I was restless and excited yesterday in anticipation of the coming storm. We had hot cocoa in the pantry and firewood in the hamper, and I wanted to lean fully into cozy. I wanted to bake, and I wanted to bake bread. Specifically, I wanted to bake oat bread.
My first appliance as a grown-up was a bread machine. I still remember the whir and thump of the paddle on the knead cycle. The sound filled the house and promised good things to come. That was probably 25 years ago. I made bread in that thing constantly. The house would smell warm and yeasty while the dough rose, then golden and tantalizing while it baked. We’d stand around waiting for it to finish so we could thunk it out of the pan, slice it, and slather it in butter and honey.
On my first Mothers Day as a mom, my mom graduated me to making bread without a machine. She gave me the 25th Anniversary edition of the Tassajara Bread Book with the inscription, “I learned how to bake bread using the original edition of this book.”
It’s been a while since I’ve baked bread. Maybe years. I bake dinner rolls for the kids on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and cinnamon rolls on Christmas, if that counts as bread, but I can’t remember the last time I baked loaves of bread. In recent years that I did bake bread, I had learned more about how bread works, and was baking from more precise recipes and techniques in Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Crust and Crumb, and Whole Grain Breads. He knows bread. His methods, which include starting the dough the night before, work.
But yesterday, I didn’t want to start on Saturday and finish on Sunday. I wanted oat bread, and I wanted it the same day. I also didn’t want fussy and precise. I wanted the loosey goosey hippie freedom of the Tassajara Bread Book.
Bread-baking from this book yesterday gave me exactly what I wanted. There was no stress, no wondering, “Am I doing this right?” I glanced at the kneading and shaping diagrams to remind myself how to do them. I didn’t care about the perfect crust or the perfect crumb, whether I stopped kneading at the right time, whether my loaves would come out fine-tuned and perfect.
I got to smell the dough, and get my hands in it, and punch it. I got to feel the smooth worn cover of my book. I thumbed through the pages while the dough rose. I found my old notes, spatters of cinnamon and oil and butter, recipe adjustments, Grandma Janet’s recipe for multigrain bread penciled in the back end paper, my mom’s inscription in the front. I delighted in the warm zen of the author, and little poems scattered throughout:
Rock and water
wind and tree
bread dough rising
Vastly allEdward Espe Brown, the Tassajara Bread Book
are patient with me.
And at the end, after a few hours of mostly resting the dough, we had golden brown oat bread. This morning, I cut a slice off the loaf. I spread butter across it, then drizzled honey over it, and I watched the snow come down.