An occasional journal of the Life of Reilly

Saturday, November 4, 2006

A Knead Satisfied


Acquiring good bread has been a quest. During our summer travels we sought out locally baked breads to augment our otherwise minimal lunches. And we were successful. In Missoula, Montana we found three bakeries offering whole-grain breads made from freshly ground Montana wheat. We might move up there someday just for the bread.

Here in the Eastern Sierra we have options. Schat’s Bakery is a local institution. Their bakery in Bishop resembles Disneyland on weekends and holidays – people queued up to buy breads and pastries fresh from the oven, displayed on open racks and wafting aromatic fresh from the oven.

Great Basin Bakery, just around the corner, produces dense, whole breads not available at Schat’s, but inspiring equivalent lust. But, at nearly $4 a loaf and 60 miles south, it is not viable for regular sustenance.

It has been a dream, in addition to retiring early and moving to a mountain town, to learn the art of artisan breadmaking. The appeal is not just in the eating, but in crafting the loaves by hand and managing the variables that determine success or failure. I have been only a scholar of the technique for the past few years, reading books and browsing the Internet. The anticipation of putting into practice these techniques often carried me through the periods when work was consuming or tedious. Since this has been of year of dreams coming true, it was time to knead.

When we moved into our current abode recently, there simply was no room for the three cases of canning jars I had stockpiled. A family friend of our pal Charles does catering in Mammoth Lakes, and I thought she could put the jars to good use. Rumor has it that Evie nourishes a sourdough starter that is over 30 years old. In exchange for the jars, she kindly provided me two containers of the famed starter, as well as a recipe for Jewish Corn Rye Bread. My future lay in front of me.

I “built up” the starter over a period of several days to get sufficient volume for a loaf of bread, adding rye flour and water to the original starter batch to feed the yeasts. By day three it was bubbling and foamy. On Halloween I spent the afternoon baking bread – mixing, kneading, followed by three rises, and forming into two oblong loaves garnished with caraway seeds. Once placed into the oven, they sprung to full glory, browning perfectly. The final product prior to consumption is shown in the photo. The crust was chewy, the interior tender and moist and substantial. The twang of the sourdough and the spiciness of the caraway made for near perfection. John and I ate half a loaf with dinner.

We ate the last slice for lunch today, so I knead to bake again…

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