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July 21, 2008 Recipe #2: Bread

Ama or her sister bake bread every morning. The recipe is straightforward, but those pros make it look easy. When I finally got my fingers into the dough, I discovered that just because it looks effortless doesn’t mean it’s not hard… Again, all amounts are estimations, since there are no measuring cups in the house.

3 cups wheat flour
1 cup white flour
3 T yeast
2 T salt
1 T oil
Warm water

Sift together the flours; set aside. In a broad, flat dish, combine yeast with warm water. Once well mixed, add about half the flour. Work them together with your hands. Once well incorporated, keep adding the flour mixture, a cup or so at a time. Pour in additional water as needed.

Once all the flour is incorporated, begin kneading*. Work the dough for several minutes. Combine the salt with warm water, then pour the saltwater into the side of the dish, and incorporate it through kneading. Once all the salt is kneaded in, and the dough is at the desired consistency, shape it into a broad circle (filling the dish). Pour the oil over the dough and distribute it evenly by lightly tapping the surface all over.

Let it sit ~30 minutes.

Pull out a lump about the size of two fists. Shape it into a flattened ball coated in flour. (This is one of the parts that Ama and Xalti make look incredibly easy, but which I never got right. They sort of tug the sides and slap it against the flour, and suddenly it’s a white ball. Mine…not so much.)

Using the flat of your hand, press the ball into a larger and larger circle. Once it’s about the size of a medium pizza, transfer it onto the “breadcovers” (a large, heavy cloth woven specifically for this purpose; I imagine a heavy teatowel would work just as well). Repeat until you have shaped 4 loaves.

Let it sit ~30 minutes.

Turn the loaf onto a bread paddle, stab it 10 times with a fork, and slide it into the oven. (Again, Ama makes this look effortless. Turns out there’s a knack to it which I haven’t mastered yet.) These are gas ovens, and only sort-of convection ovens, so the bread is put into the top half, above the gas; once the bottom is cooked through, slide it out and put it onto the bottom shelf, so the top can brown. The bread is done when it’s evenly brown. (It may need to be rotated a few times to accomplish this, depending on how evenly your oven heats.)

Once finished, return it to the breadcover and wrap it, so it will cool slowly. Warm bread (aghrom irghan) is a wooonderful thing, so you want it to be warm as long as possible.
Serves a family of 8 for five bread-intensive meals. (Ama pointed out repeatedly that I will not want to make this much when I’m living alone. There are no preservatives, so the bread goes stale overnight, and it would take me a week to eat it all.)

* Ama’s kneading is different from the kneading I’ve done before. I’m used to having my hands slightly separated (much like they are on the computer keyboard, come to think of it), and pressing with the heels of both hands. I use my fingers to work the dough backwards. I periodically rotate it, knead it down, rotate it, etc, until finished. Ama’s kneading is done with the two hands on top of each other. Your right hand makes a fist, knuckles down. Your left hand wraps over it, with your arms as close together as possible. You push down with both hands evenly, in a front-to-back rocking motion, so the dough is pressed with your knuckles, fingers, and heels, in that order. I was kneading Ama’s way, since it was her kitchen and her bread recipe, but when she asked, I demonstrated “American kneading”. Since it felt so much more natural, I kept doing it for about 30 seconds, and finished incorporating the last of the salt water that had eluded me for the previous five minutes. I’m not claiming that “American kneading” is better, just that I’m better at it, so it was more effective for me.

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