Saturday, February 14, 2009

Baking bread soothes the soul

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I go through phases when it comes to baking bread. It's something I feared initially, when I was learning to cook in my early twenties. And then I conquered it, sort of, while I was living on the upper west side of Manhattan, cooking in my tiny galley kitchen in my tiny (well, not by New York standards) apartment. I learned what to do with yeast, anyway, and started making basic loaves with basic techniques. Nothing fancy.

My grandmother, who lived in Queens, used to come in to visit me for the afternoon once in a while. She'd pull up a chair at the entrance of my tiny kitchen and sit while I cooked. She'd backseat-cook entire dinner parties. But she didn't have a lot of experience with bread, so in this one area (and, believe me, in this one area alone) she learned from me.

My favorite bread to bake in those days was a deep pumpernickel loaf. There was a spice and bulk grains shop on the east side, around 10th street I think, called Pete's, or something like that. They sold a mix for pumpernickel bread - you had to add the yeast and water, but the flours and salt and molasses were already in it. I loved the way the light-gray flour mixture turned dark brown when it baked up, and the smell was incredible.

Lately I've been in the mood for something lighter, like the parmesan-dusted rolls pictured above. I don't have an exact recipe for these rolls, but the dough has eggs, a little sugar and buttermilk, an idea I got from Clemence Gossett at Gourmandise Desserts. The buttermilk keeps the dough soft and tender; this batch had the consistency of a nice challah. I should have put in more salt, though.

I make all my breads in a stand mixer, by the way - I'm way too lazy to knead by hand.

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