Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Golden Afternoon

When I was little enough to believe I could fly, my father had a brief but glorious enthusiasm for bread baking. After school, my sister and I ate warm bread with butter and honey, washed down with mugs of chocolate milk. These were lovely times. My father kneaded the dough by hand, a process I've never had the patience for, but I have a KitchenAid, so bread-baking is a relatively simple endeavor, and the rewards are far greater than I have a right to expect from so little effort. I measure out some flour and salt, dump them in the mixing bowl and let them whir together while I heat milk , water, and butter. The butter melts in a little golden pool atop the milk and I stir a little honey and some yeast into the pool and inhale deeply. The scent of butter, honey, and yeast is magical. So is the transformation of a small lump of dough into a pale puffy pillow that I gently press down before shaping into a loaf.

The second rise takes just over half as long as the first one, and I spend the time in our workroom sewing gathers into fabric circles for a gift I'm making. His Nibs wakes up from his nap just in time to see me pop the bread in the oven, and he puts his hands up as if in supplication and whispers 'hot, hot' in his best dramatic voice. The children and I play at building towers for the him to knock down while we wait for the bread. When we take it out, Wren puts Sir LoafsALot on his valiant steed to guard our bread against predatory toddlers.

You can't slice bread straight from the oven, but you don't want it to cool too long, or your 7 yr. old son will burst with longing. Also, the butter won't melt properly. Twenty minutes was as long as we could stand it, and, happily, that was just long enough to cool it to the perfect temperature. Fresh baked bread must be sliced thick and slathered with butter before being drizzled with honey. The butter will melt deliciously into the honey and drip delightfully down your chin.

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