If I come back as anything more intelligent than a rabbit or a squirrel then I might well decide to be a baker in my next life. Baking bread is just a lot of fun, you keep out of trouble, you put food on the table and you get to share a bottle of wine when it’s done to help the product go down.
It’s easy too – no recipe books to follow (though they are handy for inspiration). Bread almost makes itself once you get the ‘feel’ for it.
Other peoples’ thoughts:
One’s own simple bread is much better than someone else’s pilaf.
The dog wags his tail, not for you, but for your bread.
Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread—there may be.
I have been playing around with bread for decades, sometimes with long gaps between but these days I try to make a point of baking bread at least once a week. It’s not out of necessity, bought bread (and Montreal has terrific bought bread) is no more expensive than my own and is certainly less trouble but that’s not the point. Early experiments came naturally out of the fact that I’m a boomer and grew up in the years when self-sufficiency was something to aspire to in theory while hanging onto the benefits of civilisation – baking bread was the achievable part of that deal, keeping cows and chickens in the back yard was not, though I did successfully keep productive bees for some years and had a large vegetable and flower garden. Anyway, my real baker’s epiphany came just a few years ago when an American friend gave me a small dollop of her own sourdough starter to experiment with. The thing with a sourdough culture is that you have to feed it regularly (just flour and water) and if you are doing that it grows and so if you wish to avoid being drowned in the sticky stuff you really have to either give it away or make bread … so I began to make regular bread. The culture is called Breadzilla and is now one of my best friends – it also enables J to make the best muffins and the lightest and fluffiest and most maple-syrup-absorbing pancakes in the world, but that’s altogether another story for another time.
A short digression … once you have fed your sourdough it bubbles and heaves for a few hours and then settles down to mutter to itself, eventually finishing work with a thick creamy batter overlaid by a clear yellowish fluid. This fluid is very mildly alcoholic and, I am told, was drunk by the members of an Indian tribe who used to live in the north-western US (maybe it was a ceremonial drink, I’m sure they didn’t do this for fun). The tribe rejoiced in the name of the Hooch nation … hence ‘hooch’ for alcoholic drinks. The Martini tribe added herbs and olives to their sourdough and stirred it with juniper twigs.
However, back to the home fires. I have whittled my standard recipes down to a basic set that I keep turning over regularly with occasional additions for interest and experiment. The staple is a sourdough semi-wholemeal loaf with kibbled grains for texture and some honey for a hint of sweetness … though it doesn’t really taste sweet, more nutty. Wonderful stuff with anything spreadable and truly simple to make. That is always available and is supplemented from time to time with a yeast-leavened min-ciabatta, some light, fluffy and butter-rich white breakfast rolls (recipe from the amazing Premier-Moisson bakery of Montreal fame), the odd pizza and recently, the discovery of long thin ficelles containing dried tomatoes that are rolled in grated parmesan before baking. These latter go wonderfully just warmed enough to release the cheese odour and washed down by a glass of wine to hold your attention while dinner cooks.
That’s really all you need. Total time, just two or three hours a week and even that can be spread out so that you have time to sit on the deck and watch the flowers grow, or do your emails or whatever else needs your attention.
I really could have done this for a living. Hard work and early mornings, I know, but it would have been gratifying.