patience; all required for making a starter. The most difficult part of making the starter is not the science or math, but knowing that I have packets of Flieschman’s Instant Dry Yeast just inches away from the bubbly, gooey, soon to be smelly starter that I concocted this morning. As is with many things, however, the wait is worth the while when it comes to culturing your own yeast. I heard an article on NPR about a man who has been using the same starter for 13 years. Something about that is very satisfying to me. He said that bread gets better and better because of the age of the starter, I am inclined to believe him. Why? HE HAS BEEN USING THE SAME STUFF FOR 13 YEARS!!! It simply must be good.
So. Here. We. Go.
Today I made the starter. It is sitting in my kitchen. Growing. Bubbling. Decomposing, and hopefully turning into something beautiful. Tomorrow it will do more of the same, I will do nothing. But the next day I will feed my new creation, yes you feed your yeast, train it and soon it will rise and fall at your command, no joke, this is serious stuff. It is funny as I reread over these lines I feel a little like Dr. Frankenstein. Lots of rotting, re animation and science. I am sure he had good intentions with his experiment, I just hope mine does not turn out the same way his did….