In my list of things I wanted to learn I included the very broad category “bread”. Until I started doing research to try to find good recipes to begin experimenting did I realize I need to narrow down what type of bread I wanted to learn how to make. It funny when you know nothing about a topic, you can’t imagine how broad it is until you start understanding it.
Based on the recipes I was finding, the first thing I needed to define was whether I wanted to make bread used for sweet, savory or no specific purpose. Then I had to pick a between kneading or no-knead bread. I could have gone for simple white no-knead artisan bread baked in a dutch-oven, but that would have taken the anxiety away from the experience. So, in typical Andrea fashion, I decided to go sweet and try my hand at some cinnamon swirl bread.
A little context before I continue to describe my first experience with making bread. At the time, Emma, our puppy was 12 weeks old and we were potty training her, which meant I had to drop everything as soon as she stepped by the front door to take her to the grass. We were also living at the end of a very long (and creepy) hallway in DC, on the 4th floor, opposite to the buildings entrance. You can imagine what the rest of this story is going to be like. Now back to the baking.
As a firm believer in beginning any kitchen project by setting all ingredients and equipment in place (mise en place), I set out the eggs so they could be at room temperature when I needed them, weighed the yeast, butter, flour, sugars, salt and cinnamon, and placed everything in separate bowls. Then I measured the water and milk and placed those in different containers as well. This is a method I highly recommend, especially if you have a lot going on in your life. There is no forgetting what ingredients you have put in or how much flour you still have to add to a batter. Plus, if you use stackable bowls, by the end you have only one stack you can easily move into the sick and out of your way, liberating real estate and eliminating the potential for spills and burns.
As I was pouring the warm water onto the yeast, Emma fell asleep on my feet, so in an attempt to maintain the peaceful status quo, I stood there, watching yeast activate in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes. Not a single sound or movement. Finally, it was time to combine the ingredients into the bowl of proofed yeast. Slowly I reached and poured until everything was in the same bowl. Emma still on my feet. In 10 minutes I would be able to move and be ready in case Emma needed to use the bathroom.
But, as life would have it, as soon as I started the KitchenAid, as if on queue, Emma got up and stood by the door. All I needed was ten minutes. Could I make it all the way down to the street and back? We were told not to rush the dog when it was first getting used to using the grass. What if I rushed her and scarred her forever. Would she ever want to use the bathroom again? What if I made her wait but her tiny bladder couldn’t hold it? I didn’t want her to think she could use the carpet as a bathroom. So, I did what anyone in my situation would have done, grabbed the dog and a pair of shoes, set a timer on my phone and sprinted down the hall towards the elevators, I harnessed her on our way to the lobby, put her on the grass, waited until there were 2 minutes left on the timer ran all the way back to stop the KitchenAid, exactly 10 minutes after I had started it. I don’t know if that adventure slowed down Emma’s potty training, but she used the bathroom and I was able to get back to the bread. Anyone who saw me probably thought I was crazy, but without the crazy neighbor what would people talk about, right?
After the KitchenAid (and Emma) did it’s thing I washed my hands and began to knead the bread by hand. Once the texture was “as soft as a baby’s bottom,” which I had to imagine since I have no children of my own I could use to compare, I set the dough in an oiled bowl and let it rest for an hour.
Emma and I played the whole time. I though about taking her for a walk before the next step, but she had fallen asleep hoarding her toys under her paws, who could ever disturb such precious slumber. So I left her by the couch, only to be fooled again. As soon as I had divided the dough and was rolling it out, she stood by the door again. This time, with sugar and flour on my hands I brought over the doggie gate and corralled her and her toys into the kitchen with me. Once I was done rolling out all three loaves I did the whole run out to the street thing again while the oven preheated. When we got back I filled them, set them in the loaf pans and into the oven they went.
As the smell of cinnamon and butter rose from the oven and made its way into each corner of the house, the stress of the experience melted away and I decided to not make bread again until Emma could hold her bladder for a few hours straight. But then I cut into a piece of bread fresh out of the oven and new that in a few weeks, once all three loaves were gone, I would break that promise.
Since that day, I have made the same recipe multiple times, recently modifying it to achieve a gooier filling. I have also made multiple berry-swirl breads with some encouragement from a Joy the Baker + King Arthur Flour bootcamp and self-picked berries from a local farm. Slowly but surely I’m adding some more recipes to my repertoire, some more successful than others, but the one thing I have learned through it all, it enjoy it and laugh when things don’t work out.