I received the most personal and lovely birthday gift this year. The sticker price on the back reads $2.95 (although I don't really know what she paid for it now, 40 years after publication) and the point is this – for a gift that is truly personal and somewhat spiritual, $2.95 is all it takes.
The Tassajara Bread Book was published for the first time in 1970 by a man named Edward Espe Brown who was hired as a dishwasher at Zen Mountain Center in California. Brown quickly rose to chef and was later ordained as a Zen priest who worked to demonstrate, "what we could be if we could only remember to use our hands."
While this isn't my first experience with making bread, I have clung pretty tightly to my "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" bible, under the professional guidance that this bread is so great because YOU DON'T HAVE TO KNEAD IT. I guess I always sort of wondered what the problem with kneading was, but never had the time to experiment with an alternative.
When this book arrived in mail box I began reading it as a novel. A short but dense read. This book teaches you about ingredients under the premise that all you need to make bread is "flour and enough water to make a dough...everything else is just extra [to make it] more 'civilized'."
After starting the dough somewhere around 2:30pm, planning for "supper" I quickly realized why monks wake up at 4am to start their bread. It takes all day. Every time the Tassajara would instruct me to "let it sit for 5 minutes" "let rise for another 40 minutes" "let it sit in pans for 25 minutes." I found my americanism telling me to, "just skip that part...what difference can it make."
My own nature was also fighting as I read the 41 detailed (with stick drawing) steps to kneading and shaping loaves. Seriously, "whatever?" I thought, but went through the motions. Similarly when it said to lay your loaf in the pan, pat down with your fingers and take it out again – flip it over, pat with your fingers again – this time the loaf stays in the pan.
It was dark when I took the loaves out of the oven (I did half the recipe because I didn't think I had 24+ cups of flour in the house). To my surprise, the loaves looked like the drawing. The yeast did it's job, I did mine, I took my time and made bread (with a few extras for a more civilized product...the book does offer plenty of options for extras).
The Tessajara Bread Book has since turned into some 750,000 copies and is considered the bread bible world-wide. Staci bought me the original. No hype. Just formulas, stick drawings and a two-page description of how yeast grows, wants to be fed and needs to eliminate it's waste. "Bake the bread and the yeast dies. Slice it, butter it, eat it. Be thankful."
The author states that, "A recipe doesn't belong to anyone. It was given to me, I give it to you." Despite this, I feel the posting the recipe (which is only a "skeletal framework") here on my blog won't make you go through the motions of creating this form of sustenance for your family. It won't allow you to feel the zen in bread or the connection with your food. There's just something in these 146 pages that feels like "church" if I can use that word.
Need to feel more connected...have a free day or need to intentionally carve out some time to knead? I'm happy to borrow it out.
Brown worked for 3 summers as the head cook for Tassajara until he was "completely devoured and exhausted of food. Now I build stone walls, which is really not such heavy work after all."
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