I often wonder who you are, my readers. I know you are an anonymous (mostly) bunch who are excited to read something about bread. But I can’t picture you and I wonder what you need to hear. I wonder what I have to tell you, what matters as we wrestle with now — each of our lives, and our shared world. The questions often keeps me from writing you, but this morning, I am thinking of you, so hello.
I have been busy making things. I wake up thinking of the presents I want to make, what I will sew or bake. This morning, I woke up wishing I had made cinnamon rolls for Christmas, even though I made a sour cream coffee cake, riffing on a recipe from my grandmother's cousin Blanche. We really don't need another sweet in the house so I decided to bake some bread.
I have fresh yeast from the Polish store, so I looked through one of my old Fleischmann's booklets, which use cake yeast. None of the recipes looked exciting, so I turned to HOME BAKED, which is from a now defunct Danish mill, Skaertoft. The recipes use stone ground flour, and some of the recipes call for fresh yeast, which is more common in Europe. I decided on a spelt bread with dates, for tonight’s sandwiches. (Last night was our big meal.)
Fresh yeast is a strange and wonderful beast, something much nearer to or maybe the same as what manufactured yeast looked like 100 years ago. I love the yeasty smell that gets on my fingertips as I rub the soft yeast with water and sugar. Waiting for the puffy magic to happen is thrilling.
I notice the slight guilt I feel for using commercial yeast instead of sourdough. I’ve been infected by the idea that one way of leavening is THE WAY, even though I know better. I know that history is a series of adaptations, and that there never ever was or will be a single perfect method or loaf. Why do we want the right bread so badly?
This need for singularity is strong in us — as Americans, and maybe as humans. Is it so nerve wracking to be alive that we have to pursue sanctioned choices? Who is determining these options, I’m not exactly sure. A general us. A broad them.
As we approached the winter holidays, I've been considering the value of repetition in celebrations. I’ve watched and felt the frenzy to create a perfect gathering, scout a perfect gift.
Why do we chase holidays, hoping to build memories that we can echo? Why does the past look like gold? Isn't right now absolutely lovely? Why can't we appreciate the gem of the moment? Is time so slippery that our brains need the strange game of nostalgia to make us adore the world?
In the house where I grew up, another family is making their life. I've looked at their Christmas tree in the window, because my sister lives on the same street. I'm hoping that all the love my siblings, parents and I felt surrounds them in a kind way, our ghosts fluttering around the past they are building.
I remember my heart racing when I woke up Christmas morning, first breath is a held breath, a gasp, it’s here! Christmas! Once or twice or forever my mom made a set up with a tiny fake tree and our dolls and stuffed animals, sitting at a table, eating breakfast. Our toys had little presents, and we played with the creatures until we could no longer bear waiting for the next surprise, and we went to our parents' room and begged, "Can we open our stockings?"
My love to you as you embrace yourself, and your families, and whatever situation you face right now – ease, war, storms, power outages, health crises. May bread and curiosity keep you bright.
PS — if you have extra to give, please consider helping this Ukrainian family settle in Pennsylvania.
Hi Amy! A tip I learned from Heike Meyer is to roll your poppy seed bread in a piece of parchment, tucking the ends under to seal. Baked like that, the steam is retained as well as the shape. I made my poppy stollen this way this year.
On another topic, I have also been contemplating the elevation of sourdough at the expense of yeasted breads. It feels elitist and, for those of us who advocate for local grain, counterproductive. Much better would be to elevate all baked things with the simple substitution of quality flour. Thanks for your thoughts, and Happy New Year!
Amy...think of you and Jack and the boys....a lot....love...barbara