I still have that memory of baking bread when my girls were little.
The other day I was taking care of some task; I can’t even recall what it was. When suddenly and out of nowhere I thought I smelled the aroma of baking bread. At least I thought I did.
For a time I baked homemade bread every week. I almost always used the same wheat bread recipe.
That smell, from somewhere in my memory, put me back in a little kitchen in the house we lived in back then.
The girls were school age and went to a school just around the corner. I’d try to time the baking of the bread so they’d walk in the door and smell that warm yeasty bread scent.
Sometimes I’d make quick breads. Quick breads are leavened with baking powder and baking soda instead of yeast. They are breads like muffins, biscuits, scones, cornbread, and banana bread.
Starter Bread: That Memory Of Baking Bread:
A bread starter is the base for many artisan breads such as sourdough bread. It uses naturally occurring wild yeast as a leavening agent. It has a flavor and texture that cannot be replicated by commercially harvested yeast when making yeast bread.
Bread companies can use starters that are over 100 years old to create the dependably flavored bread every time. Many home bakers make their own starters in their bread baking
That Memory Of Baking Bread:
I baked bread in the little kitchen I’d painted yellow. I’d hung red shelves (that I also painted) on the wall closest to the table. It was a cheerful little place to eat meals.
I’d gather the ingredients; active dry yeast, salt, and sometimes honey, and sprinkle them into the water.
The water couldn’t be too hot or the yeast would die and my bread wouldn’t rise. If it was too cold the yeast wouldn’t activate, also causing the bread not to rise.
When you open a package of yeast, it should smell earthy and “yeasty.” But if it doesn’t, you should test the yeast’s liveliness by combining it with some of the warm water from the recipe and a pinch of sugar.
If the yeast is active, it will produce a bubbly mass within 10 minutes.
The Yeast Process:
The yeast feeds on the sugar in the bread dough to make little carbon dioxide bubbles. These bubbles get trapped in the dough and make it rise.
Yeast is used for more than rising bread. It’s essential for brewing beer and making wine, as well as soy sauce and vinegar.
I recall the actions required: The kneading of the dough, which is such a relaxing and rewarding task.
You have to remember not to add too much flour while kneading. Then I’d turn it over and punch the dough on the surface I’d covered with a light dusting of flour.
When the dough held together nicely, I’d lightly flour my hands again before handling it.
To knead the bread, first press away from you with the heels of your hands, and then fold it over, and repeat pressing into the dough with your hands.
Many bread bakers use a stand mixer. It can replace the need for a bowl, spoon, hand kneading and more. But I preferred not to use one.
Shaping The Dough:
Then I’d shape the dough in a large bowl and add a light coating of grease to it. And then lay it on a lightly floured surface and grease the other side.
It was time to let the magic happen. I’d lay a dishtowel over the bowl of dough and wait for it to rise.
I’d check on it from time to time, and then I’d finally walk in and see that the dishtowel had risen up with the dough underneath. The dough would be about twice the original size.
Punching The Dough Back Down:
I’d punch the dough back down. Deflating the dough after it rises releases the carbon dioxide built up in the dough and further relaxes gluten. This makes it easier to shape.
I’d wait about ten minutes after putting the dough into the greased loaf pan it would be baked in. Then I’d wait for the first rise, then once again cover my dough with the dishtowel.
The dough would rise again and then it would be ready to put in the oven. Oh my, the smell of dough being baked into a loaf of bread. There’s no other smell quite like it.
I’d brush softened margarine across the top of the bread to add flavor and color.
After the bread was done I’d let it sit for a few minutes. Then I’d gently turn the glass loaf pan over and help ease the bread out onto wire racks.
I loved the texture of the crispy crust once the bread came out of the oven.
Memory & Smell Are Intertwined:
Did you know that memory and smell are intertwined? It’s through memory that we learn to remember smells.
Smell, more than any other sense, can evoke powerful, emotional memories. Whole scenes of people, places, and things can be brought back to life by the hint of a long-forgotten scent.
Researchers hypothesize that the exceptional ability that smells have to trigger memories is due to how close the olfactory processing system is to the memory hub in the brain.
The sense of smell can bring back childhood memories that the senses of touch, taste, and sound cannot.
It is a wonderful memory, the smell of bread baking.
I’d often slice a piece of bread and spread butter or jam on it. Nothing ever tasted so good. It made good sandwich bread too.
Later in life I had a bread machine. But it never made bread as good as what I made back in the old days with just my own two hands.