Sunday, December 14, 2008

Serious Dough

We learned how to bake bread at Motherhouse's Old Style Life Skills Serious Dough Workshop on Saturday. It was a nourishing experience in many ways - Bread feeds us, unites us, and comforts us.

The first thing we did at the workshop was grind hard red wheat berries into flour. Each family needed enough whole wheat flour to make Basic Bread and Frankie's Irish Soda Bread. As you can see, it was a joint effort!

This Serious Dough workshop was the third bread baking workshop offered since Motherhouse began it's Old Style Life Skills Series in 2006. One of the attendees at the first workshop has been baking bread ever since! She returned to this workshop to demonstrate how she uses a Grain Mill Attachment on her Kitchen Aid.

With freshly ground flour in hand, each family paired up with another family. We warmed up some Local Farm milk and stirred in salt and honey. We mixed and worked in the flour. Our teacher and the founder of Motherhouse, Debra Tyler, told us our measurements didn't have to be exact. Every time we make bread it will be different, she said.

Debra had cubes of yeast as well as packages of dry yeast for the Basic Bread. Debra explained that yeast is a living organism and it would feed on the sugars in the flour and grow. As it grows, it gives off carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide from the yeast fills thousands of balloon-like bubbles in the dough and this is how yeasted bread rises. This is also what gives a loaf of bread it's airy texture, once baked.

Kneading the dough is one of the most fun and important steps in bread baking. To knead: Turn the dough out on a clean, floured work surface and flour your hands, as well. Using the heel of your hands, compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a little turn and repeat this. You will get into a rhythm with these motions. Keep folding over and compressing the dough until it becomes smooth and slightly shiny. The most common test for "doneness" is to press it with your finger. If it springs back, it's ready for rising. Debra said that kneaded bread dough has been likened to a baby's bottom.

Time is as essential an ingredient as flour is in making bread - time for the dough to rise naturally. While making bread is an all day process, it doesn't take all day, Debra said. It just requires being attentive to it. If Debra is not going to be at home, she takes the bread she has started with her in the car, so that she can punch it down after rising. Everyone at the workshop took their Basic Bread dough home to let it rise for the second time and then bake.

We also made a quick bread - Frankie's Irish Soda Bread. Quick breads are quick in two ways, Debra explained. They do not contain yeast, so you don't have to set the dough aside to rise. They are also quick in how you handle them - mix just enough to combine the flour and other ingredients. If you handle quick bread too much it will be tough.

The Tassajara Bread Book is what got Debra, and many others, started baking bread. It was first published in the late 1960's and written by Edward Espe Brown, then a young Zen student who lived and worked at a Zen retreat named Tassajara, in Monterey County, Calif. Everyone at the Serious Dough Workshop went home with a copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition.

In a 2003 New York Times Magazine article, Flour Power, about Edward Espe Brown and his book, he says: ''When I was growing up, nobody could show me how to bake bread -- and it's only gotten worse. It seems such a shame that as a culture we don't teach our children about the basic things in life -- bread making, gardening, sewing -- and the value of work. At some point, all these things got to be beneath our dignity. If you can't work with your hands, you lose the richness of your life and the sense of being productive.''

He continues: ''In my book, I wanted in a small way to share the fact that you could actually learn skills in your life that would help you become able to take care of yourself. It's so simple. It's such a clear vision. People have the capacity to cook and garden and farm, and we don't use it. It's very sad to me that it's come to this."

Find resources and more details on Motherhouse Market for: the beautiful mixing bowls which were lent to Motherhouse by Cornwall Bridge Pottery for the workshop; the hard red wheat berries from Al Earnhart's Lightening Tree Farm; Hand-Turned Grain Mills; Celtic Sea Salt; Local Farm Milk; the Tassajara Bread Book; and recipes for Basic Bread and Frankie's Irish Soda Bread.

Before the flour, the grain.
Before the grain, the mill.
Before the mill, the earth,
the sun, the beauty of God's will.