Let’s talk a minute about bread. Consisting only of flour, water, yeast and salt, it is perhaps one of the baker’s most basic creations. And yet, it frightens me.
I know. It’s flour, water, yeast and salt. I hang my baker’s head in shame to think that they could make me so nervous.
Independently, these commonplace ingredients appear to be docile, good-natured stuff. Yet, put them together and they throw a party that makes Saturday night in beer-stained frat house look like afternoon tea. After all, Bread is Beer’s wild, out-of-state cousin.
It’s all this yeast business. Cake batter just sits there, but yeast is alive. It moves and eats and grows. The crux of something being alive is its inevitable mortality. Cookie dough won’t DIE if I let it sit too long. The yeast in bread dough, on the other hand, might eat itself into a comma if you don’t handle it properly (As yeast comes into contact with flour, it consumes the sugars/starches and this is what creates carbon dioxide and alcohol, which leavens, or makes the bread rise.) If the yeast isn’t happy, neither is the baker.
When I first started Breads Class, someone might as well have placed a newborn baby in my arms. The idiom, “bun in the oven,” is no mistake and has never before held so much meaning. So, I was handed a “baby,” I did what any responsible adult would do. I fed it, gave it a couple naps to ensure proper digestion, played with it a while, let it rest, and eventually, when it was ready to leave the nest, I threw it into the real world, aka, a crust-forming, starch gelatinizing inferno.
Although, yeast still seems a bit wild and unpredictable to an inexperienced baker like myself, the tactile nature of bread baking gives you an undeniable connection to your product. The dough’s hydration, its firmness, its temperature and its texture, all become second nature. You’ve invested your hands and time and truly get to know the nuances of its behavior. One moment you’re kneading a slack ball of dough that barely resembles a loaf, and suddenly, that little ball of dough is being paired with cheese and wine. Funny, how quickly the time goes.