Monday, March 24, 2008

Fabulous Yellow Roman Candles

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

***From On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Two weeks ago I trekked to Topeka to attend the King Arthur Flour Baking Class on baking artisan breads. I had lofty expectations going into the class, and the class exceeded those expectations. A little over three hundred people attended the class, and I felt a kinship with all who attended. It’s reaffirming to be surrounded by individuals who shared my passion. There are times when I feel like a bit of a freak because I spend entirely too much time thinking about food. I’m sure when non-foodies listen to me ramble on about food they feel much the way Forrest Gump felt when Bubba listed the various ways his family prepared shrimp. I think incessantly about food, but fortunately, I refrain from talking ad nauseam about my culinary obsession. This blog is providing a healthy outlet to indulge my passion and obsession.

It was comforting to be in a room where everyone “Oohed and aahed” as a poolish transformed from a glob to beautiful strands of gluten. I felt at home with an audience who stared in awe and amazements as the presenter gracefully kneaded a wet dough that would leave most of us covered in a “gloppy” mess. I feel good knowing that there are people at there who feel compelled to spend a day making a single loaf of bread. In a world where convenience foods and drive-thru windows dot the culinary landscape, it felt good knowing that there are over three hundred people out there who feel passionate about spending an entire day creating a loaf of bread. I appreciate individuals who go against the grain, and who embrace the simple things in life that most people overlook. The class extolled the virtues of patience, slowing down, sharpening the senses, and simplifying things. This whole Artisan bread baking is a metaphor for how to live life. I’m sure a lot of people don’t understand why I would dedicate so much time, energy, and attention to a loaf of bread.

What I learned:

I learned that I probably use too much flour in most breads because I don’t measure my flour properly. I’ve always just scooped my measuring cup into the flour and packed it full of the amount called for in a recipe. When it comes to artisan breads, less flour is better. To develop those lovely, artistic holes in the crumb, a baker needs a wet dough to fully develop this gluten.

When I shared this revelation about measuring flour with my wife who is a fine baker of decadent desserts, she responded, “Duh! I could have told you this. Brown sugar’s about the only thing that you pack firmly to measure.” I guess, wisdom sleeps in the bed next to me every night. I guess, this is a little parable that stresses the importance of communication in a marriage. Simply talking to my wife would have given me access to this little nugget of wisdom.

In a previous post on my beer bread, I shared my tale of woe revolving around my inability to effectively slash a loaf of bread. I learned that to slash my bread I need a lame, which is basically a razor blade on a stick. Our instructor informed us that most kitchen knives aren’t sharp enough to effectively slash bread, so I will purchase a lame or some razor blades.

I left the class feeling more passionate about baking, and I plan on applying my lessons learned in the class to my baking. I look forward to sharing these lessons with you.

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