This. This is the image that I have pined over for the last 51 weeks. Perhaps the last 5 years in fact. This loaf always seemed unattainable. Too difficult. I am not good enough at following instructions. I am not prepared to knead over 10 cups of whole wheat flour. I am not a bread baker’s apprentice!
So I thought at least.
Crusty, grainy, immense, perfectly round, and heavy with love was precisely what I wanted to create for our Winter Solstice Celebration. Foods in the shape of a circle (the sun) are encouraged on this day of seasonal change. And I was going to create this in the way I love best of all. Bread.
Starting a week prior to the event I made a rye seed starter. I fed her daily, and then transformed her into a barm. This is the starter I get to keep forever. I once met a woman with a starter that was over 50 years old. She has remained my idol to this day. Now is my opportunity to begin this half a century long aspiration. May father time be with me!
Once the barm was complete, two days before the big day, I began the starter for this particular bread. All these steps were simple enough. The morning of, I awoke early to warm up my baby. I placed her on the counter, and went about our morning routine. Once she was all cozy at room temperature, I sliced her up and mixed her with seven large cups of hardly milled (it seemed) local flour. Can I tell you what a dream come true it was this summer to find locally grown and milled whole wheat flour? The stuff is like nothing you can buy in the store. It is an entirely different beast all together.
When the kneading began, even the 50 breads of my past year could not have prepared me. I tell the truth when I say my chest and biceps are still sore. I was sweating. Really and truly sweating. The tie of my bath robe was flapping wildly around my fleece pajamas and my frazzled hair was sticking to my forehead. My children were needing me, but I shooed them away and pressed on. I kneaded her.
It amazed me when she rose. She rose like crazy. It is evident my home is not lacking in the natural yeast found everywhere in this world. I rolled her tightly into a boule. A little too tight (my only mistake… brush my shoulders off… they are covered in flour! A little bread humor for you. take it or leave it, ok?). The loaf was a bit more round than flat. But it worked out.
I scraped a paring knife across a sharpening stone with careful scrutiny. I didn’t want the pound sign I would carve on top of the loaf to be disgraced with a dull slice. Success. Into the oven she went. I waited with the anticipation of Christmas morning. Luckily I had the time to, for my boys were fast asleep, the guests were yet to arrive, and my home (for once) was spotless. Everything was in order. I stood in front of the oven impatiently. Only the weeklong effort of my bread dreams come true was left to make my preparations for the evening complete.
I never even peeked, unless it was to pour water into the cast iron dutifully, creating a steam bath the romans would have envied. When it was finally time to take her out, I opened the oven wide-eyed and grinning. She was a thing to behold.
I love bread. I really, really do.