At my aunt’s annual soiree this past September, we made our customary jaunt down to the local bakery for our Sunday morning bread and scones. Once in the shop, I was immediately drawn to the little observation deck that overlooked the oven room. I planted myself at the glass-less window, leaned my elbows on the ledge, and scrutinized the baker’s every move.
I love watching professionals do their thing. They move so smoothly and confidently. I find it soothing.
The baker must’ve been accustomed to nosey people like me and chatted cheerfully while she worked. She explained the steam injector, opened the oven to show me the fire at the very back, and when I asked to see the starter, she even gave me (and the others who had finished purchasing breakfast and joined me at my lookout point) a little impromptu tore of the back kitchen.
Watching people work is the best way to learn something, I think. Why, just the other week I had Miss Beccaboo make bread for the first time. When I started explaining how to knead the dough, she interrupted me. “I already know how to knead, Mama.”
Dubiously I stepped back. She promptly dug her hands into the dough and started to press, turn, and fold like she had been doing it all her life.
“Did Grandmommy teach you that?” I asked, impressed and a little sad that I missed out on teaching my own daughter how to knead bread.
“No,” she said. “I’ve just watched you do it so I know how.”
And then she made a turtle shell out of the dough ball.
But back to that baker—I learned something from her.
Before docking the dough, she waved a flour-filled sieve over the loaves. Once the loaves were dusted à la Amelia Bedelia, she slashed a design and rolled the loaves into the hot oven.
When I quizzed her as to the purpose of the flour, she explained that it was totally aesthetics, an exercise in contrasts—the slashed-open part would brown up prettily while the top stayed a dusty white.
So now I’ve taken to dusting my loaves with flour before docking them.
It’s so simple to do, and it goes a long way towards making the bread look rustic.
This same time, years previous: light-as-air hamburger buns, roasting squashes and pumpkins