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Entries in Vienna Bread (1)


Two and a half rolls


What’s the deal with the bread?  While no one has come out and asked this point blank, I have had a few emails lately with undertones of this question.  What is the deal with the bread?

I am enjoying baking bread and writing about it.  There are so many ways in which the BBA Challenge bread baking weaves itself perfectly into a metaphor for our struggle this year to remake our family's life into one that is moving at a more intentional and healthful pace.  But the truth is that I was baking homemade bread before we embarked upon this year of taking things slow. 

The real deal with the bread is an ongoing struggle I have been having, and I know many of you have been having, with the way our children eat.  For me it culminated with a period in our family that, if it were written as a made-for-TV movie, might be entitled The Boy Who Would Not Eat DinnerIt became clear to me that I needed to change the way WJ was snacking.

Then two things happened.

The first thing that got me thinking was a conversation with a friend from Europe who is raising her children here.  “I hate these Goldfish,” she said, telling of how her preschool-aged daughter had begun requesting snacks all afternoon.  “My daughter should know,” she said in her rich and strong Portuguese voice, “after lunch… it is bread.” 

A light went on.  My child would not go hungry if I said no to the snacking on expensively empty calories.  I decided to borrow her Portuguese rule.  Before dinner, if you are hungry, you may have a slice of bread.

But when I began to institute the new rule, I found myself reaching most afternoons into a crinkly plastic bag of factory-made bread.  The kind that takes a week, sometimes more, to loose its springy softness and seems to repel mold like Deep Woods OFF! repels mosquitoes and ticks. I was still somehow feeling uncomfortable. 

Sighing deeply, I looked more carefully at the label on my carefully selected, whole grain, health food store loaf.  I struggled with the fine print: cultured dextrose and maltodextrin, monoglycerides and diglycerides, soy lecithin, and calcium propionate.  Maybe you speak Food-industry-ese and you are going to write in to tell me that I am mistaken, but to me these words translate into a simple adjective: processed.  I found that same cryptic jargon listed on the labels of the colorful boxes of snack foods I was trying to avoid, so how was this manufactured bread improving the situation any?  WJ would still be filling up on foodless food and missing the nutrition of our dinner.

Then the second thing happened.  I caught a scene in a movie, a completely inconsequential moment in Across the Universe, a film that tries to speak to us through the music of The Beatles.  If you have seen the film you will remember the scene where the dreamy young man leaves his job at the docks in Liverpool, stopping at home to pack a bag and kiss his mum good-bye, before setting off for Technicolor America. As he walks into the kitchen of his plain little flat, he slathers butter on a fat slice of homemade bread and gathers the shirts his mum has just ironed for his journey. There was something about this image that stuck with me.  The young man with his mother’s bread.

All over the world, I thought, there are boys, girls too, walking into kitchens and tearing off a handful of freshly baked bread.  It is that simple.  Whole grain wheat, yeast, warm water.  These are ingredients a mother need not fret over feeding her child.  If this is the way I wanted my child to eat, then I was going to have to change.  I was going to have to find a way to provide this simplicity. 

And so I have fiddled with numerous recipes.  Right now I am enjoying the challenges of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice but if you are hoping to begin baking bread regularly, a wonderful place to start is Artisan Bread in Ten Minutes a Day.  The basic formula in this book results in big batch of no-knead dough that keeps in the fridge, providing fresh dough to bake every day if you wish.

All of the bread I have tried, all of it... the children cannot keep their hands off it.  This weekend I baked a batch of Peter Reinhart’s Vienna Bread.  I shaped the dough into dinner rolls that were eaten up before I got even a chance to photograph them.  These two and a half sly rolls somehow tucked themselves under the corners of the cloth and hid safely from the little fingers that were reaching repeatedly into the basket all night.

I am not saying that there is freshly baked bread in this house every day.  Not even close.  But I am working toward having it available most of the time.  It is another way of eliminating the instant, the processed, the additives, the junk, in order to make room for more goodness.  That’s the deal with the bread.