Perhaps more than anything, LIFE magazine and National Geographic influenced my love for photography. Even before I could read the captions, I found the sequential and stand-alone images mesmerizing. The black-and-white photographs, whether published by themselves or in a series to illustrate an article, were story photos that taught me volumes about powerful compositions.
This series of four simple images was taken while my brother Henry made bread during a rare gathering of us siblings. His stage: The granite topped “island” in my sister’s kitchen.
You gotta feel it
“Making French bread is not about the ingredients,” he said. “That’s just flour, salt, water and yeast. It’s the feel of the dough.”
I got it.
Years ago, I worked on a research ship which employed a baker, Ralph Naughton, as part of the galley crew. “How do you know how much flour to knead into the dough?” I asked during a midnight to 4 AM shift. Ralph a quiet man who lost an eye during a bar fight somewhere in Alaska, reached over to the giant bowl sitting in a warm spot near the galley oven and pinched a little dough between his thumb and forefinger. Then he reached up with his other hand and grabbed his ear lobe and gave it a squeeze.
“That’s how you know,” he said, smiling with his eyes.
Henry spun the ball of dough and pulled it over on itself as if performing a dough-ball. I could almost hear the melody. “Many recipes say to add flour until the dough can’t take any more,” he said. “But that makes for a dry, stiff bread.”
Lifting the ball of dough in his hand, he shared a tip I’d never come across. “The dough should sag a little between your fingers.”
The proof is in the proofing
After proofing the dough and punching it down (no magic amount of time here; we simply went for a walk), he pinched–not cut–the dough into four blobs.
Blobs are beautiful
Then he took each blob and shaped it into a lumpy, artsy loaf, rolled it in cornmeal and gently settled it into baguette pans, like a mother would lay a baby into its blanket-lined crib.
“Let it rise a bit, then bake it in a 400 or 450-degree oven for 30 or 40 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf, humidity, or crunch factor you’re looking for.”
Me, I’m looking for a platform for butter!
My brother Henry is a civil engineer; not a professional baker. He lives in Spokane, Washington. I live in Kodiak, Alaska. We see each other oh, once or twice a year. He makes bread as a hobby and a gift. It’s a way of saying, “I love you. It’s good to see you.”
Thank you for stopping by. That’s a gift, too.