Bread is the perfect food. There’s no arguing that – it’s even in the Lord’s Prayer: “give us today our daily bread.” I know I’m interpreting that very literally, but there it is, in black and white.
I used to get my bread at Fairway on the Upper West Side and was pretty happy with it. No additives, no less-than-2%-of-the-following-impossible-to-pronounce ingredients. When I moved away from the UWS it was, for the most part, back to the bread aisle at the supermarket. There I would walk past Wonder and Sunbeam, Arnold and Nature’s Own. It got to a point where it didn’t really matter what I bought. All of these breads were wimpy and forgettable.
Tired of blah bread, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I’d been to the library recently in search of a Boston cream pie recipe (coming soon!) and along the way found a recipe for honey whole wheat bread in Greg Patent’s Baking in America. Mr. Patent failed to inform this dimwitted reader that perhaps her standard-sized Kitchen Aid (aka Kiki) would be no match for seven cups of flour. I should’ve known it wasn’t, but if there’s a recipe in a cookbook meant for home cooks, I expect it to work with standard kitchen appliances. My little Kiki started bucking like a bronco, and rather than risk breaking her neck, I turned her off and plunked the dough onto the counter. Now I would truly have to take matters into my own hands – I would have to knead.
Kneading was not easy. I’m too short to really bear down on the dough, so I strapped on some heels, but they didn’t help my situation – the heels provided height but not much in the way of support. Back in sneakers, I stood on my tip-toes and tried my best to work the dough, pretending all the time I was Lady Macbeth, outing the damned spot. Sweat started beading my brow and the bile starting bubbling. “I hate Greg Patent!” I muttered. But I kept going. I was scared because the dough was dry and crumbly and for the first few minutes, my labors did nothing to bring it together. It wasn’t smooth or elastic, just an ill-formed, uncooperative lump. To make matters worse, I kept remembering what my old boss W. told me about dough: “It’s alive.” Surely, I was killing it.
What a lump.
I continued to fret while the bread was rising. It wasn’t smooth and beautiful, but heavyset and squat. Into the oven went two loaves anyway and without waiting for it to cool I cut a slice and buttered it. It was dense and a little chewy, bland in flavor, and OK at best.
Squat, toad-like loaves.
I’d decided to make bread despite the fact that I had a date the very next day to meet a real baker at a bakery a friend described as “THE BEST BREAD EVER:” Clear Flour Bakery (www.clearflourbread.com). Clear Flour specializes in the production of French and Italian breads that are real: no additives, no preservatives. My new baker friend D. gave me a tour, which was awesome: Brobdingnagian mixers, about 50 times bigger and more powerful than my dinky little Kiki, imposing deck ovens, buckets of dough, stacks of beautiful frielings and bannetons (round and rectangular molds for shaping and proofing bread), and the main event: bread. There were baguettes, ficelles, olive rolls made with green olives, focaccia smothered with onions, hearty rolls with studded with nuts and plump raisins bearing the very poetic name of Paris night.
Big mama mixers.
There is but a small area in front of the counter at it was packed solid at all times. Everyone, staff and visitors alike, were very kind, though, letting me be all interrupt-y with my camera.
I bought an assortment and Señor O and I promptly went about the business of eating it. The ficelle was perfectly crunchy and French, as was its larger friend, baguette. I didn’t get to the baguette till this morning and, swoon, it was so perfect in its simplicity and straightforwardness that I was completely swept away. I spread some good European butter on it and ate away. I also treated myself to a Paris night roll with some apricot preserves I brought back from a recent trip to Rome. I haven’t enjoyed breakfast this thoroughly since I can’t remember when. Thank you, Clear Flour for keeping it real.
A dream of Paris.