Some people think that bread is the enemy, when in fact it is a staple of much of the world’s diet and without it, many people would starve. A few fairly inexpensive ingredients come together to form a filling, comforting food that goes a long way. And it’s been made for thousands of years from many different grains, from spelt to millet to teff. Bread has held serious significance throughout history, from being payment to soldiers and rent to landlords, to being symbols of abundance. The Bible refers to bread as the staff of life, and the words “bread” and “dough” are slang words for money. Some of our language is based on the importance of bread. The word lord is derived from the Old English word hlaford, meaning “master of the house and keeper of the bread.” Lady comes from hlaefdigge, “kneader of the dough.” Until the 19th century, Germans called their employers brotherr, “bread master.” And the convenience of presliced Wonder bread, available after World War I, was so spectacular to U.S. housewives that the expression “the best thing since sliced bread” became part of our vernacular.
Let me tell you, my class pulled off some beautiful loaves. There were bagels, challah, spelt, olive bread, and others. I made a whole wheat poppy seed loaf (see recipe below). Most of us started with a sponge, which is a mixture of flour, water, and yeast that rises for about 30-45 minutes, and again for about 20-30 minutes. The rest of the ingredients get incorporated into that, which makes for a flavorful and texturally pleasing bread.
My loaf rose like a dream and baked even better. Because it was a whole wheat loaf, I wasn’t expecting it to come out as good as it did, but it had a nice, nutty flavor without being too whole-wheaty (that’s because I used a little white bread flour). Per my instructor’s suggestion, I added some lemon zest and it really made the flavor pop. I added additional poppy seeds and pumpkin seeds on top and it was beautiful, too.
Bread is my weakness—I absolutely love it and can eat it endlessly. Or so I thought, because after tasting 10 or 12 different loaves, I’d had enough. All I thought I would want for the next week was salad. It’s how I felt after grain class—like one big walking, bloated, glutinous blob. But unlike grain class, I was ready to eat bread again the very next day.
The instructor practically swooned over my loaves, which made me extremely proud. It was as if the rising of my bread mirrored the rising of my pride. Okay, that’s corny, but it’s true. I’m slowly finding myself in culinary school. I’m not saying that I’m the best culinary student ever (because I know I’m not) or that I will be the next Cat Cora (only in my fantasies), but there’s a side to myself that’s been waiting to come out. Yes, I’ve been a personal chef and that was rewarding, and yes, I have a cookbook published, so cooking is not new to me. But there’s something about going through a formal program and excelling at it that validates what you’re doing. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that my French knife skills suck, so where technique is concerned, I still have a way to go. But there’s a side to cooking that goes beyond technique; it’s the heart and soul that you put into your cooking that really makes it shine. Your technique can be flawless, but if there’s no “you” in your cooking, you’ve failed. People will “ooo” and “ahh” over beautiful food, but eating it will get boring if it’s not satisfying to both the palate and the soul. I’m not the most technically proficient cook in the world, but I think my cooking has heart and soul and a lot of “me.”
I’m confronting some personal demons in culinary school and, as one person I know would put it, I’m taking them out for a beer. I’m opening up a dialogue with my demons and trying to figure out why they’re still hanging around me. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to kick them out of my head.
All this from bread?
Whole Wheat Poppyseed Bread
1 1/2 tbsp dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup rice syrup
1 cup unbleached white bread flour
4 – 5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sea salt
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1-2 tbsp lemon zest (opt)
1-2 tb poppy seeds and/or pumpkin seeds
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In large bowl, combine yeast, water, rice syrup, 1 cup of the bread flour, and 1 cup whole wheat flour and stir until thick like batter. cover sponge with plastic and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for 30-45 minutes.
2. Add oil, salt, poppy seeds, and just enough of remaining floru to creat a dough that pulls away from sides of bowl.
3. Knead on talbe for about 10-15 mintues or until smooth.
4. place dough in alrge, clean, lightly oil bowl and cover with clean damp cloth. Proof in warm palce 20-30 minutes or until doubled in size.
5. Prepare bread pans or sheet pans iwth parchment.
6. Gently punch down dough. Let rise again about 15 minutes. Cut dough into two or 4 equally sized balls; shape as desired. Cover with damp cloth and let rise another 15-30 minutes.
7. Bake approximately 30-30 minutes or until golden and firm to touch.