For those suffering from writer's block, I usually recommend Giant Golden Buddha & 364 more 5 minute writing exercises--- and, lately, poet and visual artist Christine Boyka Kluge's magic "Baby Muse." But there's more! Bounteous, yeasty, mmmmm-more! My DC writing amiga, Paula Whyman, aka Curious Writer, has a website (or is it a blog? check it out) chock-a-block with links to her stories and essays and miscellaneous funny pieces (here's one of my faves), one of which--- which she expands on here--- is about baking for writers. Over to you, Paula.
Why bake? No one rejects my work. There's an endpoint in sight, and everyone goes away happy. It's cathartic; I get to slap some dough around, and no one gets hurt. It prevents "page rage" (do I need to explain that?).
When I can’t write, I bake. I read about baking, in books and online, and, although I generally hate shopping, who can resist a little cooking p*rn? I shop about baking, too.
Here are some of my favorite baking-related books, sites, and equipment:
#1. The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion
The best general baking cookbook I’ve ever seen. Simple, easy-to-follow recipes, plus information about, for instance, the many types of sugar and how molasses is made. Nutritional information is included with each recipe (no, don’t look!). Not a single bad recipe yet. Favorites include: Molasses cookies, bumbleberry pie, and blueberry cobbler. And a shout out to the King Arthur Flour website where you’ll find some great cooking p*rn (forget Williams-Sonoma, those posers*). I’m the proud owner of a bag of nondiastatic malt powder. Now what?
*Don’t get me wrong, W-S offers great cooking p* r n, but there’s also something smugly contrived about it, the way they display those impossible bundt cakes (I hear they have a bundt of Helm’s Deep) in the window--It reminds me of the sleazy guy standing outside the x xx shop, leering at you as if he knows you can’t help looking in as you walk by...
#2. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
Challenging recipes, not for the beginner. Detailed step-by-step instructions, helpful pics, especially for shaping the loaves. I find the recipes rather more time-consuming than some others, but very erudite. I use this as a reference often, for instance, to make a biga, or to get a better understanding of techniques. I made the challah and it had a perfect, beautiful crumb. But Peter, it needs to be sweeter. ;-) (Seriously, 2 tablespoons of sugar in a challah? That must be a typo.)
#3. The Art of Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno, published by DK
I bought two copies on remainder in Politics & Prose awhile back, because I thought it was such a good beginner’s guide to everything from French bread to flat bread. Some of the recipes are not stellar, but they’re simple, there are lots of pics, and everything is explained clearly. Great instructions on shaping and on using steam to improve the crust. (I still have my extra copy. I’ll probably hold a contest on my web site to give it away, so watch for that!)
#4. The Fresh Loaf
The ultimate site for Breadheads. You will be amazed and perhaps overwhelmed. I’m linking directly to the page on baking a ciabatta because I’m so jealous. Beautiful photos, great recipe commentary. Great videos on tasks like how to correctly slash the dough before baking, which is something I always get wrong. (But I’m getting better, using the lame I bought at the King Arthur site…)
A restaurant supply site (as well as a bricks-and-mortar store in CA) with good prices. I’ve ordered everything from a dough bucket to a cooling rack. They may not have the kitchen sink, but they’ve got the ice machine, if you want it.
#6. My Future Stand Mixer
I cannot yet justify this purchase, much less find a place to store it. You can keep your Kitchenaids (unless they were made by Hobart, years ago—oh yes, there are many forum discussions on this topic, e.g., here and here. With this machine, I know I will finally be able to make the ciabatta that strangled my last food processor. The Magic Mill can handle 28 cups of flour at once. That’s roughly 9 loaves of bread. Its roller apparently mimics the kneading action of hands better than any hook, paddle, or beater design. At least, that’s the buzz I hear from the bread mavens. I feel the need to add a disclaimer: This is not a product endorsement, just an irrational desire and, perhaps, another procrastination tool (Stuck on that story? Daydream about stand mixers instead). Really, what would I do with 9 loaves of bread?? (So, what color, do you think? Frosty blue?)
P.S. From Madam Mayo: On April 23, look for chef/ food writer David Hagedorn's "Chef on Call" column in the Washington Post--- it features Paula Whyman getting a baking lesson from a famous local chef. And For those who want to bake only in their imaginations, Madam Mayo recommends Sara Mansfield Taber's glorious literary travel memoir, Bread of Three Rivers: The Story of a French Loaf.
---> Read more Madam Mayo guest-blog posts here.
Up next Wednesday: Grace Cavalieri