I’ve recently decided that I need to learn how to make bread. Nothing fancy, mind you, just simple, country-style stuff that common folk knew how to make in the past. Your great-grandmother probably had the skill, back before you could get a loaf of Wonder at the supermarket for a couple bucks and change. And before you ask, no, it isn’t because I’ve gotten that cheap; it’s not a money-saving effort. I actually started thinking about making my own bread as part of my ruminations on eating actual food.
Truth be told, I figured that knowing how to both brew beer and make bread would give me productive, actionable skills in a post-apocalyptic society. What with the Rapture coming this week and all, I’m going to need to have something to trade with the hunter-types, and I’m pretty sure the demand for software development will be in decline.
I decided, then, that this past Saturday was Bread-Makin’ Day. I broke out the family copy of The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, because more often than not I consider it the authority when it comes to basic, family recipes. When I was young, my mother always referred to hers in time of culinary need, and I am happy to follow that tradition.
After perusing the initial, more basic section on breads, I narrowed the list of potential recipes down to three: a basic french loaf (perhaps a baguette?), focaccia, or sourdough. This time around, I had to rule out the sourdough. My late maternal grandmother used to make sourdough frequently and it seemed to me that attempting to make it without using her starter (which, yes, lives on with certain members of the family) would simply be wrong, wrong, wrong.
We’ll try the sourdough once I acquire a cup or so of starter.
In the end, that meant either French or focaccia. Honestly, I didn’t have to think about that choice too terribly long. For one thing, the recipes are just about the same. The only difference comes in the end structure. So, really, the question came down to application. Since I wanted to make the bread a key component of dinner Saturday night, focaccia immediately stood out as the style of choice. Top a nice, simple focaccia with just about any quality ingredients and you’re looking at a tasty meal.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m virtually wandering the globe? I also thought that since I’m currently roaming Italy, making focaccia would be a nice homage.
Unfortunately, the most important lesson I learned Saturday was that the age of one’s yeast is very important if you’re hoping to making decent bread. As it turns out, we’ve had the same jar of dry yeast since Clinton was in office. Watching my advancing-age yeast try to rise was like watching an advancing age player in the NFL. Sure, you hope for the best, but it doesn’t surprise anyone when Brett Favre throws four passes to the other team. Likewise, I could have let my bread rest until Christmas, I’m pretty sure it was never going to double in size.
In the end, my focaccia ended up a whole lot flatter than it was supposed to be. It still tasted great, especially topped with sautéed chicken with Italian herbs, caramelized onions or diced tomatoes, a sprinkling of parmesan and mozzarella, and a bit of olive oil. But the word yeast is, at this moment, written in all-caps on our weekly grocery list.
Hopefully my next attempt will show a little more lift.