Three days of bread making
Oscar is out of the refrigerator and on the counter.
If I prod him every hour, he should be fully alive and ready by six.
Ready for what?
Kneading, of course.
Yes. Oscar is my sour dough bread starter.
When Ebie gave me my very first bread starter last week, (it might be worth mentioning-I never had a bread starter in my fifty-two years of life), I was afraid. Yes. Afraid. Afraid I fuck it up. “It” being the bread-making process.
Ebie, the eighty-five year old matriarch of the Community Supported Agriculture, Twin Maples Organics-the only organic garden within hundreds of miles of my home-of which I am a basil-picking, weed-pulling, basket-sharing member-bestowed upon me, then named my sour dough bread starter, Oscar.
Ebie even gave me a photocopy of her recipes.
Disclaimer: I’m a bread-making virgin. And I’m obsessed with making bread. Chalk it up to life in a tiny, rural town without a good bakery around for hundreds of miles and my wish to live a simple, sustainable lifestyle.
I’m out of my comfort zone with Oscar, bread flour, corn oil, measuring spoons and just the right temperature to grow Oscar.
I know. It’s just yeast, air and flour. What could go wrong?
If you’re a bread-making virgin, too, then I strongly suggest you stay off Google and YouTube. There is just way too much information out there.
“Just remember to feed Oscar,” Ebie said as she handed me the mason jar with the gunky-beige-looking sour dough bread starter.
Yup, this is alien territory for me.
I have now checked on Oscar’s growth five times in the last two hours.
There is a slight bubbling on the top of Oscar, as if I placed a straw in the mix and blew air.
It’s then EEK! I remember I’m supposed to stir Oscar, and I fret a bit about my lack of attention. I have four or more hours to go. Small swarms of butterflies have taken up residence in my stomach.
“What are you taking pictures of?” Elvis asks as he wanders through the kitchen.
“Oscar,” I say as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
I give Oscar a vigorous stir and go back to scrubbing my turnips and beets.
Oscar is looking good, as far as I can tell. But I give him another brisk stir before we leave for the movie theater.
And yes, my internal anxiety has ratcheted-up a few knots because I won’t be here for several hours to check on Oscar. But I will chill and enjoy the movie “Gravity” with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, and if Elvis wants to go for a cocktail after (and I don’t mean on our back patio), I will go, sip my wine, and try not to talk about Oscar, but rather the movie.
The movie was good and we opted for cocktails on the back patio.
Knead five minutes, or until no longer gummy, I read from my photocopied recipe instructions. I sip my cab sav a little too eagerly, me thinks.
“I’ll bet you didn’t think I had it in me,” I said to Elvis as he walked through the kitchen.
“I’ll bet you didn’t think you had it in you,” he said.
Of course, I’m only working towards the end of the first day. Oscar must rise overnight and then rise again tomorrow before I bake his fat doughy blob.
Oscar is now sitting, basked in oil, in a pink plastic bowl, covered with parchment paper, until morning.
Oscar (insert drum roll) is now in the second stage of the bread-making Gods.
I’m going to sear a few chicken breasts and pour another glass of wine.
Ocsar has risen!
It’s the small stuff, right?
The second step of Bread Making 101 is the easiest. Since Oscar and the chemistry Gods did their thing, I only had to split Oscar in three parts, oil, place in bowls, cover with parchment and let rise again (6 to 9 hours or until more than double) according to my recipe directions.
This would be a great time to mention equipment. I hail from a relatively well-stocked kitchen, but bread making (with my recipe) requires three bowls, three baking pans, a rolling-pin, if you want to make cinnamon rolls with one of the third, (umm, hello), and one of those little flat plastic bread splitters. I’m sure there’s a name for that tool and after I Google it, I’ll have it. But for now, and it seems funny, but years ago when I brokered Pillsbury dry products (yes I did a bit of baking with boxed mixes), I gave away those little flat plastic tools as swag. Funny thing is most people didn’t get too excited about that little white plastic thingy. They wanted other kitchen tools-any other kitchen tool in fact.
Thing is-you can’t have enough bowls.
I’m approaching the baking hour. Oscar is rising nicely now in three separate blobs. I’m wondering if I should carve a “B” into the top of the loaf, or will puncturing the unbaked break cause it to fall? That I am thinking this surely is enough reasoning to not so, but I have a little rebel streak in me. It is also at this time I realize I need to bake these three loaves, and they are in nestled in pink plastic bowls, not baking pans!
I also realized if I was going to bake cinnamon buns, I should have rolled out the dough at 8:00 a.m. filled with butter, sugar and cinnamon, then let rise another 6 to 9 hours.
My three Oscars are in cake and pie tins. So I’ll have round artisanal loaves, not regular bread shaped loaves. I think I’ll go for the “B.”
Now I’m wondering where will I get bags to store my round-shaped bread?
I thought this would simplify my life?
I slashed the bread tops after all.
I baked all three loaves for thirty-five minutes at 350 degrees, then brushed the tops with butter (as per the directions). I let them rest while I snap a few photos, not terribly happy about the lack of color on the crust, but thrilled with the yeasty smell of fresh-baked bread that takes me back to the little butter cream-colored walls of the kitchen of my youth.
Who needs perfectly browned crust anyway?
I sliced into the smallest loaf. A sensation like the first day of class jitters floods through my body. Then warm, dense and very sour dough-tasting bread pops in my mouth like a little celebration. I wanted to slather my first slice with roasted chestnut butter, but I forgot to remove it from the fridge, so instead I slather my first slice of Oscar with a little soft butter.
I’m happy like a kid on Christmas day.
Two loaves are wrapped and in the freezer. That smaller loaf? I’ll toast a thick slice in the morning, spread my homemade roasted chestnut butter on it and then let you know.
So how is my toasted sour dough bread with roasted chestnut butter?
ADDICTING & DANGEROUS!
And best eaten in small quantities (so Elvis gets to try Oscar too).
Lucky for me I split and fed Oscar last week. Tomorrow I’ll feed Oscar again then bake another three loaves next week.
Now I will take a walk. A brisk walk.
Bread making 101 notes and thoughts: Should I rise the bread in the oven, not on the counter? Or maybe in the bedroom where the temperature is ambient and warm? Note to self: remember to make the cinnamon buns before the second rise and place the loaves in the baking pans for the second rise. Add fresh rosemary, honey instead of sugar and kosher or Maldon salt. Knead less, or more. Bake at higher temperature for a browned crust? Oil the crust before baking?
Since I initially wrote this post, I consulted FB for advice (thank you Butter Wilde and Laura Lafata), Ebie, and learned to trust myself, and yes, the simple process of baking bread.
A few things I learned:
What about you? Got a bread-making tip or disaster? Don’t hold back, please. I’m still learning. In fact, Oscar did not rise this morning and I have no idea what I did or did not do.
- Blast the bread at 425 until the crust browns (about 12-15 minutes), then reduce the heat to finish baking.
- Slow and cool is better than fast and warm (regarding the rise of the bread).
- Rosemary & Maldon salt bread is amazing!
- Whole wheat cinnamon buns, not so amazing.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Splitting, feeding, and sharing Oscar is the greatest gift.