Month of August: “Tassajara Bread Book” Recipe: Tassajara Yeasted Bread

It’s August! This month I am tackling bread. The Washington Post endorsed this book in 1970 (!) as “the bible for bread baking.” We shall see if the oldie remains goodie! The author, Edward Espe Brown is a Zen monk famous for his baking and classes at the Tassajara Mountain Zen Center in California. For years I have used his guest recipe cookbook but this book is apparently a classic and I am both excited and intimidated to begin exploring these recipes. I am starting with the foundational Tassajara yeast bread from which many variations follow. I made a mistake right out of the chute though for substituting scalded milk for dry milk. He explains that we can exchange but somehow forgets to warn us to decrease some water so I ended up with a very sticky dough that required way more flour to correct my mistake. The result was a denser crumb than I expected. Conclusion: Bread is daunting! Bread is an art! Bread takes patience! Earlier I drove to my studio, ready to roll up my sleeves and dive into August only to discover a large festival was taking place this weekend, along with all the parking spaces. I absolutely could not find one spot! Discouraged and disappointed I drove back home. I started making the bread sponge, you know, the yeasty wet starter and found the warmest spot in the kitchen for rising was the window sill. As I placed it on the ledge I noticed a juvenile robin in the driveway just sitting in the hot sun. I went outside and clearly there was something wrong. It looked healthy enough and the wings appeared uninjured. All of a sudden the bird peeped and its mother appeared. I went back into the house to get out of her way and just like that the little one tipped over and started to die. The mother robin began squeaking and squawking and out of nowhere an entourage of sparrows appeared for curiosity and support fluttering here and there.I was amazed at the commotion. Within minutes the juvenile was dead while the mother chirped and flitted the whole time, helpless yet present and very much aware. It was so intense and so strange and so quick. I just watched in awe wondering why this was happening and realized if I had been at the studio I would not have witnessed this. It was both sad and oddly beautiful and weird and natural. Life and death. It made me think of Abby and how she died so quickly, one moment alive drinking her beloved coffee at breakfast and the next one gone. Her father who was present told me “no pain” when we spoke of it. Quick. No Pain. Not alone. Just like this beautiful robin…

Ingredients: 3 cups lukewarm water (85 to 105F), 2 packets of active yeast, 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup dry milk (or 1 cup scalded and cooled milk but decrease water by 1 cup), 7 cups whole wheat flour (I used half white), 4 teaspoons salt, 1/3 cup butter, egg wash of 1 beaten egg with 2 tablespoons milk or water.

Dissolve the yeast in water, Stir in sweetening and dry milk, Stir in 4 cups of flour, Beat well with spoon 100 strokes, let rest for 45 minutes, fold in the salt and oil, fold in additional 3 cups flour until dough comes away for the sides of the bowl, knead on floured board adding more flour (about 1 cup) until dough stops sticking, about 8 to 10 minutes until smooth. Rise again for 60 minutes. Punch down. Let rise 40 to 50 minutes until doubles in size. Shape into loaves and place in pans. Rise for 20 to 25 minutes. Brush tops with egg wash. Bake at 350F for one hour or until golden.

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