Forgive me, but I am going to boast for a minute: I have not purchased bread in more than a month. No, we haven’t gone gluten-free. I’ve been baking a loaf every week. Why? Well, like many consumers, I am concerned about my family’s intake of added sugar and preservatives. Plus, I’d like my daughter to have a basic understanding of how yeast works. However, I have been down this road before, with less successful results.
Years ago, I attended BAKE-cation at Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Ann Arbor. It was phenomenal, and after four days of intense baking, I flew home armed with a tub of sour dough starter and lofty visions of the bread-filled days ahead. A few weeks later, I had made one loaf of challah, and the starter went the same way as most of my houseplants. (Dead. Fast.) My classmates told me they were still baking up a storm, but I was living alone at the time. A girl only needs so much bread.
And so it goes. Every few months, something inspires me to dig out the yeast—whether it’s a new cookbook, an intriguing recipe or just a weekend baking itch. I flour my counters, knead ‘til smooth and elastic, watch happily as the dough mushrooms from the bowl, savor the fresh-baked goodness, and swear I’ll never buy bread again—and then buy bread again the next week. Life is busy and, I realize now, my focus has been wrong. I pour my energy into garlic knots and bagels, when really I should have been perfecting one reliable, nutritious and tasty basic.
All that changed with Quick and Easy Whole Wheat Bread, a King Arthur Flour recipe I discovered via Indianapolis-based blog Annie’s Eats. It’s 100-percent whole wheat and has very little sugar, yet isn’t a brick. A bit of orange juice masks the bitter flavor of the whole wheat flour, and potato flakes lend softness. The easy part is true—you just dump the ingredients in a stand-mixer bowl, let the dough hook work its magic, proof, shape quickly, proof again and bake. The quick? Well, the full process takes several hours, but the hands-on time is minimal. Which I should know; after all, I am a food editor. But somehow, bread baking always felt like an event. Like a helicopter parent, I nervously checked the dough every 10 minutes, and I had to consult the recipe repeatedly to know what to do next. And because I was making more obscure recipes, I only made each thing once, which never afforded the chance to hone my skills. Now, though, because I’ve made the same recipe every weekend, I’ve learned its rhythm and matched its steps to the familiar beat of our weekend chores and activities. After four weeks, it feels like second nature.
This isn’t a miracle. I’m sure my great-grandmothers had baking days, and clearly, practice makes perfect with any task. But this little personal achievement has given me great satisfaction over the last month. Watching my daughter eat homemade bread for breakfast every day feels really good, and having one recipe down pat has, ironically, made it seem easier to tackle additional yeast recipes. Last weekend, after finishing my regular loaf, I made a pan of shockingly simple white dinner rolls for dinner. They were fluffy and perfect—and might just become a regular thing.
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