By Bread Alone

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          A note to readers: This blog has moved! To read newer posts and copies of old ones (yes, even this post!), please visit me at the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS. See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

          The sermon in my small New England church recently turned to bread and its many meanings. In Christianity and in common parlance, bread is the most basic human food, the food that stands for all other foods, both literal and spiritual.

          It is also one of our most captivating foods to consume. As James Beard wrote, “Bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”

          To me, bread is a symbol of fellowship. I often make it with my mother (the world’s best kneader), my sister-in-law, and/or my nephew Michael. As we knead the bread, we knead our relationships, gently stretching and binding them. Our laughter makes its way into the bread, making it healthy and happy as it rises.

concentrating-on-bread-web4          Bread is also a symbol of the power of the cosmos. Yeast, little creatures we can hardly see, work their magic and grow when given the right nourishment (a little moisture, a little warmth)—just as people do, just as the universe did during the big bang. My college astronomy professor, Tom Dennis, liked to use raisin bread as a metaphor for the expanding universe. He posited that humans are in the position of a raisin in a loaf that is rising. We cannot see the whole loaf of bread, but we know that the surrounding raisins are receding from us.

          Perhaps Browning had it right when he wrote, “If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and the heavens.”

          Bread’s appeal is perhaps strongest when it exists only in potential form. In the oven, long before it can be eaten, it releases its glorious aroma into the house. Something about that penetrating odor always brings a longing to me that speaks to much more than food. The smell mysteriously promises to fulfill basic human needs —for home, for love, for nourishment.

          In an odd way, it reminds me of the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen song “Lullaby,” sung in the show St. Louis Woman by a woman recalling an idyllic childhood with a long estranged mother. The melody is haunting, and the overall feeling is of sad nostalgia.
          There with my head on her shoulder, the troubles of the world seemed far away.

          A million years, a million miles have come between us,

          And yet it seems like only yesterday.

          We may not be able to revisit all the scenes of our childhood. Nevertheless, the smell of bread in the oven and that first bite of freshly baked heaven bring us back briefly to a time of innocence and wonder, when it seemed as though a kiss or a treat from a loved one could solve all of humanity’s problems.

          I was lucky enough to experience the aroma of fresh-baked bread Friday when I experimented with a loaf from a new book, The Artisan Gourmet, by Randy Tomasacci. Randy is the demo chef for Bittersweet Herb Farm. This company in Shelburne, Massachusetts, sells a line of high-quality herb mixes, oils, sauces, and vinegars. His book (which I’ll write more about soon) highlights those products with relatively simple recipes and humorous stories about his life and cooking career.

This recipe for a no-knead bread features Bittersweet’s Garlic with Rosemary Oil. You could infuse your own oil, but this one is pretty terrific. I started to add some fresh rosemary from my garden to the dough but discovered it didn’t need it.

          Randy didn’t specify what kind of pan to use for this bread. I shaped it into a flat ball before the second rising and placed it to rise (and eventually bake) on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Between its aroma and its appearance, it took all my willpower not to gnaw into it before we took pictures!

          For more information on Bittersweet Herb Farm and Randy Tomasacci, visit the Bittersweet link on my blogroll.

breadwithstuffweb3Randy’s Lake Como White Bread Dough

Ingredients:

1 packet active dry yeast

1-1/4 cups lukewarm water

2 tablespoons Bittersweet Herb Farm Garlic with Rosemary Oil

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons sugar

3 cups flour, sifted

olive oil as needed for brushing

Instructions:
          Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the oil, the salt, the sugar, and 1/2 the flour. Beat for 2 minutes at medium speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl frequently. Add the remaining flour, and blend it in with a spoon until smooth. Scrape the batter from the sides of the bowl. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm spot until the dough doubles in bulk (about 30 minutes).

         Punch the dough down, and dust it wih flour until it is no longer sticky to the touch. (This is when I shaped the ball.) Allow the dough to rise once more, again covered, until it doubles in bulk; then bake it at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown. Brush the top of the loaf with olive oil, and let the bread cool on a rack. Makes 1 loaf.

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