I recently began learning to make my own bread (recipe at the end). For those of you that know me I like to make a lot of my own food from scratch, even just to learn how it is done. I make a lot of good food and a lot of bad food, but in the end, I learn a lot. Like most things, I try in life I find that baking bread is a lot like how I live my life. The mental guide I am creating to make bread fits well with the guide for how I live my life. I give you fair warning I am not a baker. I am not an expert on how to do anything correctly. I have read some and experimented a lot. I have learned that making bread is best if I keep it simple. That said, simplicity lends itself to being eclectic and trying new things. I need to get messy and put in hard work followed by being patient while that work pays off. I need to know how to do the recipe correctly while not getting hung up on getting it perfect. I have learned these things over the short time I have been trying to supply my home with delicious home-baked bread, and I reflect on them as I try to live my life.
First, keep it simple. I am not a baker, and I am not a wiz at baking. The art of bread building is a beautiful thing. I see so many pictures of intensely cool stuff people can do. I am not that person. I want yummy bread that I can have with a sandwich, breakfast, or most often an impromptu charcuterie/olive and cheese plate (yes, I can get fancy). For the most part, I like my bread to be a simple flavorful slice or tear that adds to the meal. As you can see from the recipe you can see I use yeast, salt, flour, and coffee (I just use any leftover so I can make a fresh pot). I get organic nonGMO everything and just go to town (I am being simple, I want my grains to be simple). 4 simple ingredients added together and cooked. I reign in my desire to go crazy, and just stick to these basics, and the bread turns out great.
This is a mirror for my life. I have gone through phases where I thought I wanted this big complex life that took odd twists and turns and hundreds of moving parts. Now, honestly, my thought is to buy a sailboat and sell everything else. Spend my mornings swimming in the ocean, my days sailing the coast or exploring the land near me, and my nights writing while sipping gin and tonics and gazing at the stars. I also at times consider just gardening my life away, with the simple feel of dirt in my fingers and sun on my back. These dreams are simple things I have found that I enjoy and love. Sure, I still love the gaming industry, and I dream of helping design the next slot floor or dealing with customers and employees. The high energy of each day at work was exhilarating, and I do still crave it, and will likely go back to it. With my current writing, I have tried to do the same thing. Keep with what I know and keep it simple. But, in the end, my dream is to embrace the simple joys I have found in the last few months. I want my simple ingredients.
Second, be eclectic and try new things. I have always been one to try new things. I love new foods and experiences that can enhance my life in interesting ways. This is not the same as becoming more complex. If anything, only in simplicity can I personally achieve eclectic additions to my baking and life. I have my super simple recipe, which I can use to try new things at a whim and little effort. Originally the recipe called for water, but I had a cup left in my coffee pot one day and so I threw it in instead. Now I usually use coffee. I have tried several liquids I had around the house including dark beer, fruit juice, etc. It takes only a moment’s whim and I am off and running on what kind of liquid to add. I also have tried different additives. I was once making salsa and so I threw in the left-over garlic, green onions, jalapeno, and cilantro to amazing effect. I found the bread flavorful and fresh tasting. One night after making ribs I even dumped the droppings and juices into the bread creating a very moist and dense bread that really went well with chili. By being willing to fail I find ways to try new things.
There are eclectic choices that take forethought though. I have started to buy different styles of flour. From Red Fife to Teff, I am exploring how the bread tastes with different flours. Now I promised myself to read nothing about the flour until after I make one batch (often a mistake, but so far not fatal). I start by making two loaves. One with all specialty flour, and one with half specialty and half my normal flour. I keep everything else the same and just get it done. I keep notes on how quickly each took to rise, how it felt and tasted. Really anything that happens that I find noteworthy gets written down encase I want to try again. I am a big believer in note-taking.
Life, I have found, is best lived eclectically. All these people refusing to try new foods, or worse hear new ideas. We live in a closeminded time, which is sad because it is a time where we have access to everything on the earth. I can order spices from Ethiopia, and pepper flakes to make my own kimchi. I can read the philosophers of China and Europe. I can get on a plane and fly somewhere far away on a whim and chance. This is a time where so much of the world is at our fingertips, and so few of us try any of it. I rebel against that. I want to hear new ideas and try new things. The day I saw the world from the top of God’s Precipice in Africa was one of the greatest moment of my life. I open myself to the possibility to try things I might dislike and fail, and it opens doors to new experiences. I refuse to fit into a little box and live an enclosed life.
Too many of us fit ourselves into these boxes. Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Accountant, Hillbilly, College Professor. We hear from the world what we should enjoy and what we should not. I do not like to label or be labeled because I do not want to think in terms of what I should enjoy. I want to try it all. I want to read new genres and try new things. I want a plate of food I have never seen before. I want to take the simple and easy way to live life I have decided on and mix it throughout with the world’s many choices. If I sail the world, each day I can try new foods in new lands, and talk to new people about new ways to live. If I garden I can try new plants and new clippings. I can embrace the constant opening up of new seeds from new locations. I believe this is why I always loved the casino industry. The constantly new experiences of odd combinations of guests and employees gave rise to an eclectic feel to my each and every moment at work. In my current writing, I am doing the same, in my novel, I added in elements that I had to research and learn new things to use intelligently.
Third, get messy. You cannot even dream of making bread without getting messy. The sticky flour coats your hands and anything you might touch. It is a jumble to get it all off and back into the ball of dough. But you cannot be afraid to get your hands in there and get to work. That bread is not going to knead itself. There are machines and such, but there is something about the feel of your hands on the dough while you work it. The texture tells you if you need more water or flour. It tells you about the flour you are using, and it helps you to shape and experience the extra ingredients you might have added.
Life is messy. There are things in life that get difficult and look unpleasant, but the best thing to do is just reach into that bowl and grab hold. Holding back and avoiding certain things might look preferable, but at some point, you need to grab that bull by the horns and just get it done and move on. Take it from me the king of avoidance.
Fourth, work hard. I am going to say it; kneading dough is hard work. I do not mind the messy hands (really, I do not). But what I have found is that 10 minutes of kneading feels harder than a long run. I do not know if it is because I do not normally use the muscles involved, or just the concentration and movement involved. But you knead the dough at least twice in most recipes, and though the time is not long, it still takes work as the dough gets more gum-like and resistant to your touch. Now you can just mix the bread until the dough is dough-like. But trust me, the bread will not come out right. It will rise to fast the first time, or not rise at all. The work needs to be done, put it in.
Life is hard work if done right. I have spent my life working hard. I put in 60-hour work weeks at my last casino, and only cut back when I added my MBA studies to the load. Even then I hardly ever dropped below 50 hours. I added school on top of this and spent time working on my house. I replaced my roof, rewired my house, gutted and rebuilt my upstairs, and built an outside landscape I can be proud of. All as a starter. My novel and other writings are a constant struggle of writing and rewriting to ensure I get everything as I want it. I have spent my life working hard and enjoying my accomplishments. Raising a child is work. Ask any parent, and yet they must admit it is rewarding. You need to be willing to put in that hard work if you want to enjoy the benefits, otherwise, your life will come out flat and tasteless.
Fifth, be patient. Once you have kneaded you bread you need to cover it and set it aside to rise. You really have about 20 minutes of total work mixed in with 3+ hours of waiting. That waiting sucks I know, but it is worth it. In the recipe that I include the total allotted time is just under 2 ½ hours of wait time, but be ready for more. Remember the dough needs to double each time. Do not rush it.
Life is like this. You often put in a lot of work then must wait to see what happens. In the casino industry, you design a floor and train employees then wait to see what happens. You test the results as they come in, but those results take time to ensure you are getting an accurate reading. Slot analysis can only happen if you give time for data to build up. Changing every week does not give time to really see what happened. With gardening, you cannot plant seeds and expect the fruits to flourish the next day. You need to wait and continue to care for the garden until results start to grow. With my current novel; I have waited on beta readers, then editors, and soon I will wait on sales. It is all about putting in the work, getting it how you want it, before waiting until the results come in. Waiting is the hardest part of any project because you want to just get it done. But rush it too fast and it will come out flat and tasteless.
Sixth, know the suggested methodology. Before you can start on bread read the recipe. Know what you should need, and how much. Know the signs and textures you are looking for. You should have read the recipe before you start. I have an issue with starting before fully understanding everything a project will take. I am working against my impulse to jump right in. Now I have studied. I know that the doubling of dough is important, and the hollow rapping sound the loaf should have when baked. These things help me to know that I am doing everything correctly. Life has taught me with bread and everything else that you must know how you should do it before you work on how you will do it.
I remodeled my upstairs completely. Tore out a bathroom and two rooms completely. Ripped up walls and floors and ceilings. I had a plan, but nothing concrete. I learned quickly that this was a mistake. You must make the plan. The plan and methodology of the project give you an outline and bones to build on. After that, you can start without worrying too much about the next step, because you have a plan for each step.
Lastly, do not get hung up on getting it perfect because you will need to adapt. Bread is a fickle beast. One time it takes the exact flour measurements sometimes it takes more. There are times it takes an hour to rise, at others two. I must pull it out early or let it bake longer. All of which are changes I must adapt on the fly as I go. Add to this my eclectic additions that come in on a whim, and you never know what changes are called for. I learned the methodology and so I can adapt on the fly keeping in mind the important steps the bread and I must take.
As the saying goes, we all make plans and God makes life. We know exactly what we want to do and who we want to be, but life does not always let us. It shakes it up and makes us reevaluate what we want and can do. It is messy and chaotic and beautiful. The ability to adapt as needed without worrying about perfection is a difficult, yet necessary, skill.
I have been baking bread for only a few months now, but I have been living life for 40 years. I have found lessons in the new to help with the old. I do this with many things, and I am sure several blog posts will revolve around my continued learning on how to be a better human being. I hope you enjoyed the posts so far and will enjoy what is to come. Next week I will talk a bit about the upcoming book so please feel free to tune in and read up on how I came up with basic ideas I wanted to capture (mostly about tricksters in global cultures).
Ok now, what you have all been waiting for:
2 Teaspoons of Yeast (or one envelope if you do not buy in bulk)
1 Cup Coffee
2 Cups Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt.
Add the yeast and coffee together and let sit 3-5 minutes. I usually go and have a smoke and figure it is about right when I get back. You then mix in the salt and flour and hand mix it. You will need to add a little more flour, but you need to play it by ear. You mix and then knead for a while, and as it stays sticky you need to sprinkle a bit of flour on and knead some more. Repeat this until the flour is gum like. It might still stick a little but that is ok. Just make sure it is not sticky enough to stick to the bowl.
Once it is as you want it, knead for 10 minutes more at least, then set aside. Your goal here is to ensure the yeast is fully spread throughout the mixture. Cover with a towel and let it sit. The rise can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour. Sometimes longer (rye took the longest pushing the two-hour mark). What you are checking on is that it doubles in size. That is all you care about. No need to worry about the time it took as so many things can change it. What is important is that it doubles in size.
Ok now knead it again, but only a minute or two. You are redistributing the yeast and causing it all to shrink back down. You want to get the yeast into contact with new flour though so knead then set aside until it doubles again. It should take roughly half the time to rise it took the first time. Note you do not need to do this second rise, but I find it makes the bread a bit more flavorful.
So, it has now been mixed, kneaded, raised, kneaded, and raised again. Take the dough and gently condense it down into a ball. You now shape it or add it to a pan or whatever you want to do. I normally just shape a nice half ball (I use a baking stone so it goes right on the stone). I assume if you put it in a pan you want to spray with oil first. I do not use a pan so… I am just guessing. Once you have shaped it as you want, cut lines along the top so the bread can rise without odd shapes. Start your oven preheating to 450 degrees. Make sure the loaf you shaped sets about 15 minutes before putting it in the oven. I lucked out, my oven takes at least that to get to the correct temp. Bake it for about 40 minutes and wa-la. You have yummy bread. It should be golden to look upon and when you rap it with your knuckles it should sound hollow.
So, the seven things I learned from baking bread are:
- Keep it simple
- Be eclectic and try new things
- Get messy
- Work hard
- Be patient
- Know the suggested methodology
- Do not get hung up on getting it perfect because you will need to adapt
I hope you enjoyed the post and let me know in the comments if you tried the bread and enjoyed the results. Still looking for more recipes try my post on how to make kimchi and my post on how to make fry bread.