Among the lessons I've learned while baking bread, this, I suppose, could have been the most predictable: Baking bread is not like riding a bicycle. If you haven't done it in a long time, well, don't count on being able to do it again.
I won't go into it, but there exists a recent valiant attempt at making multigrain bread extraordinaire, which many bakers in the Bread Baker's Apprentice challengehad pronounced a breeze. In my Brooklyn kitchen, however, this turned out to be anything but. And the end result was a flat dense brick that was as saggy in the center as it was dry and mealy.
"You're out of practice," the husband noted. (Which earned him extra dishwashing duties but — I had to admit — was not untrue.)
How to solve the problem? An old Julie Andrews song instantly came to mind.
Perhaps, I thought, it might help to go back and start at the very beginning …
And besides, it turned out, making English muffins is easy — so incredibly easy, in fact, that nothing eventful happened.
As I whizzed through the steps, I began to wonder if I should have blindfolded myself or tied one hand behind my back while making them, just to have something fascinating to say about baking English muffins. Oh, the trials that could have happened! The tribulations! The smell of burnt cornmeal filling my apartment again!
The one where I’m sitting on the floor of my smoke-filled apartment, staring at three rock-hard, blackened loaves and thinking, “I am a failure.”
Having never baked bread before, I’d known it was a little insane to sign up for the weekly Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, where a group of more than 200 amateur bakers around the world bake a bread every week from a recipe in Peter Reinhart’s bread-making bible.
But then my first attempt — bagels — had gone well. And in the ensuing weeks, decent versions of brioche and challah followed.
I started to get cocky — I even promised chef Simpson that I would bring my first stab at ciabatta to his July 4 party. There would be two Italians there — who better to judge the quality of my first Italian bread?
Of course, this was all before the alarming amounts of smoke, the smell of burnt cornmeal seeping into every cranny of my apartment and, eventually, the surfacing of three dark lumps of what could pass for coal but were actually my “ciabatta.”