This past winter (and well into the spring), I have been seeking the perfect bread recipe. It needed to be something I could make by hand and that would turn out well, each and every time.
Although I have been making bread-machine bread for years, I have never been 100 percent happy with that method. I also considered it a considerable cheat. (Though you can never really cheat all the way because there's that hole in the centre, from the paddle in the bottom of the machine. That's always a dead give away that it was a machine bread.)
My first steps into non-machine bread still used the machine to do the mixing for me, until I got used to the consistency I needed. And once I stopped using the bread machine for mixing, I still used the same recipe. I was breaking that dependency one step at a time, apparently.
So while I was home this winter with Callum, I decided that I would go in search of the hand-made bread recipe of my daydreams. And it took a while.
I read books. I looked online. I watched tutorials. I looked up recipes in very old cookbooks. Throughout the process, not a lot of edible bread was being made but an awful lot of flour was being wasted.
I finally phoned a good friend and asked for her recipe. We even made a date for her to come the 1.5 hours south to have a bread making day. It turned out that her bread recipe was more ad hoc than she realized and the preparation I did in advance wasted yet another 10 cups of flour. We went for sushi lunch instead. :)
In the end, though, we went to the recipe's author, another friend from the north, to be told that the original measurements published in a fund-raising cookbook were a misprint and the 10 cups of flour should actually read 15 cups. Well, that might explain the problems I had with it.
Armed with the correct ingredient amounts, I made one last attempt to work that bread recipe. I vowed that if this was not meant to be, this would be my last try and we would go back to weekly visits to the local bakery.
But lo and behold, it worked. It well and truly worked. I was stupefied. My husband breathed a sigh of relief. These first four loaves were a masterpiece; indeed, they were loaf-shaped beauty. Ahhh.
Even with this initial success, and the subsequent batches, I am still tinkering with the bake time - a nudge this way, a skosh back - trying to get that airy inside and that crispy outside. I think I may finally be there.
But more importantly, I have finally realized that the whole process, as trying as it was, was worth the end result. It was also a lesson in patience and perseverance, things I'm going to need a lot in my new role as parent.
Next, I quest for pastry.
Happy bread baking, M
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