Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bread in the Tassajara Style

I had my moment of Zen this morning when I was flipping through Molly O'Neill's One Big Table cookbook, looking for a bread recipe to try.   February got away from me and I never got around to baking a loaf for the monthly Bake Your Own Bread, but I was going to take it on for March right here and now.  I was surprised to find a dearth of bread recipes in the book, but there was a charming vignette about the Tassajara Bread Book turning us all back on to making our own bread in the 1970s, and I remembered I have this cookbook.   My friend Lisa told me it was a great book, so I picked it up for 50 cents at a garage sale last summer, but never cracked it open.

This cookbook is written by Zen priest Edward Espe Brown of the San Francisco Zen Center.   It's very 1970s, with it's hand drawings and funky format.  The recipes in it are mostly descriptions of processes - Brown is a big believer in cooking by intuition.   Given my track record of many failed bread experiments, I wasn't sure this was going to work for me.   But then I came across this prayer at the beginning of the book....

Bringing food alive with your loving presence.
To have compassion, to have respect
for fresh foods, for broken bowls,
for dirty napkins, and little bugs.
To take care of leftovers,
not saying, oh that's all right, we have plenty
we can throw that away.
Because everything is saying love me,
have compassion, hold me gently.
Please hug me now and then
(we're really one, not two),
but don't get attached
(we're really two, not one).
The bowls and knives, the table, the teapot,
the leftovers, the molding vegetables,
the juicy fruit,
everything is asking this of you:
make full use,
take loving care
of me.
The cups, the glasses, the sponges,
the sticky honey jar,
all asking to fulfill.
Just to make deepest love all the time,
concentrating not on the food, but on yourself:
making your best effort to allow things
to fulfill their functions. In this way
everything is deliciously full
of warmth and kindness.
Okay, I'll give it a shot.   I'll let everything fulfill their functions.   Following the yeasted bread process,  I came up with my own bread recipe.  The Tassajara bread process secret is making a sponge....a wet yeasty mixture to get the bread started.  Here's how I did it with what I had in the house:

For the sponge:
3 c. lukewarm water
2 T yeast
1/2 c. hickory syrup (you could use honey or molasses here)
1 c. dry milk powder
3 1/2 c whole wheat flour
3 c. all purpose flour
1 egg


  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Stir in the sweetening and the dry milk (optional). Stir in the 3/12 cups of whole-wheat flour to form a thick batter. Beat well with a spoon (100 strokes).
  2. Heat a coffee mug with a couple inches of water in it on high in the microwave for a minute.   Leaving the mug in there,  place bowl  in microwave and shut the door - your microwave makes an excellent bread proofing box.
  3. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes.
  4. Fold in the salt and the oil, then fold in the additional 3 cups of flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Knead on a floured board for about 10 minutes, using the additional  flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board. Stop when the dough is smooth. 
  5. Reheat the cup of water in the microwave etc. like you did before
  6. Let the dough rise for 50 to 60 minutes, or until doubled in size. Punch it down.  Do the microwave thing again.
  7. Let the dough rise for another 40 to 50 minutes, or until doubled in size. Shape the dough into loaves and place in 2 loaf pans.  Microwave thing again, and let rise for 20 to 25 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  9. Brush the tops of the loaves with an egg wash (a egg beaten with a few tablespoons of water or milk) and bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until golden brown. Remove from the pans and let cool before slicing.



Alyssa said...

Love this Cynthia! Have you ever seen the documentary about Edward Brown called "How to Cook Your Life"? It's a fun movie and was my first foray in to "slow food". Thanks for the recipe and the reminder about Tassajara!

Tricia said...

I have a friend who worked at the Tassajara bakery/center for awhile (if I'm remembering her story correctly).

Anyway, i hope you weathered the storm last night okay! I've been thinking of you.