This weekend I made my first very bread. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but what finally prompted me to do it was when I made my first strawberry jam. It came out so well that it prompted a very visceral childhood memory of eating my dad’s fresh-baked bread warm from the oven topped with homemade strawberry jam. Wanting to revisit that, I decided to make bread to accompany the jam.
I considered using my KitchenAid to knead the dough but chose to get the full experience by kneading it myself, at least for my first attempt. I’m glad I did. As with making pie crust dough, I find working with the raw ingredients by hand very sensual and enjoyable. (Plus, as a friend pointed out, kneading and punching down the dough is very good stress-relief.)
I also remembered a woman I know saying once how kneading bread helped connect her to all the people in her past who had made bread. Working on mine, I got a sense of that, too, knowing that people have been making bread for millennia. What a wonderful experience to continue that tradition, to have that link reaching backwards and hopefully forwards in time.
What surprised me, though, was the sheer fun I had in observing all the stages of the bread development, not just the kneading.
Putting it in a bowl to rise, the wonderful yeasty smell filling the kitchen:
The delight of seeing it puffing over the top of the bowl after it had risen:
The fun of preparing it for the loaf pan, trying to make it uniform so that the loaf would be a good shape:
Seeing it rise again and start to actually look like bread:
Then, as it baked, enjoying the warm, delicious scent filling the whole downstairs. I had this strange sense of the condo feeling more like a home than it had before, as if the act of making bread consecrated it in some way.
Finally, after baking, pulling out the finished results:
I restrained myself from immediately cutting it, wanting to let it cool at least a little bit. When I thought it had been long enough, I sliced off a bit of the end, and the inside certainly looked like it would be good:
But the real test, of course, was spreading it with jam and trying it:
It was delicious. The bread was still warm, the crust a bit crunchy but not too hard, the inside soft and yielding, the honey-wheat taste complemented by the bright sweetness of the strawberry jam. I appreciated it even more knowing that both were the results of my own labor – my hands had been the ones picking the strawberries, then hulling and cooking down for jam, as well as making the bread.
I plan to fully enjoy my loaves, and I expect they won’t be the last, since I have all sorts of ideas: toast with jam, toast with fresh butter, BLTs made with local tomatoes and lettuce and bacon from happily raised pigs, French toast – the possibilities go on and on. And I have every intent of exploring as many as I can.