The Art of Baking

When my first daughter was a baby, I tried my hand at baking bread.  I loved the smell of bread in the oven, loved the taste of a warm slice spread with butter.

Homemade Bread

We didn’t have much money for cookbooks then, and didn’t have the internet with its millions of recipes.  So I went to the library, checked out books on baking, and set to work.  My first attempts weren’t too bad, but the results were irregular.  Sometimes the dough didn’t rise well, sometimes the finished bread was dark brown and hard.  I tried white loaves, healthy whole wheat, and even attempted to make French baguettes.

I continued baking over the years, and then met my friend Carlo.  Carlo was Italian, and returned from visits to his family with olive oil his father had pressed and jars of tomato sauce from his mother’s kitchen.  Carlo’s family often ate pizza, and he told me how his mama made the dough for the pizza crust.  “She has the touch.  Not everyone has it, you know.”  I knew what he meant, and I listened carefully as he shared her dough-making secrets.

Every Friday I made pizza.  I had cheated for a couple of years and used a kit bought from the grocery store.  The pizzas were fine, but I wanted to have the touch like Carlo’s mother.   I followed the directions that had been given like a gift to me.  The ingredients were simple, but it was the technique that counted.  Week after week I mixed and kneaded and baked, and as I worked with the dough I connected with generations of women all over the world who made bread with nothing but flour, yeast, water, salt and oil.  With the same ingredients I learned to make pita bread and foccacia, and with extra eggs, milk and butter I braided challah.  After many years of practice, I, too, had the touch.  I learned that I had to feel the dough and know what it needed.  The process became so familiar that I didn’t even have to think.

Now I am someone’s mama, and I bake bread.  Two of my daughters have already left home, and sometimes they miss our weekly tradition.  Every once in awhile on a Friday, one will call and ask, “Are you eating pizza?”  She may even tell her friends, “My mother has the touch.”  Not everyone does, you know.

Challah Bread

Homemade Challah

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tom Simpson
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 19:59:56

    lovely–one of the things i miss most about bosnia is the bread…the bread, the bread, the bread…i started to joke that in bosnia you can fall out a second-story window and hit three bakeries on the way down 🙂

    Reply

  2. Valerie
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 01:49:58

    I was definitely JUST telling my friends about your pizza… again 🙂

    Reply

  3. Marian Van Eyk McCain
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 02:51:38

    Loved the pics! I used to bake bread too. Learned it by watching my Grandma and she most definitely ‘had the touch.’ Now my daughter bakes her own bread. And pizzas. And makes pasta. Such a wonderful tradition.

    Reply

  4. lisajan
    Aug 26, 2012 @ 01:12:27

    That bread looks too good. When I was a kid, a family friend used to regularly bring us a loaf of his homemade bread. We absolutely loved it. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time.

    Reply

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