Baker I

The Hobart scares me, frankly.
Its steel arm churning through
Small oceans of dough
Rising and falling in the bakery’s battered cauldron
Not unlike how Captain Hook made Wendy tremble
Before she found her nerve.

My home mixer’s tidy dough hook
Is, in suburban scale, a mere toenail
Writhing efficiently through
A baby’s bottom of dough that
Gratefully
Makes just two loaves.

Sometimes I go off the grid
With my Ma Ingalls bowl
Smiling placidly at the unemployed outlet
Hands clad in gloves of flour and water
As I lift and stretch and turn and fold
Dough that has behaved this way
For centuries.

The kneading leaves me winded
If I’ve done it well enough,
And I catch my breath with Caroline.

Simple White Bread

This is a great recipe for building your bread-baking skills. As you become more familiar with the dough, substitute 1 cup of whole wheat flour for 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Throw in some raisins. Maybe some orange peel. Be daring. Makes 2 loaves.

1 pkg. active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
2 cups low-fat milk, warmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour

In a small cup, stir the yeast into water and let stand until foamy. Look closely, and you can see a spore of yeast bloom and break the surface. This is unexpectedly thrilling.

In the meantime, warm the milk in a saucepan just until bubbles form around the edges. Stir in butter, salt and sugar and mix well.

In a large bowl, preferably weighty, combine the milk and yeast mixtures. Stir in 3 cups of flour, which you have measured by lightly spooning it into a measuring cup, then drawing a knife across its face. You have not packed it down nor tapped it smooth against the counter. Beat this mixture for 50 strokes with a good wooden spoon. Add another cup of flour and beat until smooth. Work in 1 more cup of flour with your hands. The dough should be a rather shaggy mass that pulls clear of the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then turn the bowl upside-down over it and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

The dough now should be less sticky, perhaps even a little bouncy. Begin kneading, adding flour to your hands instead of to the dough, folding and stretching until the dough feels soft and satiny and is no longer sticky, about 5 minutes. You cannot knead dough too long with your hands. If you find a pleasant rhythm, keep at it for a few more minutes. Why not?

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, then flip it over and cover it with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide in half. Lightly press each half into a rectangle, then roll up into a cylinder and place seam side down in a greased loaf pan. Cover with a cloth and let rise again until doubled.

Preheat oven to 375°. Bake for 45 minutes until loaves are golden brown. Turn out on wire rack to cool. They say you shouldn’t slice into hot bread, but you may.

Kim Ode learned to bake bread in South Dakota, with her mother, then as a 4-H’er. She is as a staff writer for the Star Tribune, a proud member of the St. Paul Bread Club and author of  Baking With the St. Paul Bread Club: Recipes, Tips and Stories (Minnesota Historical Society Press). She built a 3,000-pound brick oven in her back yard with her own two hands, because she just had to.

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