Beginner’s luck

Want to hear something amusing? Listen to this bit of 1970s-era service journalism:

“This bread is delicious, it’s so different. Did you really make it yourself?”

“No, the children made this.”

“You’re joking.”

Not at all. Yeast bread is excellent for beginning cooks because it can withstand almost any abuse and pummeling. Making bread dough is more fun than modeling clay because you can eat the results. It’s easy to mix, sturdy and firm to handle, and the magic of the growing yeast will overcome any lack of culinary skills.

These recipes for bowl breads are for beginners, creative projects for rainy days…

New breads can add interest to meals and lunch boxes. A loaf of homemade bread with a hot casserole and a cool, crisp salad makes a perfect supper menu.

The excerpt’s from an article clipped long ago, written by one Arley Carman Clark. And no, I’m not laughing at her. I’m laughing with her. I’m hardly quibbling with her argument, either (except for the casserole part –- ick). I just found her scripted television-commercial lead and overall “rah rah” approach a little quaint, that’s all. I’m sure she was a marvelous woman, and a fine baker at that.

I found Ms. Clark listed on a couple of authors indices, discovered she was born in Maine in 1917 and that she was known for her mystery and column writing. Now she’s known, in my house at least, as the bowl bread recipe lady. What more of a legacy could one hope for, really?

My mom sent me this photocopied clip months ago, dispatching it from her file folders stuffed with clipped recipes to mine. If you’ve been following my kitchen exploits at all, you may remember that 2008 was to be my year of baking bread (‘twas a New Year’s resolution made under duress from a certain daughter –- oh, for good intentions). We’re now firmly in the month of September, and I have only a few loaves of mixed success and some flatbreads to show for my lofty goal.

Blame it on an oven that’s been broken half the time. Blame it on hectic schedules. Blame it on life, but so far I haven’t made much progress compounding my experience with grains and gluten, soakers and enzymes and all the rest of it.

But I’m serious. I want to learn how to make better bread, to overcome my rising-challenged loaves and heavy crumbs.

At last I got around to this bowl bread. Clark, apparently a woman fond of choices, provided five options in her recipe: cornmeal, bran, wheat germ, rolled oats and shredded wheat. (While trying to track down whether to attribute the recipe’s authorship to Clark, I found the recipe here. It’s almost verbatim, but without her encouraging-neighbor commentary.)

My rolled-oat dough didn’t quite rise, even though Clark promised the recipe was idiot-proof. It rose. And then it stopped.

After a long day of waiting, waiting, waiting… I baked my burden. My girls inhaled warm slices for a bedtime snack, and they loved it. They didn’t care that the growth had been a little stunted and that the bread was perhaps a teensy bit dense, thanks to my stubborn and under-educated use of whole wheat and white whole wheat pastry flours instead of all purpose (I realize there are compensations to be made in the switch but, I can be reckless that way). Emmie declared it the best bread she’s ever had. Who am I to judge my own loaves, right? Isn’t homemade bread all about delighting one’s family, filling kitchens with the heady aroma? That’s what Clark says, at least. And I like her.

But I believe my best loaves are yet to come. I’m determined about that. So determined that I bought a book. I almost bought Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, but I’m fussy about the whole grain thing. So I’m skipping that and have jumped right into his Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. I’m doing my due diligence, reading all the introductory chapters because I want to arm myself with the knowledge I need to overcome my obvious protein structure problems (among others).

Anyway, I’m on page 29, and I don’t actually get to start making bread until, oh, page 95 or so. Year’s not over yet.

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    faemom said,

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I’m excited to try it because I’m homemade-yeast-bread challenged. (I think I’ve made one that actually rose as it should.) And I agree on the casseroles. Yuck!

  2. 2

    Trisha said,

    Thanks, faemom! Glad I’m not the only yeast-bread challenged baker in the bunch. Hope the recipe works well for you!

  3. 3

    Jennifer said,

    Every time I try yeast bread it turns out like a brick and I end up feeding it remade to the dog as buscuits. I hope these work. I am still hopeful!

  4. 4

    Dorothy said,

    This is my Great Aunt Arley’s bread recipe! I went online hoping to find it because I knew it had been published once. She created this recipe for one of her children who was born early, very active, and had a small appetite. The intention was to get as much nutrition in a single slice as possible. I’m now going to pass this on as a gift to an elderly woman whose husband has dementia. Thank you for the story to share with my family as well.

  5. 5

    Ken Carman said,

    Um, I do believe Aunt Arley was born in Old Forge, NY NOT “Maine,” or close to. My father, the oldest, was born in Remsen but lived almost all his youth in Old Forge. Certainly NOT born in Maine.

  6. 6

    Ken Carman said,

    Note: though perhaps some promo material may claim such. Living in Nashville I know all too well how such things start… usually image related. Like a lot of (the country group) Alabama’s early info is flat out wrong because the lady who wrote it, Maggie Cavander, was no fan of my ex-boss or his custom record company. Being an author and a performer too I know Image is crucial, so I understand how this happens. But sometimes correction is best.


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