This entry originally appeared in the seventeenth issue of Bread Magazine.
“You’re so crazy,” I heard my wife whisper in the background as I unearthed the great red beast from its box marked “Extremely Heavy.” The beast, a GrainMaker Model No. 116 hand cranked mill, was carefully packaged and shipped across the country from a small place in the Midwest where everything was made and assembled by hand. It exuded quality and craftsmanship. As I placed the large, shiny apparatus on my kitchen counter I tried to hold back my excitement and eagerness to start baking with fresh milled flour.
I have childhood memories of my dad trying desperately to grow fig trees in our backyard here in the dry and hostile desert. Every couple of years he would plant a new tree, watch as it would grow a few seasons, shed some fruit, and then inevitably a cold winter would come along and take all that hard work like it never existed. Nowadays each winter he covers his fig trees with burlap and Christmas lights that are ever-on (yes, it’s true) to keep them warm. A true Italian Christmas tree, if you will. They seem to live a bit longer but they definitely do not thrive like they do in a temperate climate.
With all this reminiscing, and since I talk about my dad I wanted to give you a mental image of him and us back then, you’ll have to bear with me through the next photo…
A few months back I was called back out to San Francisco for work and before my trip I found myself following my typical routine: I planned on cafes for lunch, restaurants for dinner, bakeries for bread & pastry, and coffee shops to grab a cappuccino… You know, normal stuff. The problem with San Francisco is that there are too many good places to visit and it becomes an arduous task to eliminate items from your to-do list. I wish Albuquerque had this “problem”.
One stop I almost always make is Tartine Bakery, but I’ve already talked at length about the magical bread & pastry establishment. Another such place is The Mill, a spot that checks two boxes: it’s a bakery and a coffee shop. And a damn good one of each.
Steam burns hurt. Like really, really hurt. The small mark on my left forearm begs the question every day: Maurizio, was it really worth it?
But before we talk about my new baking badge of honor, let’s concentrate on overcoming the challenges of baking good bread at home. While many of these challenges present themselves early on in the two-day process (fermentation, flour selection, mixing, shaping, and so on), there is that key component at the end of this whole ordered procession: baking with steam in a high-temperature home oven.
I’ve been separated from my good friend ‘baking’ for a short stint, but only because I traveled out to northern Italy, specifically the Veneto region, to attend a very important wedding: my brother’s! His fiance and her family live in the area but most of my family is in the south, with just a few up north, and so it’s a convenient central point for everyone to congregate and celebrate — and we sure did. Countless bottles of prosecco, sent back for recycling with nary a drop, provided ample proof of the full-day event. Prossecco is the life-blood of this area and every square inch of farmland has a vineyard placed on it, soaking up the rich soil to produce those lovely little pale grapes.
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