Lots of coal making, lots of heat,
Warm face, warm hands, warm feet.
— “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely” from My Fair Lady
No, it wouldn’t be lovely. Warm hands kill pie crusts. They destroy biscuits, ruin scones, and wreck marriages. The butter melts, the water in the butter activates the gluten, and next thing you know you have tough dough and your loved one has filed for divorce on grounds of spousal cruelty.
These hands melt then disengage.
— Lycia, “Distant Eastern Glare”
All that stress from terror of gluten takes its toll on me and my radiator hands. Making pastry isn’t relaxing because I dislike every pastry cutter or pastry fork that I’ve ever tried, and I refuse to use my food processor featuring 100 hard-to-reach areas for your dishwashing pleasure! Instead I use my fingers, and I use them fast. So when fall comes, I’m eager to make bread again, to take my time and work the dough without fear. In bread making, you want water in the flour, you want to make gluten, you want to toughen the dough. I thrust my fists into my first batch of autumnal bread dough with more glee than a child grabbing at the innards of a destroyed piñata, and I eat the crusty warm fruit of my hard labor with more satisfaction than any kid with cheaply earned candy ever could. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting that my hands aren’t merely warm.
There’s a lot of hot hands around.
— Hank Williams Jr., “Waylon’s Guitar Lyrics”
Bread dough is generally supposed to be covered and left to rise in a warm draft-free place for three hours to double in size. How I wish! More than once, my dough has quadrupled in size after half an hour. I’ve resorted to putting my bread in the freezer after kneading just to calm the yeast down. While I could use my stand mixer, that defeats the purpose of making bread—I want to squeeze, and squish, and squash, and squeal, because it’s darn good fun to sink your hands into a rubbery ball of satiny bread dough.
Take your warm hands off me.
— Ian Anderson, “Toad in the Hole”
My first batch this fall was Velvety Bean Bread from the gorgeous Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World. It’s an intriguing recipe that uses pureed white beans that add no bean flavor but does add, according to the authors, a velvety texture and moisture that helps the bread keep. As the only bread eater in the house, I rely heavily on freezing fresh bread or baking good-keeping breads to keep from wasting loaves. This bread’s moisture and nutrition from the beans had fascinated me since I first read the book.
[Pictured: “It’s okay, it happens to lots of bakers…”]
I forgot about my hands and failed to let the dough rest in the refrigerator during autolyse or reduce the liquid and knead with some crushed ice (a clever idea from food scientist, Shirley O. Corriher). The bread rose too fast and too much; I barely caught it before it dropped. After punching down and shaping, the dough rose quickly but weakly in the pan, dragging and deflating under my knife when I tried to slash it. I considered reshaping and letting the loaves rise yet again but decided not to worsen the already compromised flavor. The loaves went into the oven and emerged dense and flat. Ashamed.
Maybe not this time.
— “Baker Baker,” Tori Amos
Fresh bread is still fresh bread, and though dense, I took some satisfaction in the yeasty flavor. The loaf didn’t live up to its velvety promise. That’s my fault, it’s a recipe that deserves another chance. I learned a hard lesson, forgot it, and learned it again. We all have our handicaps in the kitchen—hot hands are mine. Bad memory doesn’t help either.
Don’t give up.
I know you can make it good.
— “Don’t Give Up,” Peter Gabriel
I’ve made decent bread before, I can do it again. I think. I hope. World Bread Day is October 16…