Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Crust lust

With remarkable consistency, I seem only to make bread when I find myself with an assignment that I just don't want to do. I'd like to say I make bread every Sunday come winter and its old-fashioned charms/chills. But it's just not the truth. Nothing gets me in the mood more than an analysis of Functionalism. Philosophy of Mind? Dad’s French bread. Reading response? Rye with caraway seed. Unreadable Lacan excerpt? Tough and hearty wheat bran and polenta. I only make bread in these, the most ploddingly obtuse moments at school. What kind of self-respecting baker am I?

I’ve read plenty of odes to bread. My favorite (sorry, Neruda) is Peter Reinhart’s Brother Juniper’s Bread Book: Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor. I even have this charm of a book, a Soviet reader for children on the peasant joys of bread. Or my mom’s recent gift: A Young People’s Physiology from 1889, “To eat or drink what we know is unhealthful, because it tastes good, is not only foolish but wicked. A cook who understands the laws of health, will not feed the family on hot bread, because it makes in the stomach a pasty mass, which cannot be easily digested.” Wicked, indeed.

But my favorite words on bread are recipes rather than rhetoric. Especially in the wake of Atkins, I find that eating warm, homemade bread is pretty much always incredible (and who doesn't love to be a little wicked?). My dad’s recipe is my favorite. Even in the miserable weather we’re entertaining here in Middletown, its crust and crumb are impeccable. Not so with every loaf. Baking bread often takes problem-solving. I think this is why I love to make bread when I feel stuck at school. It feels so good to figure it out. And even when it fails, and I make something more like rockbread than French bread, I tried. Inspiration enough to get back to work. Lacan beckons.

Still, sometimes it's good to stick with the comfortable and familiar. Here, then, is my dad’s time and again bread recipe in his own words. The only thing I change is that I add the salt after I’ve already incorporated the yeast and flour to make sure the yeast survives.

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