June 26, 2017
Before my bread machine it was my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Before my Kitchen Aid stand mixer it was my hands. I have always enjoyed making bread.
Junior year in college was when my bead making got started in earnest. That was the year that I lived in the International Residence Project at the University of Pennsylvania. I was notified of my acceptance into the Project, a College House arrangement that occupied two floors of a high-rise dorm, late in my sophomore year. Current and incoming residents of the Project met at a social event where I was introduced to the roommate to whom I had been assigned for the coming school year, Ray Hugh from Georgetown, Guyana.
Ray and I started hanging out together for the last part of sophomore year and found that we really hit it off. Since we were both staying in Philadelphia for the summer, and since students could not stay in undergraduate dorms during the summer, we did what most undergrads did during the summer. We sublet an apartment in Graduate Towers from graduate students who were not staying in Philadelphia for the summer but who, as graduate students, had year-long leases.
I had pretty regular hours working in a research lab for the summer but that left evenings and weekends free to explore cooking which Ray and I did together. It quickly became clear that the kitchen in our apartment in the International Residence Project, which we would begin occupying in September, was going to need an upgrade.
At my request, my father made a five-foot long kitchen counter with a laminate top. There was in integrated pull-out table that would seat two in the regular configuration but four when pulled out. That counter became the epicenter of our cooking universe. Set opposite the Pullman kitchen (three electric burners, an oven, an under-counter refrigerator, and an integrated sink) we had a very efficient kitchen set-up. A deep shelving unit that I made housed equipment and several stacks of plastic milk crates held ingredients for which there otherwise would have been no space.
I made bread on that counter every week, kneading it by hand.
I made bread the way my Italian grandmother did. Flour, water, salt, and yeast went into a big bowl. The yeast was not proofed. I mixed the ingredients by hand, adding more flour as needed. Periodically I would rub the inside of the bowl with lard. After enough flour had been added, I would put the dough on the counter and knead it for about ten minutes. The dough would always rise twice, getting punched down and kneaded lightly after each rise, before being put in bread pans for the third and final rise before being baked.
Decades later I got my first Kitchen Aid stand mixer and started using that to make bread. Good thing, too, because I was starting to have trouble with my joints from all the kneading necessary.
A few years ago I got my first bread machine, a Zojirushi BB-PAC20. While I have no doubt that bread baked in an oven is better I also have no doubt that we would not eat anywhere as much homemade bread if I had to do all the mixing, rising, shaping, and baking unaided.
With less than five minutes’ work spent measuring ingredients, I can push a button and have bread a few hours later. And I am completely at peace with the ingredients in my bread. No sugar. No high fructose corn syrup. No dough conditioners. No preservatives. Nothing but flour, water, salt, olive oil and yeast! The bread machine has more than paid for itself in savings.
I especially like the dough cycle. As noted in a previous blog post, I use the dough cycle to make the dough for my focaccia. A quick final rise after being shaped and the focaccia is ready for the oven. The dough cycle also makes pizza dough in a snap. I like to make it at least one day in advance and allow it to rise in the refrigerator. Two days in advance is even better.
I still pretty much use the same recipe for bread dough that I followed in college though I’ve swapped out the lard for olive oil and modified the directions to suit mechanization instead of hands. (Every now and then, I just get the urge to do it by hand, though!)
Usually I bake pizza in a wood-burning oven. Since wood-burning ovens are not very common, the pizza featured in this post was baked in a conventional oven. I don’t have a pizza stone since I don’t usually bake pizza in the oven. All the better though, since I know few people who have pizza stones. I simply went old school and used heavy aluminum pizza pans. I didn’t even use the convection feature!
Until a few years ago I always cooked my pizza sauce. Then I tried uncooked sauce as is often done in Naples and found that I really prefer it. It has a fresher taste and it is really easy to make. (Sorry mom!)
I usually use tomato puree because I like a smooth sauce but crushed tomatoes work well if you prefer a chunkier sauce. You can also just whizz a can of whole peeled tomatoes in the blender or food processor to whatever degree of chunkiness or smoothness you want.