In a recent conversation, my friends and I talked about our methods of making bread dough. Some (including me) opined that we mostly use a dough hook on a stand-up mixer when kneading. My friend Linda chimed in that, for her, the physical act of kneading bread dough by hand is actually an essential part of her process. It's a large part of why she makes her own bread in the first place, experiencing a comforting set of sensations, from turning the ingredients into a soft dough under her own palms to the scent of the bread baking, which is honestly just about the most wonderful sense experience in the world.
Our lives are topsy-turvy. We live in isolation and under stress. "Normal" things seem to be lost to us, while fear and divisiveness seem to have become "the new normal." So many people are struggling right now.
Some days I can't seem to put all of my thoughts together in the right order. Ever since March, I have learned to diagnose this fuzzy-brained overwhelmed condition. It's not new to me, by now. I often prescribe myself an activity to offset some of the negatives. My favorite go-to activity: baking.
Baking is formulaic, but also creative. It's an act of self-care and care for others. It is built for sharing.
After thinking some more about our dough conversation, I decided to turn this week's breads into hand-kneading activities. Rather than plug in the ol' mixer, I used my hands. It was interesting how my hands always just know what to do, how much flour to add, what gestures to make. I definitely felt more connected to the process, just as Carl does in the winery when he takes on the harvest chore of punch-downs (which I wrote about in yesterday's post).
My first bread project of the week was a favorite of my son's: hamburger rolls. I use King Arthur Flour's beloved "Best Burger Buns" recipe, which makes a lovely buttery roll. It was great with burgers, but also in an egg-and-bacon-and-cheese breakfast sandwich the next morning. it was easy to knead by hand, ready for proofing in almost no time.
My second project, chosen in anticipation of an Indian feast, was my Pocket Bread. This dough felt entirely different than the bun dough--whereas that one featured butter, this one includes milk and whipped-smooth yogurt, making for a tighter, more refined feeling. Again, the kneading process was quite easy, and that dough hook remained idle.
I was actually disappointed that my next bread project of the week requires no kneading at all. This is a fascinating recipe, for several reasons. It's the New York Times recipe for "Simple Crusty Bread." It has only four ingredients--yeast, salt, water, and flour--and stays very loose, going through the proofing phase after being simply stirred together. The dough keeps well in the fridge, but takes on a life of its own when being shaped or moved--it's like some sort of living creature that can't help but permanently attach itself to everything it comes near. Whereas I couldn't wait to get my hands on the other doughs, this one can't wait to get ahold of me. Making it always becomes a slapstick routine.
Other than its sticky nature, this bread is really easy to make, and very versatile. This time I baked two of the four loaves right away, and they are destined to be in the stuffing of a special Thanksgiving-in-October meal that I'm working on.
My bake week's final recipe was a new one to me: a recipe for Angel Biscuits which I just saw in the Thanksgiving edition of the Food Network magazine. It was my first time making this hybrid of biscuits and yeast dinner rolls, and what drew me to the recipe was its hands-on components. Not only is it hand-kneaded, but no rolling pin is needed for forming and shaping the biscuits. The resulting biscuit/rolls, topped by flaky sea salt, are really wonderful: buttery and soft, while still layered and light.
My friend Linda, whom I have to thank for my hands-on breadmaking this week, spent her career teaching young children, and she made bread with those little ones time after time after time. She expresses what a wonderful activity it is for them, to knead the dough and experience all of the feels and smells. It really is an act of pure goodness, something we can definitely all use a taste of these days.