April 26, 2010

For some, baking bread is a great relief for stress

BY SHARON THOMPSON

BY SHARON THOMPSON

McClatchy Newspapers

Bright, warm sunshine would make most of us feel better this winter, but the next best thing might be a kitchen filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. It's as comforting as a summer breeze.

Before you toss the idea aside and claim that it's too much work, take a bit of advice from Carla Kimmons. She's a health care professional who doesn't have a lot of time for baking comfort foods, but she has found that making bread tends to be a great stress reliever.

Kimmons, who grew up in West Virginia, learned to make bread by watching her grandmother Rida Morrison and neighbor Margaret Glass.

Making homemade bread is more about experience than technique, Kimmons said.

"The people who taught me how to bake bread didn't check the temperature of the water with a thermometer," she said. If the water is warm on the wrist, it's the right temperature for proofing the yeast, and that's something you don't learn from a book.

"They just knew what bread felt like," Kimmons said.

After long hours at the hospital, she can come home from work and, in about an hour or so, have a loaf of hot bread ready to eat.

"I just love to bake bread. It relaxes me. It reminds me of growing up, and the smell of hot bread smells like home, a cozy home," she said.

Kimmons' recipe is simply called "hot bread" and it has only six ingredients and a few lines of instructions.

Highly trained bakers and professional chefs have written hundreds of books on the art of baking bread and at least a half-dozen such books have hit the market in the past six months. Those books often intimidate the inexperienced cook, but one author's goal is to inspire people to bake bread.

Eric Kastel, author of "Artisan Breads at Home" (Wiley, $34.95), is senior manager of bakery development for Panera Bread, and he teaches bread-making classes in New York and at Panera stores around the country. In a phone interview, Kastel talked about the fine points of baking bread.

"People who have never baked bread are getting into it. They've never tried it, so they never see that they can do it. They only know what they've been told or experienced," he said.

Kastel wants to show people that with knowledge and quality ingredients, they can turn out breads that rival those made by professionals.

"A lot of people are scared of bread," Kastel said. "It's foreign. It's not something they're used to doing. It's not like cooking every day. Making bread is different than making cookies or brownies. It takes a process."

In his book, Kastel describes in detail the 12 steps of bread-making -- from outfitting a baker's kitchen to shaping and baking the dough.

Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois have written two books that offer an easy way to make homemade bread, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" and "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day". Their secret: Mix up a fast batch of moist no-knead dough, save it in your refrigerator, tear off portions during the next week or more, shape and bake. Their Web site is www.artisanbreadinfive.com.

Once you learn the basics of working with yeast and dough, you can move on to making your own sourdough starter and even bagels.

It all begins with little more than flour, water, yeast and salt.

This is how experienced home cooks make their bread. This recipe is from Carla Kimmons.

HOT BREAD

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

1 package dry yeast (regular)

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