I was an elementary school student and we were camping during summer vacation in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The family had piled into the station wagon and driven into the town of Conway to purchase groceries at the local IGA.
We walked into the store and collided with the intoxicating aroma – fresh, fragrant, sunny and malty. The store had a bakery and there were burgeoning loaves of rustic white bread rising in the oven. We snapped up a warm loaf and ate it with our camp stove dinner that night. Immediately we boys began pressuring our parents to return to the IGA for more fresh baked bread.
Was it there in Conway, New Hampshire that I experienced my first craving? Until that time, my bread had come in white plastic wrappers sealed with twist ties, and often with red, yellow and blue balloons on the package.
That day in the IGA remains a pivotal moment. The yeasty aroma of freshly baking bread was a revelation. I had to have more, and I needed to learn more. Today, the Old Man in the Mountains is gone from New Hampshire, but the craving for fresh bread that began in Conway remains – not just to buy it, or eat it, but to bake it. I have a deep knead to experience that ancient alchemy that conjures up plump, bronze loaves of flaky bread.
I’ve had some successes. I even took a full-month of training in European Breads with excellent results – in the classroom. At home, I could never get the bread to rise. The house was always too drafty, or too warm, or too cold. Until now.
Presenting the latest feature in the suburban Long Island kitchen makeover – the Warming Drawer – complete with a setting for proofing bread!
Note the sleek exterior and aerodynamic styling.
As soon as it is connected, I move into action, and select a recipe full of good things from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, “Honey Whole-Wheat Bread.” There’s nothing really complicated about a bread recipe – just flour, water, salt and yeast – but just for fun, Martha adds honey and wheat germ for a nice flavor boost.
I knead the bread by hand into a smooth and elastic disk. It’s therapeutic.
The dough goes into the pre-heated warming drawer and within an hour it has doubled in size.
The dough is punched down and divided into two loaves. At this point I am taking every step with extreme caution. I really want this to work. No need to worry. With another thirty minutes inside the drawer, these are really beginning to look like loaves of bread.
A little egg wash gives each loaf a golden lacquer, and with one hour in the oven, we’ve got bread – two heavenly loaves!
It’s so easy it almost feels like witchcraft, or like one of those magic boxes used by a Las Vegas magician.
I’m not even sure I care exactly how the warming drawer works its magic. I’m just glad I don’t have to make the six hour drive to Conway, New Hampshire to satisfy my craving.
©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved