Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baking Bread

היום שמונא ושלשים יומים שהם חמשה שבועות שלשה יומים לעמר
Today is the thirty-eight
day of the omer - five weeks and three days
תפרת שביסוד

A day of compassion in a week of foundation

Two Fridays ago I participated in a fund raiser for Shalom Bayit, "Home of Peace" a Bay Area organization that was formed to " advocate on behalf of Jewish battered women, to educate the Jewish community about domestic violence, and to promote awareness of Jewish issues within the battered women's movement." We gathered in the house of one of Shalom Bayit's supporters to learn to bake challah in creative shapes from a master challah maker, Eva-Lynne Leibman. Eva-Lynne also is co-owner of the Judaica store Dayenu, located in the JCC of San Francisco.

I had a brief fling with baking bread in the late 1980s. I used the Tassajara Bread Book--a great one to learn from, low on the judgemental scale as far as which utensils to use. I remember being surprised at how easy it was. But baking bread was one practice that quickly fell by the wayside. Remember--I live in San Francisco, where good, locally baked bread is readily available. It's not like the choice is home baked or Wonder Bread.

But I had never baked challah, and the proper braiding adds to the intimidation level of the task. But like Ed Brown, the author of the Tassajara Bread Book, Eva-Lynne taught us the basics while letting us know that we could easily make each bread an outlet for our own creativity. She told us that the dough is very forgiving, so don't worry too much about mistakes. And she showed us different ways to form the dough--just let your imagination flow.

I was inspired, and went home to make my own loaves. In the two and a half weeks since the demonstration, I've made three batches of bread. The first one, made that same day as the class, went well enough to make me want to make more. This past Friday I made two more loaves. This time, because of a scheduling glitch, I needed to lengthen the rising process so I let the dough rise twice. That worked well for me. I don't use a food processor since I don't have a bread blade, and I do my mixing my hand. My theory is that there's less air mixed in when I do it by hand so the second rising gives my bread a lightness it wouldn't have otherwise. It may be a bogus theory, but it's mine and I'm sticking to it:)

Today I branched out even more. I used half whole-wheat/half white flour and added lemon zest, juice of said lemon, and fresh rosemary to the mix. The bread came out just fine. I left one bread as a loaf and braided the other. Thanks to Eva-Lynne, my braiding techniques are working. The key--start from the middle. That makes for a great shape. And it was extra special since the lemon and rosemary came from our garden.

My friend Allison remarked that there is something very satisfying about baking bread--a satisfaction unlike any other you get from cooking. I have to agree. Maybe it's the tie to a time in the past when we were much more aware of where our food comes from. Maybe it's because it's something that is perceived to be so difficult, yet is simple in reality. Maybe it's because we feel able to produce something so basic to our lives, relying on ourselves rather than others.

Whatever it is, it is indeed a great feeling of accomplishment--one I recommend you all try. If you'd like the recipe I used, feel free to send me an email.

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