I’m going to tell you a story about bread. Horrible, over-kneaded, under-risen, almost burnt bread.
Seven months ago I bought this book from this place because I saw this video and thought it would be cool if I gave Chad Robertsons bread making recipe and technique a try. To be honest the amount of times I had actually attempted to bake bread were few. There was that grape focaccia that one time which turned out o-kay. Oh! I did bake some mini brioches a few years back which turned out good. Those were different though, their recipes all called of active dry yeast and took a good few hours from start to finish (minus the overnight rise in the fridge for the brioche dough). If I follow the steps of the Tartine Bread cookbook, from start to finish it takes about a good two weeks to make the dough and bake the bread (that is including developing the yeast in the starter from scratch). Rebertson’s book describes in detail all the steps for making a rustic freeform loaf starting from developing your own yeast in the starter to baking the loaf in a dutch oven. Something about the complexity of the recipe and the challenge that would ensue in making it intrigued me, so I went for it.
I carried that book almost everywhere with me for a good month and read it from cover to cover, going over the steps for making that one basic loaf of bread countless times, studying the recipe at every chance I got until one afternoon I finally decided to attempt it. I started with the starter just as the book told me to do, and it developed over the course of weeks just as the book described it would. I fed it daily and took care of it to the point where it became a point of ridicule amongst my friends. It didn’t phase me, I was just so excited to start the bread making process and patiently anticipated how amazing this loaf of bread would turn out. I went on to imagine my whole family relying on the fresh bread I would make for them on a daily basis made. I even made a note to find a wholesale source for freshly milled flour in Jeddah just as Chad described in his book. Needless to say I got a tad bid carried away in my thoughts when all I had was essentially some yeast in a plastic container.
The day came when I decided that my starter was ready to be transformed into a loaf, so I made the leaven which I let stand overnight on my bedside table. The next morning I woke up excited to see that my leaven had developed exactly the way the book had described and got cracking on my bread. I mixed it, turned it, let it rise, turned it again, let rise again, turned it once more, let it rise once more, turned it for the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh time… My bread wasn’t rising the way it was supposed to, it wasn’t firming up, it wasn’t getting billowy the way the book said it would. What did I do wrong? Freaking out ensued, and I’m pretty sure I called one of my friends in complete panic and I’m pretty sure she said something on the lines of “You’re crazy, Amnah, did you know that?” I then decided that maybe I was over thinking it (also that I may be a little bit crazy) and that I had over worked the dough. I figured the best way to salvage this bread was to let it rest overnight and I would bake it first thing in the morning.
The leaven resting overnight on my bedside table
This next part may make you question my sanity for a bit; but I did not sleep well that night, all I could think of was the bread and how would it bake. Will it rise? Will there be enough steam for it to form those amazing air pockets that make bread nice and fluffy? Will I finally be able to have that thick rustic bread so I can make French toast? Anxious thoughts consumed my mind that night. This was not the first time (surely not that last either) that I’ve worried about something that I let rest overnight, when I first made this pavlova, which I had to bake the night before it was to be served, I had nightmares of cooked meringue falling apart in my kitchen and turning into a sugary dust.
The leaven beautifully bubbly and active after resting overnight
I woke up the next morning and grudgingly put my bread in the oven and baked it, by that moment the loaf of bread which I had previously treated and loved as if it was my own child had now become a huge disappointment. All expectations of a perfectly baked loaf of bread had withered and I just couldn’t wait to bake the darned thing and get it over with just so I can say “whatever, I tried it and it sucked.” Well, whatever, I tried it and it sucked. And I never opened that cookbook again.
The shaped loaves after overworking them about to rest overnight, in retrospect I probably should have baked them at this stage
Looking back, my experience with this bread is not the first of it’s sort in my life. There was that time when I was 10 and decided I would sell flavored popcorn as a snack to my neighborhood kids. Instead of the cliché lemonade stand I’d have a popcorn stand, it seemed like a genius idea at the time. I got ahead of myself, bought all the supplies, made the signs, prepared everything until I realized I had never made popcorn from scratch and I had not the faintest idea how to make flavored popcorn for that matter. And in the 20 minutes that it took me to make a batch of overly salty burnt not-caramel-but-some-sort-of-weird-concoction popcorn, that project died.
My definition of failure is when the outcome of hard work does not match the expected outcome. I look at that statement with my almost 23 years of wisdom (or lack thereof) and think, when the fuck did I work for something and it come out as I expected it to be? I guess this is a lesson for me on the most part, because I still want to make perfect rustic bread like in Tartine and eventually find a local flour source (and eventually open up my own bakery), I just don’t, because like all the things in my life that haven’t worked out (or the I’m scared won’t work out) I never try again (or try at all for the latter situation). So here’s to the year of change, years of more trials, and to more (un)successful endeavors in and out of the kitchen.