What does a loaf of bread, a pie crust & a unicorn have in common?
Although this sounds like the start to an awesome riddle, it used to be what I claimed as my unobtainables. Things that I couldn't reach.
We all know about unicorns. The little girl in me still has hope that I'll find one. The skeptic in me says that rhinos are it. Think about it.
A loaf of fresh baked bread is a thing of legend. The smell, texture & taste are etched in one's memory for decades. Recalling every detail about it & the surrounding details of that moment.
Pies are just edible art. Their flaky crusts, decadent fillings & creative tops make them perfect not just for dessert but for anytime you get hungry.
My first real attempt to make a loaf bread would not have classified as such. George & I weren't married more than a year when I declared I was going to bake bread. I wasn't satisfied with just making an ordinary loaf of white bread. No no. I wanted to make pumpernickel. I love pumpernickel bread. So, why not start there?
I had a recipe, but I didn't understand the techniques, chemistry or that you can't just use straight pumpernickel flour. As proud as I was at that 1st attempt, I was no bread baker. The loaf was heavy, dense & awful tasting, so I was told. I didn't bake another loaf of bread for many years. My spirit was crushed.
That leaves us with pies. Pie crust can be fickle. I was always intimidated by pie crust after witnessing my grandfather making a pie. The man could bake. I watched as he mixed the ingredients for the dough. Roll it out. Squish it back together. Roll it back out. Smash it back together. Roll it back out, again. Sigh. Pick all the dough up & walk out to the back porch and promptly throw it out in the yard.
The reason? The dough was handled too much and became too tough & deemed unworkable. If my Pap couldn't manhandle a ball of simple pie dough, how could I? I just left the pie world & had not a care to enter it again as a baker. As an eater...you bet!
So, cookies, cakes, muffins & anything related became my thing. They were easy for me. My mom would let us have cookie-baking marathons on the days that led up to Christmas. I do love me some cookies & milk! My kids became my favorite taste-testers. I would bake cookies for the family Christmas party & for friends.
One evening, 20 some years ago, I was introduced to Sharon Helsel. Sharon was about my mom's age & was in a wheelchair due to a medical issue before I was even born. Despite being in that chair, Sharon was one of THE best cooks I ever knew. She could make anything from scratch. Anything. Even bread. And pies. One time I looked in the barn for a hidden unicorn....but I couldn't find it.
One day I was at Sharon's. I can't remember why but It turned out to be a memorable day for me. Sharon taught me how to make bread. It took a hands-on lesson for me to understand the process of turning a few raw simple ingredients into a golden loaf of mouth-watering loaf of bread. I have been making bread ever since. With Sharon's recipe.
Pies. Uhhhhh....hmmmmm. They just didn't speak to me. My kids didn't really like pies so I didn't make them with the exception of pumpkin at Thanksgiving.
My crusts were always ugly, cracked, uneven or just nasty tasting. I used different recipes. I just couldn't figure out what my problem was. Then there are the fillings....I just couldn't get them right. Too runny, too pasty, not enough filling or they just didn't taste very good.
They just weren't worth the effort.
Until my neighbors helped me. Roberta showed me how to make a beautiful crust by using a pastry cloth. Cliff helped me by being my guinea pig by eating all my pies & giving me honest opinions no matter if they were edible or not. Cliff encouraged me to keep trying while assuring me that he would take the brunt of my efforts one forkful at a time.
Since those humble beginnings, there have been some fantastic creations & some that were gag-worthy. The most important loaf of bread or pie that I ever made was the one after the failed attempts. Without moving beyond those failures, there wouldn't have been any successful accomplishments.
This is why I want to offer baking lessons. We all have to start somewhere. I'm certain you can watch YouTube videos until your eyes popped out of your head. You can read book after book as I did (YouTube wasn't even a thing when I started!). But one cannot understand how bread dough should feel when it's been kneaded enough & the proteins are fully developed by reading a description.
Even though I can make a smashingly good loaf of bread or a pie that is devoured, it wasn't always so. I had to be willing to learn from others & take constructive criticism on the chin. I still have doughs that flop. Pies that run over & burn on the bottom of my oven. I don't let those trivial things hold me back any longer.
I am also still on the look-out for unicorns....