Bread Musings

As I stood at my counter last night, straining my left hand by trying to knead the dough in the metal bowl, I thought to myself just how much some of us take breads for granted. As I mentioned in a previous post, most grocery stores have very few artisanal breads, preferring the shelf life and profit margins of the bagged sliced breads. When you go into some restaurants, the breadbasket is oftentimes an afterthought. If they give you bread at all, it is often stale and tasteless; usually some version of an Italian loaf or French concoction purchased from an outsourced bakery.

It’s a shame really. Bread shouldn’t be taken so lightly.

In my research, I have come to the belief that bread is probably one of the most important foods on this planet. In some cultures, the word “bread” is synonymous with food. It’s the primary way that nutrition is delivered for many peoples on this planet.

It’s an efficient means to deliver carbohydrates, which has lead some to hypothesize that a community’s social development is based in some part to their ability to eat well, even in the seasons in which hunting and/or fishing is minimal. The ability to store grain and make bread throughout the lean months certainly helped in this regard.

And bread certainly has its place in history. The Egyptians loved their bread and more than likely came across the idea of adding yeast to the process. The Romans developed one of the first welfare programs in history by trying to ensure that the poor had bread to eat. The French had bread riots in the 1770′s. When Marie Antoinette famously uttered “Laissez-les manger du brioche.”, she wasn’t talking about cake, she was talking about bread. Even our own food quality control systems today can be traced directly back to the Baker’s guilds that evolved to ensure that the consumers of the middle ages were getting what they paid for.

It’s now difficult for me to look at bread in the same way anymore. If given lifeless, tasteless bread at a restaurant, I now simply sigh and think to myself “They don’t get it” and I apologize for their ignorance to any ghosts of the past that may be listening.

But if I get good bread at a restaurant, my expectations are raised. “Here”, I think, “is a place that has given thought to all aspects of the meal. Here is a place that knows!”

I will admit though. Making dough at home can be a pain in the tuckus. Without a dough mixer (which I do not have…yet), it’s long, arduous work. And you have to have plenty of time. In our “I want it now” culture, making bread is easily tossed aside. Instead, they run to the supermarket, and purchase loaves of bread that are only slightly better than cardboard. Think I’m kidding? Pick up a loaf of sliced whole grain bread and compare it to a similar recipe made at your local bakers…if you’re lucky enough to have local bakers that is. Do a taste comparison. If you don’t have an epiphany during the comparison, I pity the folks who have to sit at your dinner table.

Am I being smug? Hell yes. But I can afford to be. I have raw pizza dough, hand made by yours truly, rising in the fridge. I have frozen bread dough in my freezer. I have three decent bakeries within walking distance from my apartment. I can afford to be smug. After all, I have good bread at my fingertips.