I bake a lot of bread. Mostly because it makes me feel powerful, like a regular Rumpelstiltskin. Well, that, and I like to eat fresh bread. Like the overwhelming majority of people I know, making me wildly popular (haha). I also write poems. Sometimes, not often anymore. As far as volume is concerned, the loaves of bread trounce the poems. I’d venture to guess it has something to do with poems not making me feel very powerful at all. Rather, they mostly serve to remind me of how firmly situated I am within a headspace that isn’t conducive to poetics of any sort at all. But I keep writing them, so I probably get something out of it. That would make sense. Right, so I wrote this poem ostensibly about surviving in the wilderness. But really it’s for a call girl I knew when I was living in New Orleans. A song made me think of her.
She was perfectly normal, save the whole occupation. You wouldn’t have known unless she told you. It’s a you’re okay, I’m okay, we’re all okay sort of poem. Prose poem. Anyhow, here’s a loaf of honey buttermilk bread to go with it as bread and poems and all the slow things make sense together. It’s soft and sweet with flakes of salt on top, and I imagine it would make nice sandwiches. I don’t know. The last loaf I made lasted approximately 0.54888888 hours and was devoured with hands and some haphazard pats of butter by myself and three accomplices standing ’round the kitchen island. So, good luck with making it last longer than we did. Whether you bake it or don’t, buy a loaf from the bakery or the bi-lo, or whether you say to hell with it all and grab some chips from the gas station, this post is about being proud of yourself no matter where, in this moment, you find yourself. We’re all works in progress, growing trees that can only be where we are when we’re there, and all that other good stuff therapists say. Trust the process. That said, as far as survival is concerned, eating bread is superlative to having to cut off your own arm, hustle, or beg.
There are lots of ways to survive in the wilderness. You can forage—collect stinging nettles, bitter dandelion & sorrel; eat the soft, juicy bodies of freshly molted cicadas; kill a lilac rabbit, eyeshine copper young in fur. Sometimes, to survive, you drink your own piss, or amputate a limb slowly, knowing your tendons. Or play dead. You have beautiful eyebrows, so thick and black, he’d said. You can be proud of that. Surviving, they make whole television shows about it. Be warm in fur, and eat good meat. Wear Two-Rabbit’s paw round your neck, and sleep, tropical, sleep.
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Yield: 1 loaf of bread (can also be shaped into rolls)
This is comfort bread. A fine, light everyday bread. It needs about 3 hours of inactive time, but it's nothing you can't start in the morning (mixing it up takes all of 15 minutes) and have fresh bread by lunch or dinner. This bread can be made in a stand mixer with a dough hook; I've chosen to make it by hand. It's easy, the bread is great, and I'd rather not have to pull out the mixer if I don't have ti. Besides, kneading bread is cheaper than therapy and sometimes as effective. If using a mixer, just combine the wet and dry ingredients in the bowl of the mixer and knead with the hook for about 5 minutes instead of by hand.
1/4 cup water, (warmed, 110F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (rapid rise is fine, too)
360 g (1 1/2 cups) buttermilk, warmed
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp salt
500 g + 70 g (4 cups + 1/2 to 3/4 cups) all purpose flour
1 egg, lightly whisked for brushing
kosher salt, for sprinkling
Mix the yeast and sugar in the warm water. To get 110°F water, I stick a digital thermometer under the tap and fill my glass when it's ready. No thermometer? Think bathwater, not tea water. Let it proof for about 10 minutes, until nice and foamy as in the photo above. No foam? No proof. You'll need to start over and try again. (I let it proof for about 20 minutes last time due to running around to no ill effect)
In a large mixing bowl whisk together 500 grams (4 cups) of the flour and the salt.
In a medium saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Add the buttermilk and warm gently, stirring. Don't let it get too hot or it will separate. It just need to be warm. Remove from heat and stir in the honey as well as the yeast mixture.
Dump the buttermilk yeast mixture into the flour, and using a wooden spoon stir to form a shaggy dough. When it's come together as much as you can get it turn it out onto a work surface dusted with the remaining 70 g flour.
It will be a bit crumbly, no worries. Knead the dough until it comes together and then continue kneading until it forms a smooth, elastic dough. I usually have about 3 tablespoons of flour left on my work surface; I don't work it all in. Just as much as is needed for a workable dough.
Once you stick your finger in the dough and it bounces back, you're good. Form dough into ball and place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl (I just use olive oil). Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with a damp (not wet) towel (preferably one that won't deposit fuzzies onto your bread, i.e. no terry cloth, wet cats, etc.) Let the bread rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
Punch the dough down, form in a loaf, place in an oiled loaf pan, cover with the towel again, and allow to rise another hour. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 375°F.
When the second rise is complete, brush the top of your loaf with the egg, and then sprinkle it with a bit of kosher or other flaky salt.
Bake in the middle of the oven for about 30-45 minutes until golden and hollow sounding when knocked on the bottom. A thermometer should read about 190°F when the bread is done. If the top seems to be getting too brown, cover with foil for the rest of the bake time.
Allow to cool in the pan for about 5-10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for 30 minutes to an hour before slicing. Orrrrr don't. I won't tell. But you're supposed to let it rest. Enjoy with plenty of fresh butter!
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