My youngest daughter has severe food allergies, which was discovered during allergy testing after a full blown anaphylactic reaction. One of her allergens is found easily in many baked goods as well as skin care products and cosmetics. We have found eating at home to be not only necessary but it also has the added bonus of being financially practical as well.
I had always enjoyed baking but never had the time to indulge much, with working full time. After my children were born and I stayed home, I still didn’t have that much time to slip into the kitchen to mix ingredients and bake, with my girls being not-quite thirteen months apart in age. As they got older, I would bake the usual fare – birthday cakes, cookies on occasion, and muffins. After my youngest daughter’s allergy diagnoses I started baking a lot more and I began with bread. I found a recipe that looked relatively easy and my first few attempts, weren’t great – I didn’t own a stand mixer with a dough hook so I did it by hand and the first few times, the bread would come out of the oven with some parts still full of unmixed flour. Or it would be too dense and not airy, the way I wanted it. I missed the perfect loaves I used to get from the Whole Foods bakery section – Seduction bread and the ciabatta bread. I had to get better at this bread baking business.
Turning vegan for me wasn’t so much a matter of choice but of necessity. I’m horribly lactose intolerant, like, you don’t even want to know what happens when I eat dairy. After I cut that out, I had no taste for meat, and from there my taste for other animal products dropped away. But growing up an Italian girl from the East coast, I spent my childhood eating pizza indiscriminately – fair pizza, good pizza, fantastic pizza, and (my personal favorite) perfect pizza. I still loved pizza (even though I’ve never found a cheese substitute that works for me) and I started with a recipe in one of my cookbooks and set to work, The pizza dough was easy – which was a success I needed after my sub-par loaves of bread.
I went back to the bread. A carb addict from way back when, I can remember childhood Thanksgivings spent avoiding the turkey and vegetables, and happily eating a plateful of mashed potatoes and rolls. I had to master the art of bread baking, I just had to. Over a period of about six months I improved my mixing and kneading techniques. I switched out the pinch of sugar for a touch of honey and my bread eventually came out lighter and airier, the way I had hoped for. I stuck with this bread for the next few years until a friend found success with a no-knead method she had read about in Jim Lahey’s book “My Bread” and suggested I read the book and give it a try. I did and I’ve never wanted to look back since. I bought a food scale and could throw two bowls of bread dough together in less time than it took me to do anything else in the kitchen. After getting married, my grandmother had given me a super old enameled cast iron pot that I had never used much in the six years I’d had it, but it was perfect for baking the bread in. I’ve been baking this bread now for about a year and each time it seems to improve, or so says my husband.
By the way – if you’re interested, I just noticed when getting the link for the Jim Lahey book that he has a new book on making pizza.
Do you have a particular method you prefer with bread dough? Love a specific stand mixer? Have a great cheese substitute idea to share? Please do!