Have you ever experienced bread-baking Zen? It happens when you are kneading your dough steadily, like a well-oiled machine, and it starts transforming from a shaggy mess to a smooth, elastic piece of perfection. You are totally in the moment and you feel a peaceful contentment.
Then there is dough that makes it a wee bit more difficult for you to achieve bread-baking Zen. They are stubborn and teasing. With these guys you need a little more perseverance and a lot more imagination – it’s not easy outsmarting bread dough, you see.
But if you’re a Daring Baker, you do what you have to do.
When Tanna announced that the challenge for this month would be Tender Potato Bread I was thrilled! I really enjoy bread-baking and the way I bliss-out when kneading dough. Yeast is never a problem in this humid oven where I live. And the smell of freshly baked bread is great from masking the garlic I sautéed during the previous meal. Little did I know how much of a challenge this would actually be, and how much harder I would have to work for my bread-bliss.
It started out innocuously enough – flour, potatoes, water, yeast, salt, a bit of butter. I used about 10 ounces potato (I figured I was safe in between the 8 ounces Tanna suggests for beginners and the 16 ounces for experts). Everything was going on much the same as the other bread recipes I’ve tried. Until I added the flour and was supposed to “turn out onto a well-floured board” to knead. Sticky just doesn’t cover it. I valiantly tossed in spoonful after spoonful of additional flour but still there remained more dough stuck to my hands than on the board! I tried my best to knead it into shape but the more I tried the more it seemed to suck my hands in…like bread-dough-quicksand. Just when I thought that I was licked I decided to let the frustrated bread-baker step back, and let the determined gymnast step up.
No, I am not, nor was ever, nor will ever be, a gymnast. But it helps to pretend when you are dealing with stubborn bread-dough. Hear me out.
When you are dealing with bread-dough that will not bend to your will, close your eyes and imagine you are one of those strong, lithe, gymnasts about to start a super-duper-difficult routine. You know that part when they take some chalk and clap it between their hands? Now take some flour and clap it between your hands. In the movies this part is always shot close up and in slow-motion, the chalk puffing out dramatically between the gymnast’s able fingers, catching the light in the stadium, the crowd’s cheers reduced to a dull thrum as the gymnast places all his/her focus on the routine. This is the mental picture you should be going for. Now, with all that focus and concentration and drama, plunge yourself into the kneading with new vigor. Knead like you have never kneaded before! Get in there wrist-deep, the heel of you palm digging into that dough like you’re going for the gold. Dough still sticking? Don’t even slow down, just toss in some flour and let your magic gymnasts’ hands do the rest! After a while put a little spring in your step…as you knead with your right hand, lean into the dough and skip to your left, and vice versa, until you have achieved a steady rhythm. If you have Eye of the Tiger hiding somewhere in your playlist, now is the time to bring it out.
Although difficult, and much more tiring, you still reach bread-baking Zen. A kind of Bikram bread-baking Zen. Still blissful, just a tad sweatier.
After you are done, exhausted and sore, and the dough has baked to a heavenly smelling and wonderfully behaved bread, you are ready for another type of bread-bliss. When your bread has cooled enough to slice, but still warm enough to soften some butter, take a slice from anywhere in the loaf that you want (that’s right, if you want a slice from the very middle then cut the loaf in two and get it!). Take a good pat of your best butter and spread it on the warm bread. Take your buttered bread to your most favorite, comfiest place in your house. Turn off your mobile! Toss off those flip-flops! Now sit back, relax, and give yourself 100% to experiencing this piece of magic that you created with your own hands. Bliss no spa can recreate I tell you.
More notes on the challenge:
Thank you Tanna for choosing a terrific challenge! To say I had fun would be an understatement ;)
People: Check out all the Daring Bakers’ Tender Potato Breads here!