An Ode to Bread

16 Feb 2004, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in food

Bread. The staff of life. It has captured my imagination for the past week, and I am happy to report that my loaves have been unexpectedly successful. I started out with simple wheat and white breads, but yesterday I turned artisan and made rye and pumpernickel. The rye is gorgeous — it tastes like a genuine, New York Jewish rye. And the smell…it has a sublime but subtle scent of onion that makes me swoon. I sent a loaf to my sister yesterday, fresh from the oven, and as luck would have it she had bought some corned beef that afternoon. I was a rock star.

I really made the rye for my brother Phil, a food connoisseur whose binges could put a pregnant woman to shame. He’ll get a craving for a certain taste, and either try to concoct it himself or ask me to find a recipe. He will not rest until the craving is completely satiated. He is actually very handy to have around, because his palate is one of the purest I’ve ever known. He can taste a dish and name the ingredients and spices without hesitation. At family meals, his is the palate I strive to appease.

Nonetheless, Phil was chagrined to discover that the starter for the rye (the “Rye Sour”) had to ferment for a couple of days. He allowed me to take my time, however, for to do otherwise would risk the taste. The first day of fermentation is spent with the sour soaking up the scent and taste of onions that have been secured in cheesecloth and plummeted into the dough mixture. It is very much a living thing — as I sat reading other recipes I could hear it popping next to me, like a gooey creature ready to suck in whatever dared to draw near. I removed the onions on day two, and could have begun the bread at that point, but I wanted a pungent loaf. I let it sit for two more days, and the wait was well worth it. He hasn’t been by to taste it yet. He’d better hurry up.

The pumpernickel loaves were a bit more challenging. They were a pain the ass, really. After cooking the first portion on the stove, which is a heavy mixture of molasses, cornmeal, and other goodies, it is mixed with mashed potato, then the normal bread ingredients. One needs an abundance of patience and forearm strength, neither of which I claim to possess, as well as a willingness to scrub the countertop for 15 minutes after all is said and done. After all that work, the bread is very dense and not an ideal texture. Next time I’ll just buy it. But the rye…

On another note, tomorrow night is cooking class #2. Class #1 consisted mostly of familiarizing ourselves with the kitchen and practicing our dicing. I must say, my knife skills are truly an abomination. For the past week I have been practicing all kinds of cuts (luckily, with none on the fingers), and am getting faster. How I long to chop like a pro. Of course, we are using 12-inch knives, which I find more than difficult to use. My wrist and forearm are not of the length to accommodate such a saber, so I may buy my own 10-inch knife and take it with me. Oh, the joy of having limbs the size of a 6th-grader’s.

Some people (men in particular) get goose-pimply at the sound of revving engines or power tools. For me, the rush comes from seeing acres of stainless steel arranged like a gigantic playground. The school has an industrial-sized grinder/chopper (swoon) that can make the biggest meatloaf on earth, or can grate 5 lbs. of cheese in seconds flat. I was saddened to discover that we will not be using it for any of our coursework. I got over it when Chef Marc showed us the gigantic Hobart mixer. The bowl is so big, that baby could mix a bath for a small child. I am counting the seconds until I get to flip the switch. There are also myriads of cooking mechanisms (flame, steam, flat-top, convection and broiler-from-hell) as well as enough pots and utensils to satisfy the most particular cook. I can’t wait for tomorrow night’s class.

The family complaints are starting to pour in, however. Everyone has gained a few pounds in the last six weeks. I take that to be a good sign. :)