Being creative is an ever-evolving pursuit and stretching yourself to learn new things is important. Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to learn how to make bread – something I’d never done before. And in the process, I made bread, all kinds of breads, and I also better understood what draws so many people to this form of creative expression. It’s about more than the crafting and the incredibly delicious result (warm bread coming out of the oven soon to be slathered with butter is, well, you know, pretty amazing).
I realized there’s something about making bread … you can’t outwork it or outthink it or outmanage it. It has a time of its own with the proof and the rise, and watching it be bread on its own terms slows you down and brings a quietude not always found in our busy lives. Bread being bread gives you time to think about things, to reflect on things that needed a pause. Your hands moving in smooth dough, rhythmically turning and kneading against a marble board, is entrancing.
As a novice bread maker, I started where I start most things – with books. The Internet is great for information, but it will never take the place of wandering bookstore aisles searching for just the right ones and bringing them home to dive into. You can learn a lot about a person by the books on their shelves, but that’s for another day and another blog post!
For five weeks, I kept a disciplined schedule of a minimum of two hours of bread education in the mornings, followed by baking in the afternoons. My newfound collection of bread books became a daily staple, and I enjoyed learning about the different techniques. It seemed like a good idea to start with a bread machine for the early loaves, with a goal of soon taking off the training wheels and digging in with completely hands-on mixing, kneading, shaping and baking. It was a good plan, and it worked.
My bread machine research led me to purchase the Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus, which makes two-pound loaves. It’s an outstanding machine and allowed me to take my bread learning and making in stages – first completely by the machine; followed by only dough-making in the machine; and finally, independently moving into rarely using it except with certain types of bread. I highly recommend the Zojirushi.
Needless to say, I acquired some kitchen additions like Banneton baskets; a couche and proofing cloth; baguette loaf pan; all kinds of flours; Brod & Taylor proofing box; a tapered, stainless steel French rolling pin; and a Danish dough whisk. I know my way around a kitchen, but this was all new territory for me!
The goal was to bake a variety of bread types so I could learn different techniques and be able to decide which looked and tasted the best. A handful of family and friends became my unofficial bread tasters with regular deliveries to them, and their enthusiasm made mine grow only more. Next, I started making compound butters to go with the breads – lemon chive; garlic; and orange honey butters. My bread deliveries became popular!
The bread tasters enjoyed oregano and thyme bread; cranberry and walnut bread; rosemary and garlic bread; chocolate walnut bread; French bread; orange, honey and olive oil bread; Italian bread; bacon and cheddar cheese bread; honey almond bread; whole wheat and sesame seed bread; cinnamon and nutmeg rolls with walnut and cream cheese frosting; bacon and parmesan cheese pastry puffs; 7 grain bread; and blueberry brioche bread. There were baguettes, loaves, rolls, and boules – and I was baking it faster than they could eat it! (Fortunately, it turns out that placing it in the freezer yields a remarkably fresh bread when eaten later.)
When I started building The Daily Artisan, bread making took a back seat, but I plan to return to it. It’s challenging and calming all at once, and as we started out with this post, the smell and anticipation of warm bread baking is something else. Besides, my bread tasters’ pantries and freezers are bare!
What new creative things have you learned? What do you plan to tackle next? Please comment below!