I Knead It…I knead it bad!

I have always had respect for people who could not only make bread that wasn’t as heavy as a brick and hard to swallow, but that was pretty, too.  My oldest friend (who incidentally has a pretty kick ass blog called Nutsville in Norway) is an expert bread maker (among being an expert at making a variety of things, both food and textile wise).

I remember hanging out at her house before she moved a million miles away to be with her super intelligent, cancer researching, biophysicist boyfriend (now husband) and she would occasionally make bread that can be described in one very simple word. Heavenly.  The color was incredible; it was crusty but light and fluffy and not at all dense and cake-like as all of my failed attempts had been.  And best of all, it had flavor. I’d sit and watch her put smelly yeast into hot water and mix in a ton of flour and patiently knead the dough into a lovely, pale wad of bread-to-be. She’d knead and punch and wait, knead and punch and wait. So expertly and with the patience of a saint. Me on the other hand, I’d look at her after she sat down after kneading the pale mass for the second time and say, “What the HELL Jess! When can we EAT it?”

It would eventually get to the point that the dough had rested and risen and been massaged enough to happily be thrown into an oven. And then, we’d both impatiently wait for a loaf to be done and yank it out of the oven. I’d immediately grab the butter from the fridge and a knife from her drawer all the while salivating, only to be stopped by her the moment the knife’s tip hit the deliciously crusty top of the bread with a, “What are you doing?” I’d look at her and say, “What do you mean, ‘What am I doing?'” Lex, she’d patiently explain: we need to wait for it to cool for a little while.   I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to eat, damnit!

Every attempt I’d made at creating an edible bread had been a failure. I was looking through a collection of blogs the other day and ran across a recipe for Amish Country Bread. It looked easy enough, didn’t require countless sessions of kneading and resting. So, I decided to give it another try.

I pulled my hair up into a top knot, threw on my cutest apron (given to me by my aforementioned friend) and rummaged through the pantry until I had all of the ingredients that I needed: yeast, flour, salt, sugar. I measured and dumped, and waited for the yeast to “bubble”. I dumped in a few cups of flour and dove in, fingers first to pinch and rub and massage until the mass of what had been a powdery mess became a pliable, stretchy ball. It was beautiful. I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt.

I buttered the inside of a bowl, threw in my masterpiece and covered it with a towel all the while thinking to myself, “Ok…how the hell do I know how long I have to wait for this crap to double in size?” So, I did the wise thing. I opened a bottle of my favorite pear cider, poured myself a flute, sat down and waited, popping up every 15 minutes to monitor my creation’s growth.

I decided after about 40 minutes that it had rested enough, so I punched. I punched and this ball of goo expelled air and deflated. I separated the big ball into two small balls. I put them on a greased cookie sheet (per my now favorite bread recipe), pulled out the sharpest knife I have, made some pretty little slits in the top and again covered with a towel.  I then poured myself another flute of pear cider and waited.  Very impatiently, might I add.  I checked every 15 minutes to see if the two small dough balls had expanded enough to finally be put in the oven.  Old habits die-hard.

It was finally time! I lack a pastry brush, so I used my hands to slather the two pasty colored balls of dough with a simple egg wash and then I sprinkled with sea salt. I pushed them into the oven…and drank another flute of pear cider. And, I waited. But this time, I wasn’t impatient; I was excited and slightly giddy.  The buzzer on the oven sounded and I ran to the yank open the door. They. Were. Incredible.

I’m not too shabby in the kitchen. I can make some pretty mean meals, but I was particularly ecstatic about what I’d created. I’d made two incredibly crusty looking, browned and pretty loaves of bread. I immediately grabbed butter and my sharp knife and sliced one of the loaves. Holy hell, it was a taste explosion! It was warm and crusty on the outside and chewy and heavenly on the inside. It was perfect.  I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud of something that I’d made.

I’ll definitely be making that recipe again and I intend to share it with friends. I actually conquered my fear of bread making by baking an edible masterpiece.