Friday, February 5, 2010

Rising ambition

I have had this recipe for 7-grain bread for too many years to count. It was tucked into the wooden recipe box I inherited from my mom – the kind sized for the little “recipe cards” we used to exchange, before the days of Cooking Light and You remember them: variations on index cards, with cute pictures in the margins and a little spot that says, “From the Kitchen of. . .” where you fill in your name. I have plain ones, too, with my grandmother’s handwriting (meatloaf, apple cake), the neighbors’ (Scotch shortbread, spiced nuts), and my mother’s (too many to list).

This recipe – on one of the fancy cards -- is in my sister Jean’s hand, so as I gather ingredients I picture her pantry, always stocked full of grains and beans and home-canned fruits and vegetables. I don’t know what her pantry looks like anymore – she lives several states away, and the last time I saw her food shelves was years ago. I know without looking, though, that her shelves are always well stocked, and that is a comfort to me.

I use a breadmaker for the first time on this bread, a breadmaker unearthed after 25 years of storage from my friend’s pile of things-untouched-for-years. I’m sure it has its own memories and people attached to it, but I don’t ask much about that. I am busy adjusting my attitude toward mechanized bread making.

Breadmakers have always felt a little like cheating, which is why, when my mother sent me money years ago to buy one for myself, I bought a juicer instead. Maybe it’s because I still love the feel of silky dough between my fingers, and I don’t mind the 10 minutes of kneading – it is a quiet break in an otherwise hectic life. I love to punch down the pillow of dough after its first rise, losing my fist in its yeasty ambition, knowing it will overcome this small act of aggression and rise all over again.

But I’ve also heard enough converts point out that, if you can make bread in less time, with less effort, it’s more likely you’ll make your own instead of caving in to the $5 loaves at the farmer’s market (which, in fact was the inspiration for this bread making session). So I give the breadmaker a whirl:

Pour all the ingredients into the machine, yeast first, lukewarm water last. Flip a switch, and watch it gyrate into what becomes a blob of living dough. Take a nap on the couch. Four hours later, gently extract an enormous, cylindrical loaf of seven grain bread your sister would be proud of.

Wow, was that ever easy. I am already picking out the next recipe to try.