When you love baking as much as I do, you become an evangelist.
After we moved to Israel, and our whole lives were topsy-turvy, the only time I felt like things were at all “normal” were when I was making bread. Those breads were rudimentary at first – hey, we didn’t even have an oven. But they kept me grounded.
I was so ecstatic when all our possessions arrived, including my gorgeous cast iron loaf pans, plastic dough bucket, and other beloved bakeware, accumulated over the years. It was time to get my hands floury and really start baking again.
I love how centered and grounded baking makes me feel, but can’t help wondering why other people seem to think it’s hard, or complicated, or just not something they have space for in their lives. We all have time and space to make bread. Sure, it takes a while, but very little of that is active prep time. A bread that takes 36 hours from start to finish may have less than ten minutes of actual stirring, kneading, mixing and forming loaves.
What other food do we have that prepares itself in the background the way bread does, while we go about our daily lives? Set it, forget it, and it only gets better and better.
Here are five myths that keep people from baking… and the reasons you can happily ignore each and every one of them.
Myth #1: “Use warm water.”
Where it came from: When you buy yeast, it’s in suspended animation, sleeping in its little packet. Adding water wakes it up and starts doing its job – chewing up the flour and burping it out into tons of tiny air bubbles. Burping is good. Burping takes time, but it goes faster when things are a little warmer.
Reality check: Warmth may give an artificial boost to your dough, but you’ll get way better results with time instead. Start your breads a few hours earlier, because then, in addition to burping, they’ll start breeding, and while burping is good (see above), breeding is VERY good. Yummy, too. Whatever you do, don’t use HOT water. Some people read “warm” and think, “the warmer, the better.” In particular, never use water that’s hotter than what you'd enjoy being poured over a sensitive part of your body. I’ll let you imagine any sensitive part you want. Don’t gauge temperature with your hands, because their skin is much less sensitive.
Myth #2: “Yeast is yeast.”
Where it came from: I honestly don’t know. I guess all yeast LOOKS alike, in that it’s a powdery beige substance, but does it do the same thing when you add it to your dough? Nope.
Reality check: You will usually get better results with Instant Yeast. The kind that you mix right in with all the other stuff. I used to grab the packets of “traditional” yeast because hey, isn’t traditional better when it comes to baking bread? I was wrong. Instant yeast has a higher ratio of live yeast. It simply works better. That said, just as with Myth #1, time can fix this one, too. Even the lousiest, deadest yeast packet probably has some some living yeasts inside. If you use lousy yeast, just add time and you’ll still get great results.
Myth #3: “Punch it down.”
Where it came from: Again, I’m not sure. Did dough once sneak up on someone and attack them from behind? If not, I have no idea why someone decided it needed punching.
Reality check: If your dough is wet, it may benefit from a quick “strech n’ fold” operation, but otherwise, it doesn’t need punching down. And what kind of message are you sending to those yeast? They’ve been working hard for an hour or two, burping air bubbles into your dough, and then you come along and destroy all that hard work. “Sheesh,” you can almost hear them saying. “Now we gotta start that burping all over again.” Eventually, your yeast will get discouraged, so no punching.
Myth #4: “You can bake great bread in a hurry.”
Where it came from: You can, sort of. Google it and you’ll find a ton of ways to get tasty bread fast. I have a few standbys that I use myself. But the very best breads, the ones you’ll remember forever, while not difficult (see the next Myth), do need a minimum time investment.
Reality check: This is why I admire the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day idea so much. They say, basically up front, that the time thing is non-negotiable. You must set aside a couple of hours up front for the convenience of mind-blowingly delicious, air-filled bliss in 5 minutes or so later on. A couple of hours is nothing. Try rising your dough overnight! 36 hours! Try sourdough and keep your dough alive for years and years!
Remember the Dr. Seuss book, On Beyond Zebra, in which a young boy discovers the delightful creatures that lie in the alphabet, just past the letter “Z”?
Same thing with bread. Once you try long-risen bread, you will not want to go back to the 45-minute stuff – except when you’re in a hurry.
Myth #5: “Baking bread is hard.”
Where it came from: They have diplomas in baking. My sister has one – she’s a professional bread baker. She had to learn all kinds of math, and science, and pass a food safety course. You must have to know a ton to bake bread, right?
Reality check: If they could do it in Ancient Egypt, you can do it today in your home kitchen. (Just don’t try to build pyramids!) Bread baking is high-touch, but not terribly high-tech. Like any other new craft, it won’t come naturally at first. But even when you’re learning, you can’t mess it up, I promise. The only situation I can imagine where your bread would be terrible is if you add too much salt. Otherwise, what have you got? Either a) flatbread, b) not-quite-salty/flavourful-enough bread (add salt! drizzle with olive oil!).
Sure – your breads may LOOK weird sometimes…
… but don’t be afraid to play around and start making your own. You’ll be so proud to show off what you create.
I'm not blogging here all that often, because we're still settling in and doing things like trying to make money (go figure). If you’d like to hear from me more often, I’ve included a signup below so you can get on my mailing list for Jewish parenting ideas, kids’ book giveaways, and more. No obligation, just tons of (occasional) fun.
Tzivia / צִיבְיָה