Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Complexity of Bread

Bread is as ancient as civilization its self. From the Egyptian pharaohs and the Israelites to the Wonderbread at the local grocery store it has remained constant, going through changes and modifications, trends and various incarnations... yet somehow simultaneously remaining fairly unchanged. Wonderbread is a far cry from the bread pulled from Egyptian ovens but both are easily recognizable as bread. It is a heritage that all nations, all people share.

Bread is highly regarded in the Bible. Christ did not take a piece of meat and tell us to eat it in remembrance of Him; He took a piece of bread to be His body, His flesh. I believe this is because the nature of bread is so complex, yet so basic. Bread is a transformation of living to dead and back again. Live wheat becomes dead flour. Dead flour becomes living, growing dough through yeast. The yeast gives up its life for the bread  in the heat of the oven. The Biblical connections to this process are fairly clear. Nothing other than bread does this. Cake batter does not live and grow. Meat is alive and then dead and that is all. Bread is a cycle of life and death. Sacrifice and reward. 

Baking bread can also transform the baker. I can go into a kitchen angry, sad, or moody and have that change once I start making bread. Working the dough calms my emotions, makes me feel prayerful as I consider the Biblical links to the process of making the bread and connects me to every person before me who has mixed water, yeast, flour, and salt to create bread. I can feel the human heritage through the kneading process, and can see the hands of future generations that will work over dough just as mine do now. 

Today I am working on just some basic French loaves, not complicated or interesting but certainly worth writing about. My bread baking mentor is Peter Reinhart, a master bread maker. His books are where my passion for bread and pizza really developed. I read his blog on Pizza Quest (check out the link over there on the side of the page) regularly and just yesterday I discovered he has a new Artisan Bread class in Craftsy.com, I signed up and have been enjoying it, thoroughly. The bread I am making is the first project from this course. If you're interested in learning to make breads like these I recommend checking out Peter's Craftsy class, blog or any of his books. (Crust & Crumb is my personal favorite.) 

So, now for the fun part! Pictures!

Dough when it first comes together, before the gluten has developed. 

Gluten development! 

My first attempt at a French baguette. 

Scored and baking in the oven. 

Look at those pretty scoring marks! Pretty! 

Interior of the bread, called the crumb. Those big, uneven holes are a good sign. 

My first boule, baking in the oven. 

Another shot of the holes. =)

The rings come from using a proofing basket. I'm lucky and received one for my birthday. 

More irregular holes, success! 


The kitchen table is a symbol in many households, a place of gathering for family and friends, a place to discuss the events of the day, marvel at creations fresh from the oven and share ideas. It has been the host to many fierce political debates and heartfelt family moments, it is a place to enjoy cookies after school and a place many children sit and learn their mother's kitchen secrets. A place where life if discussed deep into the night and hot cocoa or ice cold lemonade are always available. The kitchen table is often the heart of a home.

When trying to decide on a blog name and direction I have often been stumped. I have many interests and many topics I would like to discuss, but I could not seem to find a framework that would incorporate those varying concepts. A blog dedicated to my love for bread baking seemed the wrong place to voice my opinions on current events, while a blog centering around my Christian faith didn't seem the exact right place to share pictures of my newest oven creation. There is however one place all topics and all ideas meet - the kitchen table. So while this blog will have a heavy emphasis on bread baking, pizza making, and other kitchen projects, it will also feature commentary on things I find of interest. This could range from faith and family to education, or politics. I suppose it will eventually be just a little bit of everything.

I welcome anyone to sit at my kitchen table, with some simple rules that can be found at many a woman's kitchen table: be respectful to others at the table, don't take the Lord's name in vain and don't talk with your mouth full. Follow those simple rules and we will get along fine.