One day, quite recently…
Me: “I am going to bake a bread”
Family: “Bake a – WHAT?”
The entire household was practically paused for well over a few minutes.
In total disbelief.
“Why bother making something you can easily get for BHD 0.100?”*
“Bread? One can NEVER bake a bread at home!”
“Baking a bread needs special equipment. Forget it!”
“Hmmmm…. you’ve found another way to waste money, time and effort…
The above comments could not dissuade the baker from chasing, and later achieving, his dream.
*BHD 1 = USD 2.57 appx.
Let me take you back to another day, many many years ago…
The idea of baking a bread at home was toyed since childhood.
The inspiration was the small local bakery near the place of domicile.
Around mid-afternoon, the heavenly aroma of the nearby baker baking his loaves will find its way to our home. Giving the baker a few more minutes to finish his work, a fresh loaf will be at home soon. The family gathers around, being a Sunday, marvelling the freshness and softness of the bread. Baker refuses to slice the bread as he maintains it is too early to slice a bread straight from the oven. There were many times when the bread was enjoyed without being sliced. The experience was always worthy of repeating a million times. That is when the idea of baking bread at home was born.
During those years, my Mother used to cook many dishes. Most of them could be categorised as nothing short of “complicated”. List of ingredients, the processes included in preparation and cooking, adjustment of heat by adding or removing firewood from the stove (those were pre-LPG days) were some reasons for the complexity. Delicious sweets which require hours on fire were made only during festive seasons: Easter or Christmas. Whole family chips in and the house maids also join to support but the main cook was always Mother.
Yet another day, couple of years back…
The childhood idea was put to action quite recently. May be a couple of years back when the first bread was baked in-house. Only few super markets carried bread flour. The recipe said bread flour specifically. Some of them mentioned using all-purpose flour but the fear of failure in first attempt prompted the would-be baker to travel to the edge of the world to find the perfect bread flour. He found it in a super market in the Amwaj Island.
Other ingredients were a fairly easy to come through: yeast, egg, milk, honey, salt. The 10-year old Italian-made oven with an external temperature gauge were the major components towards the first bake. Stove-top cooking was for every day but the oven was rarely used.
All the ingredients were mixed with yeast added in to the traditional well in the centre. The mixture was far from promising. Sticky, without any form or shape.
Baking a bread is all about proving. First the yeast has to prove itself. Then the dough. Then the dough in loaf-tin, again. But the real proof is in the pudding which is the proof of the baker himself. Yeast was over-energetic. It was excited to thrive in the 114 degree Fahrenheit water mixed with honey. In less than 10 minutes, the yeast-proofing was done.
Slowly, the dough began to transform itself as if by a magic spell. The mix was then kneaded by hand. Five or ten minutes, I do not remember. But the kneading stopped only when the dough felt pliable and soft. Time for the dough to prove itself. Well oiled glass bowl, the recipe did not specify which oil, was used to store the dough “for an hour or until it doubles in size in a warm, dark place”.
Slowly lifted the tea-towel that covered the dough-bowl. Could not believe own eyes. The dough had proved itself!
Followed the recipe to the t and inflated the dough after a bit of hesitation. Baker is still not confident. Is it not the first attempt to bake a bread? Pardoned.
Left the dough in a loaf tin this time in the warm dark place to prove again. The dough took the challenge well and overflew the standard bread tin thus ensuring the classic champagne-cork shape.
Meanwhile, in another part of the kitchen…
Pre-heating the oven was meticulously done. Temperature was monitored to the degree. The risen-dough went straight into the oven. Half-way into the baking process, the rich, heavenly aroma of the bread began to fill the apartment. The crust was light brown. There was no way to test the doneness of bread without opening the oven door. Door was open, crust was knocked for that reassuring hollow “thud” sound.
A home-made bread was born.
Family, who were nearby since the aroma started filling the air, now gathered around the bread.
Some suggested butter. Others jam. How about chicken curry? Plain bread taste as good, came in another revelation. Olive oil and salt. Creativity is beginning to cross boundaries now.
Five minutes later, I thanked the heavens for the family leaving the loaf tin alone.
A question came up… when are you going to bake the next bread?
Soon, the baker said, and smiled to himself.
A few weeks back, a Challah was baked.