The air around was warm and sweet, filled with the scent of flour, coffee and a delectable note of yeast. My black fabric apron showed miniature clashes with white powder and dried sticky dough where …
The air around was warm and sweet, filled with the scent of flour, coffee and a delectable note of yeast. My black fabric apron showed miniature clashes with white powder and dried sticky dough where I had wiped my hands. My hands, although wiped, still bore the tacky aftermath of kneading the elastic stretchy dough, perfectly balanced between too much water and too much flour. The coffee steam rose from the foam cup in my hand, boasting bold dark flavor that satisfied my palate while being tempted by the hearty smells that wafted from the oven.
As a special treat, this is how I spent my Saturday with the wife. We had been invited by her grandmother to bake fermented bread that she had started the night before. So early that morning, we arrived to learn from the best the skills of baking delicious bread. As most of our cooking and baking sessions with her go, this one was likewise fueled by a steady flow of silky black coffee. Properly dosed with caffeine, we donned our respective aprons and listened as she told us the steps we had missed from setting up the dough the night before. We then uncovered the prepared starter and added more flour, water and salt before splitting it and working it before finally placing it to rest again in a bowl covered by a dishcloth. Little did we know, there were plenty of steps prior to baking that involved extended periods of waiting. So, as the dough lay in its resting yet rising state, grandma turned and cheerily asked what else we wanted to bake.
Taken by surprise because we hadn’t anticipated the additional baking freedom, we allowed her to choose some baking tasks for us. There were pies and cookies that needed making and two willing suckers just ready for baking.
My wife set to work making chocolate chip cookies because, to be perfectly honest, nobody bakes a chocolate chip cookie like my wife. (Feel free to fact check me.)
I, however, had no specialty, so I was assigned a bit of learning. Lemon meringue pies were the goal, but before you can have a pie, you must have a pie crust; grandma is not one to use premade crust.
She set me up with the food processor and all the ingredients I would need before taking me step by step through the technique of an excellent pie dough. After finishing the first one and ensuring I understood what it should look and feel like, she said “Okay, just do all that seven more times.” I blinked, not realizing we were making so many pies, but bent down again to the task with the understanding that, by the end of this, I better be able to make pie dough in my sleep.
Nearly halfway through, she stopped us both to turn and work our bread portions again before returning to the secondary baking projects. As we completed these, the bread was once again ready to be worked. But this time, it was placed in large Dutch ovens that were then set in the oven to bake.
That time of rest in between stages of a big baking day—that’s the moment I found myself in as I sipped my coffee enjoying the family time and learning more about this skill. Sure, the bread would be excellent and we savored it for nearly a week before committing to consuming it entirely. The cookies… well they didn’t last us the trip home even. And as for the pie? Well, the dough was my favorite part. There’s nothing quite like home-baked goods, and there’s nothing that can replace those priceless days spent in the kitchen with family. Part of the way out here is passing along these skills. Most of us seek to learn and grow in a number of ways, but there’s nothing quite the same as a skill passed from one’s grandmother and sealed in memory with a pleasant sunny day of her company.
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