I grew up baking. My family photo albums include many pictures of a little-kid me up on a step stool at the counter, helping my mom bake cookies. In some of the photos, I’m wearing one of her aprons. I love potlucks because that means I have an excuse to bake a pie, a cake from scratch or fancy cookies. And my younger twin brothers are even better bakers than I am.
The baking focus was always dessert. Something we did not grow up making was bread. I attempted it a couple of times as a kid. Usually, I was too impatient to let anything rise, resulting in things like crunchy cinnamon rolls the size of a quarter. I’m a little intimidated by recipes involving yeast. But I resolved a of couple weeks ago to make pumpernickel bread. I really enjoy the bread, but possibly like the name even more. It’s just so homey and seasonal. So I picked up some bran flakes and rye flour(not things I keep at home) at the grocery store and was on my way.
Using whole grain flours in baking is infinitely more interesting than plain old all-purpose. They add all kinds of new flavors, density and fiber to whatever you’re making; you get character without having to resort to tons of sugar. Plus, whole grain flours haven’t been stripped of the grain’s bran and germ, meaning they have nutritional value and digest much more slowly than white flour. Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain is hands down one of my favorite cookbooks; it made approaching new flours much less intimidating, and includes a lot of seriously delicious recipes.
The recipe, from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (another favorite), calls for making the dough in the food processor (so easy!), then letting it rise until it doubles in size (supposed to be two hours). After four hours, the dough hadn’t risen at all and didn’t smell anything like yeast. I’d used a couple of yeast packets that were nowhere near being expired, but I pronounced it dead anyway. Time to improvise. Bittman’s notes on active dry yeast said it could be added to bread pretty much anytime, so I dashed out to the grocery store for more.
When I got home, I whipped up a paste, adding liquid to the yeast and then enough flour to knead it in with the rest of the dough. Another few hours later, mercifully, the dough had risen. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known what to do, wanting to neither bake a brick nor throw out the dough. A couple hours after that, two gorgeous, raisin-speckled (and puffy!) loaves of pumpernickel came out of the oven. It literally took all day (most of it leaving the dough to rise). But I had success. I made bread—not fluffy, fiberless bread, but substantial, eat-it-with-some-butter-for-breakfast hearty bread. It’s delicious. The first loaf didn’t even last long enough to get in the picture. “Oofs” – that’s “oops” with a mouth full of bread.