about bliss

Saturday, March 06, 2010

daily bliss: artisan bread baking

Spending the day with my friend T is always an adventure. From learning gardening tips to how to make yogurt, to sampling homemade cured Italian meats, T always teaches me something. He invited me to join him on a massive bread baking adventure, and I happily accepted.

the wet mixture

Friday morning I arrived in time to mix together the sponge and the remaining ingredients for a pecan and raisin studded whole wheat loaf. Considering that there was enough dough to make 12+ two and a half pound loaves, this entailed heavy kneading, especially once the fruit and nuts were added to the dough.

a shaggy dough

adding fruit and nuts

We divided the dough in half and each set about working the dough, though T's long arms and superior strength made his kneading time about half of mine.

the lovely kneaded dough

After the doughs were ready, T loaded me up with various vegetables from last summer's garden—onions, garlic, carrots—and a bag of frozen san marzano tomatoes. My next task was to go home and make a simple red sauce, for we would have time to cook a few pizzas alongside the bread.

At home, I sauteed garlic in olive oil while I skinned the tomatoes by popping them under hot water until the skins, almost magically, peeled off. I added Italian herb mix and a pinch of salt, and reveled at how quickly my kitchen smelled of summer.

breads awaiting baking

After a quick lunch and my sauce making adventure, I followed T's map to his friend's farm, where they have a brick oven nestled in a building that used to be the summer kitchen. The oven is over 140 years old.

I drove through prime Wisconsin dairy land, watching cows slowly meander across semi-frozen fields, admiring the old farmsteads that are still operational.

When I stepped into the building, I was surprised by the simplicity of the room. T had rigged up a propane torch to add heat to the building and warm the loaves of rustic french sourdough that take a long, slow rise, as they lack added yeast.

breads baking in the brick oven

Our first task was to egg wash, score, and seed the large loaves of rye bread before adding them to the heated oven. T showed me the technique for transfering loaves on and off the long cherry wood peel he fashioned himself. I need practice at the clean jerk, which leaves the bread in one spot.

the bread baker's apprentice:)

As we waited for the breads to cook, we set about making pizzas, by shaping the dough, and placing it in the hot oven. We added simple toppings: the aforementioned sauce, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, asparagus, fresh mozzarella, and basil. With a crisp, chewy, and slightly charred crust, the pizzas tasted almost as good as the pies from my favorite restaurant, Il Ritrovo.

rye breads

Once the rye breads were done, it was time to make another fire in the oven to add heat, which increased the smokiness in the little building and had us seeking refuge outside. After the fire died down, we added the raisin pecan breads to the oven. They baked in about 40 minutes, and then I showed off my newfound skills and removed three at a time on the long peel.

pecan raisin bread

When I left, the sourdough breads had another two hours or so of rising, but home was calling. I wanted to read, and to start a veggie stock for a winter vegetable pot pie for Friday night dinner. Today I'll stop over at T's house to pick up a loaf.

This day was just the kind of Friday I needed—a day to learn something new, to connect with a friend, and to create something beautiful, sustaining, and delicious.


  1. This post is one that is after my own heart. Awesome!

  2. What an amazing way to spend a day. There is something really soul-nurturing about baking bread. And to do it with a friend is even better!

  3. Beautiful Breads. Oh, to spend a day like that. Bread is wonderful to make, and I bet this way is fantastic.