The Best Bread You Never Had
I was going to share my recipe for great chewy, tangy sourdough bread, but I canâ€™t. I was going to post my no-fail recipe for buttermilk soda bread with a delicate crispy crust and moist cake-crumb interior, but I canâ€™t. I had every intention of sharing what Iâ€™ve learned about making homemade crackers, but I canâ€™t. Itâ€™s not that I donâ€™t know how to make all of these things now because I do. And itâ€™s not that Iâ€™m a mean old tease. Itâ€™s that the skills the recipes depend upon donâ€™t translate well in the virtual world. They are hands on, messy, physical reality. And they depend on local ingredients.
When I first found out, to my surprise, that I could get locally grown and milled wheat flour I had every intention of blogging my baking discoveries. I knew there would be a learning curve: The texture of my locally grown and milled flour was different from the standardized all-purpose and whole wheat flours I was used to. For yeast bread, I had to get used to working with sourdough starter in place of commercial yeast. But I was confident that my breads and muffins would eventually be consistent and good enough for me to share the recipes with you.
This week I made my fourth-in-a-row great loaf of sourdough bread, and I thought,”Aha! Now I can post the recipe”. But then I realized that I’d used a full cup of flour less than I had last week, and half a cup more than I had the week before that. The rise time had been an hour less than it was last week (maybe my apartment was warmer?), but still several hours more than in the online recipe Iâ€™d originally used. Instead of watching the clock, I’d depended on looking and poking and smelling to signal when I’d added enough flour and when the dough was fully risen. It was as if an archetypal grandma was peering over my shoulder telling me when it was right.
Most of us, myself included, did not have a grandmotherly kitchen guru showing us when the dough was just right. So how did I get these skills? And is it worth it?
1. I made a lot of mistakes. My first loaves of 250-Mile bread were leaden doorstops and a sense of humor was a mandatory ingredient. I experimented a lot and kept track of what worked and what didnâ€™t. Eventually I wasnâ€™t experimenting much anymore because the results were consistently delicious.
2. Yes, it is worth it. Not only is the food amazing, but Iâ€™ll be using the skills Iâ€™ve learned for the rest of my life.
I wish I could peer over your shoulder and show rather than tell you what those skills are. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to share some recipes with you after all. Here is the buttermilk soda bread recipe.
It is a riff on the one in Joy of Cookingâ€™s 75th Anniversary edition. It will be different if you are using different flours and honey than what Iâ€™ve got, but still, I think, consistently good.
And here is that Apple Nut Muffin recipe I promised some of you.
P.S.–If you’re in NYC, stop by the Good Food Now! summit. Lots of locavores, and I’ll be giving a workshop on Eating Local Throughout The Year.