My Kitchen Aid: Faithful Bread Making Partner

It didn't start as the steamy hot romance it is today.

I bought a Kitchen Aid years ago when I was Christmas shopping and started to feel sorry for myself because everyone else was getting presents. I told myself that I wanted to improve my baking skills and my little hand mixer was getting in the way. Besides, it was attractively priced. How could I not bring it home? 

My best memories of my mother's cooking are the days she baked. Something was always in the oven. She make cookies and cakes that were the hits of church bake sales and library fund-raisers. But, it was her light and tender hand with yeast that really made its mark on me. From strudel to challah - she made it all look easy. 

Of course, in those days Mom considered herself lucky to own a Sunbeam stand mixer - just like the one Julia Child used in her early episodes of
The French Chef. You could only combine the ingredients in it. Dough hooks were unheard of in residential kitchens back then. As dough started to form, we had to turn it out on a floured board and knead by hand to finish it.

Mom spent hours teaching me how to knead, and to recognize when the dough "felt right." 

I hoped that my new Kitchen Aid would help me restore those fond memories, as well as help me make wonderful food for my family and friends. So, home it came with me, where it took up a prominent spot on my counter.

At first I experimented with cookies, cheesecake and the like. It didn't take long for me to get the urge to try out the dough hook. Here's where high expectations met stiff resistance.

Oh, it wasn't bad or inedible. It just wasn't what I remember making with Mom. 

What was the problem? Slowly I figured out that it was me. I had gotten carried away with the idea of the mixer doing the work for me. The Kitchen Aid does a wonderful job of kneading, but what I pushed out of my consciousness was that dough making is an inexact science. 

The recipe and kneading time can vary, and only you, the baker - the dough-master, will know when it's right. On humid days you use a little more flour. In the winter sometimes you need an extra drop or two of water. You need to keep kneading until the dough not only comes together, but as my mom would tell me, "until the dough is nice and silky and as smooth as a baby's behind."

Here's a few additional tips of mine that will help your bread making efforts.

1) Use a high quality bread flour such as King Arthur or White Lily.

2) Let the dough rise at its own rate. Recipes tend to say "until double in bulk or about one hour." If it needs more than an hour - that's ok. (How fast the dough rises is normally a factor of how warm the water was when you added it and how warm the room is where it's rising. Knowing this comes naturally with time.)

3) Place an oven brick (sometimes called a pizza brick) on the bottom of the oven before you heat it. The brick helps maintain a constant temperature and helps approximate the intense heat of a commercial oven.

Before I conclude, let me clear up two misconceptions: one - bread making is difficult; and two - it isn't worth the fuss of making it yourself. Nonsense to both.

The machine does all the hard work, or manual labor. You just need to gently oversee it. Knowing when "it feels right" comes with a little bit of practice. It isn't a fuss. If making cookies from scratch instead of buying one of those logs from the dairy case at the supermarket makes sense to you, then making bread should also make sense.

I love making bread. The satisfaction of taking it out of the oven is one of the greatest culinary triumphs - except for watching the smiles on everyone's face when they bite in. I make baguettes, boules, pizza dough, ciabatta, rye bread and even bagels. And everything freezes so I can make one for the pantry to eat later.

Still a little apprehensive? Tell you what. Ask a friend or neighbor who bakes their own bread if you can sit in and watch the next time they're baking. Or, ask your local baker (be prepared to come in VERY early in the morning though) if he or she will give you a lesson. You can even come over to my house if you want. You'll see how simple and how much fun it really is.

It's always a good time to bake a loaf or two of bread.