I love good bread. Real, handmade, honest bread. But, when it comes to baking it myself, it scares the bejeesus out of me. Baking is my cooking 'special skill'. I have natural icebergs for hands which is great for working dough, but bread has been a mission I've strategically avoided my whole life. Until recently, that is.
It all started about a month ago at my friend Sara's quarter life crisis celebration. Sara is an old friend who shares a large group of mutual friends and acquaintances. One of those friends is a guy named Ben. Ben and I have known each other for years and yet I can barely remember a single conversation we've had in that time. That night he was the first and last person I talked to. I had brought Sara a foodie gift, a mishmash of vinegars and sauces she would make quick and loving use of. This opened the way to discovering that Ben is very interested in food, in fact he even went to culinary school after burning out at a bank. This opened a long talk with us that was quite fun to have, and very memorable. The night and chat ended with two decisions -- for us to bake bread for the first time together and to hypothetically open a winery for our retirement...the bread plan came through and I'm packing my corks for the winery tonight.
I brought my treasured copy of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Home Baking. A wonderfully helpful baker's atlas. and we picked two recipes to tackle, agreeing to see them through even if it took all day...it did. We started with a rustic free form irish soda bread, rich with butter, whole wheat and oats...then advanced to our own slightly demented versions of German sign pretzels (literally: pretzels are hung outside German bakeries as identifying marks for the trade of the shop). The pretzels were much more complicated than we anticipated but they turned out pretty well!