The bread workout

I could feel the burn. My triceps screamed as I pummeled my way into the eighth minute of kneading. I was a sweating, lean mean bread-making machine!

Bread-making is ancient. Humans have been making this wonderful food since the domestication of plants 10,000 years ago. Making bread is a wonderful way to connect with thousands of generations of tradition. It’s like having a time machine in your kitchen, as long as you make it by hand.

When I first started making bread I used the breadmaker. A huge, heavy machine that rhythmically churned the ingredients I’d orderly placed inside until they melded into a gloopy blob. Then the machine baked that blob until it came out a fragrant but disappointingly hefty brick of bread.

Next I tried the mixer. First the dry ingredients, then the wet spilled into bowl and were caught up by the whirling dough hook. As the elasticity of the dough increased, the motor would start to struggle and I’d have to hold the top  of the mixer down with all my might while the contraption jumped and whirred across the counter top. I could see that I needed to either find a better way to make bread or accept the inevitable fact that the mixer would very soon end up deceased.

“Why not just make bread by hand?” I wondered. “Oh surely not!” My brain answered in a voice eerily similar to my mother’s. “In this day of modern convenience who in their right mind would do something like that?” It turns out, I would. It’s just as easy to mix dough in a bowl with a wooden spoon as it is to throw ingredients into a machine and while the breadmaker and kitchen mixer did cut down on the time required for kneading, I started to really enjoy doing it by hand.

A good batch of bread needs to be folded and refolded for about ten minutes in order to work up the gluten required to give the bread a healthy rise. If you make white bread then kneading is pretty easy. Put your favorite spa music into the cd player and just fold and push, fold and push your troubles away. BUT if you make whole wheat bread with flax, wheat germ and whole grains then you’d better switch the radio over to rock and visualize yourself in the sort of gym that trains boxers. Whole grain bread dough is like the P90X of breadmaking. Pound that dough into submission, no holds barred!

Every part of my arm felt tingly and worn out when I finally placed the elasticized ball of dough into the greased bowl to rise. “Wow!’ I thought, so proud of my ability to multitask. “No need to do another workout today. I just pumped some serious iron.” I smacked my floury hands on my apron, wiped my sweaty brow with my forearm and went to find something else to do.

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