On Giants' Shoulders

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Making Bread the Easy Way

My new find this month is a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. They really aren't kidding, that's about how much hands on time it takes (of course there's also the time for the dough to rest and the time for the bread to bake - total about an hour and 10 minutes for those two together). However, this book helps you create Artisan loaves like those you pay around $4 apiece for in the grocery store's bakery section. You know the ones with the crispy crust and the tender inside.

The key to the whole thing is a very wet dough that never, ever gets kneaded. If you have a heavy duty mixer you can mix the dough up in about 3 minutes. The dough then rises on the counter for a couple of hours (or in the fridge for about 8). Most of the recipes require the use of a pizza peel and a baking stone, but are super simple to make. You simply shape a loaf, put it on the pizza peel and let it rest for 40 minutes, then you slash the loaf then slide it onto the preheated baking stone, pour some hot water into your broiler pan to create clouds of steam, and shut the oven door. Thirty minutes later you will take out the most wonderful loaf of artisan type bread. The book has explicit directions and lots of pictures. The extra dough gets stored in the fridge ready for baking on another day (it stores for up to two weeks).

The book has tons of recipes, even for things I'd ordinarily use regular kneaded dough for like cinnamon rolls or pizza. So far I've done the basic white bread boule and the deli rye bread (easily the best rye bread I've ever eaten!).

Now I'm still doing regular kneaded bread as well because some of the family prefer it for sandwiches, but the artisan stuff is great for with spaghetti or soup or, well anything you like that sort of bread for. I also happen to think it makes fantastic grilled cheese sandwiches, but some of the family disagrees about that.

I just think that this is the way to go for busy moms who like bread with a crisp crust or who don't own a bread machine.

The biggest problem for me was finding a big enough place in the fridge for the container of stored dough. Now that I've got that one solved, I'm keeping a batch going all the time. By the way I bought my stone along with a pizza peel for under $16 at Bed Bath and Beyond. That together with the book cost me around $45. It took me under two weeks to make enough loaves of artisan bread to cover the cost of the stone, peel and book. Now I'll admit we eat a LOT of bread around here. But I am no longer buying the expensive $3-4 a loaf stuff, I'm making my own for a whole lot less.

By the way as a long time bread baker I was extremely skeptical about this book. I wondered whether the recipe could live up to the promises made for it. Well it absolutely does. The one loaf that didn't come out quite as well was one where I attempted to make a twice as big loaf. I didn't bake it long enough and it was doughy in the middle. Now that I'm back to 1 pound loaves all is well again. I'll try a bigger loaf again some day and bake it a lot longer instead of just a bit longer. For now, however, the one pounders are just fine. They disappear before the next day, but that's ok because there's more dough there to make more.

This book is even a good one for bread baking beginners because the directions are so explicit and the recipe so simple.

This bread is good enough that my lit girls want their mom to have the recipe and the librarian in town (after tasting a slice of the rye) is buying a copy of the book for the library and one for herself. So it's a good thing to put on your Mother's Day gift list.

This is not a paid testimonial, it's just the enthusiastic response of someone who loves good bread, especially when it requires so little effort...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bowing to the Floor

One of the discoveries I made this week in reading a book about St. Therese was that the Carmelites in her convent were not allowed to defend themselves when unjustly accused or criticized. That goes so against our current way of thinking. We are so quick to defend our actions, defend our motives, and be very touchy if someone criticizes us unjustly. The Carmelites would bow and kiss the floor before their accuser. Now that goes about as counter to our culture as you can imagine.

I'm not thinking about adopting the bowing to the floor custom (imagine the reaction that would cause!), but I'm thinking that perhaps we should examine the attitude behind it. It's an attitude that attributes the best of motives to the person criticizing us. It's an attitude of acceptance of humiliation. It's recognizing that even if the other person doesn't recognize the efforts we are making, or misunderstands what we have done, that God does understand. God accepts our feeble efforts, our awkward attempts, and even our mistakes, just as we accept the bunches of weeds that our small children bring to us so lovingly. We want so much to be bringing God beautiful paintings, beautiful vases full of blossoms, and we find ourselves with love producing stick figures and juice glasses of dandelions. St. Therese embraced her "littleness" and it was that very embrace that made her a saint. Embracing littleness while still making every effort we can is difficult.We want so much for the other people in our lives to feel love in our actions when sometimes they simply don't because our efforts don't measure up to their expectations. And we sometimes don't feel the love in their actions for the same reason.

We don't live in Carmel according to a strict rule, yet we can practice some of the principles behind the rule. For instance we can offer up those criticisms instead of rushing to defend ourselves, and we can attribute good motives to those around us, even when they've done something we don't like. We can accept their loving efforts, even when it doesn't meet our expectations. Their efforts, like ours, may simply be dandelions offered to a Heavenly Father who simply revels in dandelions and stick figures as long as that's the best His little children can offer.