Pain is, of course, French for bread. When applying an English reading of the word, it describes the condition of my very soul when faced with the prospect of baking it.
For some people, bread making is a passion. There exist people in this world for whom the process is relaxing, even meditative.
Not for me. I become anxiety-ridden at the thought of baking it. It’s too basic, too fundamentally a part of our everyday existence. Bread, in one form or another, has supported human life in most cultures for several millenia. What if I, a classically-trained cook, screwed it up?
Frankly, I doubt many people would care. I might get a “Jesus, don’t take yourself so seriously.” comment which, of course, brings to mind one of His more popular sound bytes:
“I am the bread of life
he that cometh to me shall never hunger.” (John 6:35)
Oh. Would Jesus find disappointment in a baker who won’t bake Him? The pressure weighs upon me like a ton of unleavened loaves. That is a Mosaic reference, sorry. I currently can do no better– it’s too early in the morning.
In all seriousness, I understand that this is a totally irrational fear, but a real one, like the one I have about driving a car with manual transmission. I could write volumes about my relationship to bread– my love of consuming it, my loathing of its production. I will keep this brief and spare you the rest.
I have decided to conquer this culinary fear today. I have decided to make white bread or, as the recipe calls it, American Sandwich Bread. Here goes…
Master Recipe for American Sandwich Bread
This recipe was taken from The Best Recipe by the good people at Cook’s Illustrated.
3 1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra for work surface
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup warm milk (110 degrees)
1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons honey
1 package (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) rapid-rise yeast
- Adjust oven rack to low position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Once oven temperature reaches 200 degrees, maintain heat for 10 minutes, then turn off oven heat.
- Mix flour and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix milk, water, honey, and yeast in 1-quart Pyrex liquid measuring cup. Turn machine to low and slowly add liquid. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until dough is smooth and satiny, stopping machine two or three times to scrap dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds.
- Place dough in very lightly oiled container or bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover with plastic wrap; place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, 40 to 50 minutes.
- Gently press dough into rectangle 1 inch thick and no longer than 9 inches. With a long side facing you, roll dough firmly into cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure dough sticks to itself. Turn dough seam side up and pinch it closed. Place dough in greased 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan and press it gently so it touches all for sides of pan.
- Cover with plastic wrap; set aside in warm spot until dough almost doubles in size, 20 to 30 mintues. Heat oven to 350 degrees and place an empty loaf pan on bottom rack. Bring 2 cups water to boil.
- Remove plastic wrap from filled loaf pan and place in oven [ I assumed the authors meant for us to place the filled loaf pan in the oven, not the plastic wrap]. Immediately, pour heated water into empty loaf pan; close oven door. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted at angle from short end just above pan rim into center of loaf reads 195 degrees, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove bread from pan, transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.
I did it. I made it. I made it and no one was killed or shamed in the process.
The bread turned out rather well for a first effort, I think. Except for the top. I didn’t pinch the top of the loaf properly (don’t snigger). The result– and not an entirely unpleasant one — was that, when sliced, the bread took on a shape that looked vaguely like Wisconsin. I toasted it and ate it with great lashings of butter and blackberry preserves. Sorry Thrasso, no marmalade in the house.
I admit to feeling a bit silly about avoiding this for so long. And relieved. What the hell was I so afraid of? I suppose my big question of the day is this:
Is there anyone else out there with performance anxiety (culinarily speaking, of course)?
Baking bread, I have discovered, is like having sex or speaking Spanish. You hear about it. You might watch people doing it late one night on cable television. You discover that there are even classes and workshops to help. You buy the instruction manuals and practice, quietly, when no one else can see you. The important thing is to try. And to practice– whether alone or with a friend. I know for a fact that sex and Spanish are more practically done with someone else present. It is up to you to decide if that is the correct approach for you in terms of bread baking.
And try I did. I count that as one more thing to cross off my what-are-you-waiting-for? list of things to do, one more bogey man slain. I’m still not so sure about driving a stick shift, especially in San Francisco.
Learn more about bread at the Federation of Bakers.
Get some hands on experience at the San Francisco Baking Institute.