So a couple of nights ago I made a beautiful potato and leek soup (about which more later) and I decided that bread was necessary to round out the meal. Bear in mind that it is intolerably hot here, and that no sane person would bake bread if they could pick up a nice loaf from Zingerman’s at the grocery store, but I was fixated on coming up with a couple of loaves of wheat bread just because I could.
Or so I thought. I have been baking bread for 30 years, having started in the 70s when I wanted my family to eat nothing that didn’t come from the pages of “The Moosewood Cook Book” or Laurel’s Kitchen.” I learned to proof, knead and tap loaf bottoms for done-ness, with some help from my mother, and I have always loved the sense of working with live ingredients that respond to my touch and become much more than flour, water, salt and yeast. From my earliest days in Earth Shoes and Seals & Crofts in the background, I have been calmed, empowered and spiritually enlarged by the bread making process.
The other night, though, I was thwarted in The Zen of Bread almost immediately by the fact that the recipe called for powdered milk, and I had none. In the spirit of adventure, I decided to try using malted milk instead. I figured (contrary to any evidence on the label) that it must have some dried dairy component, and that its sweetness would be balanced if I also omitted the brown sugar called for in the recipe. I imagined a slightly sweet loaf with a hint of malt that would, in some transigurative way, be the umame of bread. i made the bread as i always do, and it looked fairly normal during its rising process. It smelled good as it baked, and I broke out the stash of sweet butter from the farmers’ market, ready to dazzle my audience with my ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat through sheer creativity. After a tap test and a brief period on the cooling rack, I sawed off a heel and slathered it with butter. Cook’s treat.
The taste of the alleged “bread” was so vile, and so bizarre that i literally had to spit it out. By virtue of some chemical reaction unfathomable to the simple home cook, the bread was not only slightly sweet and malty, but had a taste so bitter and potentially toxic that there was really only one thing I could do. Well, two. I sent someone to the grocery store for a loaf of Zingerman’s bread, and I put my bread away.
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