This I Believe…

This-I-Believe-BreadA baker I am not. The whole scientific process intimidates me.

I still shudder when I think about the impact salt can have on yeast.

Did you know that salt can kill yeast? That’s heavy! How do I keep salt and yeast separated long enough for the yeast to have a fighting chance?

I believe bakers are different from normal, everyday folks. Bakers are born with an innate ability to judge things that I cannot.

They know what the dough should look and feel like, and how high it should rise before punching it down. And by punching, do they mean actually hitting the dough with brute force?

A baker’s vocabulary is a secret code with undulating terms such as proofing and scaling, creaming, foaming and of course, the muffin method. It’s a conspiracy.

Bakers know what’s missing after only one bite of a cake or bread. My talented, if militant, Chef instructor in beginning baking class, took one bite of my angel food cake and said, “You forgot to add vanilla, didn’t you?”

How did she know that?

I tasted it and didn’t notice vanilla was missing. It tasted like a sugary but dry sponge. It is a sixth sense that I, as a savory cook, do not have.

Testing the bread and pastry recipes for my cookbooks proved to be enormously rewarding for me, and perhaps I learned more than I thought I did during six weeks of baking and pastry classes during my culinary training.

If I can bake breads and cakes, anyone can. You do have to follow the directions, as the ingredient amounts and seemingly inane processes are developed for a specific purpose, like creating a chemical reaction that causes the bread to rise.

It’s not as free form as creating a sauce, which is driven entirely by taste and appearance. But baking has its sweet rewards.

The smell of freshly baked bread is outdone only by the first bite into a hot buttered slice of soft, yeasty bread.

It’s worth the stress of mixing, kneading and punching and keeping the peace between salt and yeast.

Recommended bread books:

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Professional Baking, 5th Edition by Wayne Gisslen

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