I have made bread off and on over the years. I sometimes become enamored with a method or recipe for awhile carefully following the proportions and procedures with great results. One time it was the salt-rising bread from the 1946 Joy of Cooking. Another time, inspired by the slow-rise breads of the French, I obsessively created a time-consuming, multi-day approach that yielded beautiful results.
But then, at a certain point, the thrill starts to fade, I become annoyed by the amount of time to make a loaf. The process doesn't keep my full attention and, as my mind wanders, I start to make mistakes. The bread begins to undergo a sea change and doesn't taste the same. I keep losing my engagement ring, which I have to remove to knead the bread or spend hours de-crusting. Then one day, the love affair is over, I cast the recipe aside and start buying bread again--until that moment when an interesting new recipe peeks at me, I experience the thrill of a new crush, and run out for a big bag of flour.
So, when everyone got excited about Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, I was a bit suspicious. I had been there before, had matured, and I didn't think I had the time to fall in love with a whole book. Besides, I usually go for recipes where perfect results are difficult to attain. My mom told me about it, friends recommended it--even French people who know good bread! When my French friend started to feed me the bread, I caved and the next thing I knew I had the book and a bag of flour too.
At first it was great. There were no empty promises: this bread really is good and it is easy. Best of all--it is not messy and I do not have to remove (and then misplace) my rings. This alone, would be reason enough to fall hard for any yeasted bread. I made some good bread using the 3 cups water to 6 1/2 cups water. But at these proportions, the bread is gone too fast for a family with two growing boys--it wasn't really a 5 minutes a day affair. Plus, it got a bit predictable and boring--sort of like doing the laundry.
I decided to deepen my commitment and go for the 13 cups of flour recipe--with a greater proportion of whole wheat. Now something that had always been difficult for me became an outright struggle: counting. With six-and-a-half cups of flour (and under the influence of Seasonal Ineffective disorder) it goes like this:
I stand at counter with measuring cup, flour and bowl. I scoop, level, and calmly say,"One."
Scoop, level, say with conviction "Two."
Scoop, level, "uhh, THREE!"
Scoop, (mind wanders), level, (ineffective brain activity) look at flour in bowl, think, "uhh four, did I do four yet? No, This must be four." "FOUR."
Scoop, remind myself to concentrate on the next number which will be five, level, (mind wanders). Stand with cup of flour over bowl and wonder if I said five or just reminded myself to say five. No it really is five. "FIVE."
I think you get the idea. If there is a real distraction, I usually have to remove the flour in the bowl cup by cup and attempt to count them, and then add what I think I need to arrive at the total making more opportunities for error.
So I knew counting to 13 would be an impossibility and created a tally system. Scoop, level, dump, set down cup, find pencil and make tic mark, pick cup back up. This simple step added an extra three motions, and thus, many extra opportunities to make a mistake. I made it to 9 or 10 before running out of flour. I will never know if it was 9 or 10, because when I returned from the store the wet dough had risen over the top of the bowl and flowed Pompei-like over the surrounding counter and my paper with the tic marks.
I convinced myself had already added 9 cups of flour and added 4 more resulting in a hard, dry bread, so there must have been 10. Oh yes, I also forgot the salt, so it was bland too. Fortunately, this bread is forgiving and I was able to knead in a fair bit of water and some salt and then sprinkle some salt on top. By this time, with the trip to the store and the extra kneading, the bread had become labor-intensive, messy, and I forgot my rings on the counter. But it was good, very good.
So I am starting a new batch today. I'm going to try to mix it up with my old salt-rising technique, plus a mixing technique from another old flame to spice this relationship up a bit. But, what I really need is a method for keeping count. Any ideas out there?