The super script headline of this post describes both an obsession of mine and the title of my most recent purchase at a bookstore. In the past three decades, I’ve been baking bread during fall and winter Sunday afternoons. Bread baking, for me, comes second only to riding horses in order of my hobby priorities. Lately, though, I’ve gotten a little more serious about it.
One of our friends is an avid bread baker/experimenter. I’ve had his blue-cheese pine nut bread, and sage bread, and other combinations thereof, and we used to tease him about how he talked about bread: “This one has a great crumb; the crust is the perfect marriage of crunchy and light,” or some such approximation. Gordon, indeed, sounded like one of those irritating friends who’d recently taken up wine tasting in Napa Valley.
With each loaf, I seem to get a better handle on my rising/kneading/consistency technique, and I now understand why bread bakers can be as irritating as oenophiles. I actually used the words “good crumb” when describing my latest loaves, which took three days to make. I thought, for a brief moment, that my husband was going to lob the wet dishtowel he was holding at my head, as he cleaned up yet another horror-inducing mess of flour, cornmeal and, yes, crumbs, from our kitchen (I cook, he cleans).
A few years ago, we spent most of my inheritance redoing our kitchen. It was, I admit it, second only to the impulsive purchase of an imported-from-Germany sport horse (with that same money) in self indulgence. I told myself at the time that it was an investment in our circa-1970s home. And we did a beautiful job, if I do say so myself. But more than an investment, I wanted a wonderful place to bake, and since then, I’ve gathered an impressive array of gadgets and my bread, now set to rise in an oven with a “proof” setting (as opposed to the “dual, mustard colored range with microwave that still used a probe” of the past, where everything either burned or came out raw), has improved.
Whether by practice or study—Bernard Clayton has been my mentor, and now I’m enlisting with Peter Reinhart, who has a great blog of which I am a lurker—my bread draws raves. So much so that I’ve begun to investigate artisan bakeries in my town, and in other towns nearby, where I could, potentially, learn more. I’ve even considered signing up for a culinary education class in baking at the local community college, but was told I’d have to take Culinary Math as a prereq., which, after completing three sections of advanced calculus for my MBA, seems a bit, well, discouraging. Okay, I could use a bit of review on fractions, but I think that’s what calculators are for.
Reinhart mentions “the evolving bread culture of North Carolina” in one of his posts about the Asheville bread festival. So I wondered—is there an evolving bread culture in the Rockies that I could be a part of? Certainly there’s a bread culture in more culinarily advanced cities like San Francisco and Seattle. But in the smaller communities of the Rockies, where’s the home-made, brick oven baked bread? Franchises of the Great Harvest Bread Company don’t count, and neither do outposts of the publicly-traded Panera. Besides, it recently saw disappointing results on the stock market–its bread deflateth, as it were. In New Mexico, everyone makes homemade tortillas, and Mexican panderias can be found in nearly every neighborhood. But what about those crusty, crumby, breads?
Perhaps there’s a lurking, underground bread culture. Of all the things lacking in some of our towns in the Rockies, surely a daily bread stop is one of them. If we can get in the habit, like the French and the Germans, of stopping by the bakery for dinner and for breakfast, we’d launch a whole new vibrant economic sector of bread bakers and bakery owners and wheat growers and bakery employees. Well, one can dream, anyway.