The bread dough that took a vacation

It had been quietly rising all through the ferry trip and halfway across the island.

Getting to a vacation spot can be a lot of work. Our family used to go to a homey resort in the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington State, where we lived in a cabin and played on the beach. Getting there was never easy, especially the year we took along a batch of bread dough like a special guest.

I made a lot of bread when I was a teenager. I used Ed Brown's "The Tassajara Bread Book" for recipes and directions. A Zen monk, Ed made making bread seem easy, and it was. I enjoyed the quietude of kneading the bread, setting it to rise, punching it down and letting it rise again, and then sniffing the air while it baked. Baking was the only part of the process I timed – the rest was reflective and dreamy.

The morning of our trip to the San Juans, I started a batch of bread. I thought I could probably finish it before we left, so I didn't bother checking with my parents before dumping the yeast in the water, adding flour, and stirring.

Not much later, the rest of the family was busy packing and putting things into the car. Apparently, we had to leave at a certain time to catch a particular ferryboat. This was news to me. Didn't all the boats go to all of the islands? My parents informed me that no, they did not.

Perturbed when they heard about my bread, my parents wanted to know when it would be finished.

"Not for a while," I said. "It still needs another rising, and then I have to shape the loaves and bake them."

Realizing that I meant "about three hours," they looked at each other and sighed. It seems that we had to leave within the hour, and we would be gone for two weeks.

We had several options for disposing of the bread dough: freeze it, give it to the neighbors, or throw it away. Have I mentioned that this was very good bread? My parents decided to take the bread dough along.

We put a damp towel over the big bread bowl and put it behind the driver's seat in one of the cars we were taking. My parents drove one car, and we three teens drove in another. The plan was thatwe would go up to Anacortes, stop for supper, and then catch the ferry to Orcas Island. As soon as we got to the cabin, I would bake the bread.

The trip went as planned, until my brother added one activity. Gasoline costs more on the island than it does on the mainland, so he decided to fill up before getting in line for the ferry.

Unfortunately, this decision made us late. As we crested the hill and looked down at the dock, we saw the ferry sailing away – with our parents on it. This was before cellphones, so we had to guess what had happened. They must have thought we were in line behind them and that we had gotten onto the boat, too.

We had to wait two hours for the next ferry. We parked and got out of the car to walk around. I remembered that I should punch down the bread dough, which, I estimated, would be about to overflow its bowl by now. I returned to the car and searched. Where was it? I had put it right behind the driver's seat ... of the other car.

We later learned that Mom had noticed the bread dough as my parents neared the resort. It had been quietly rising all through the ferry trip and halfway across the island. She said it looked like a living creature traveling along with them. Higher than the bowl was deep, it was trembling, just before reaching the stage where it would topple over. Mom had punched it down just in time.

My siblings and I arrived at the resort after sunset, traveling along a bumpy road between dark pine trees. When we got to the cabin, we smelled freshly baked bread and saw my parents sitting on wooden chairs on a grassy knoll above the beach. They were eating fresh, warm bread and listening to the water quietly lap againstthe shore.

We joined them, ready now for a restful vacation.

Tassajara Yeasted Bread

3 cups lukewarm water (85 to105 degrees F.)
1-1/2 tablespoons dry yeast (2 packages)
1/4 cup sweetener (honey, molasses, or brown sugar)
1 cup dry milk
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup oil or butter or margarine
4 cups additional whole wheat flour, divided
1 egg
2 tablespoons cold water or milk

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the water. Stir in sweetener and dry milk. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour and 2 cups unbleached white flour to form a thick batter. Beat well with a spoon (100 strokes). Cover bowl with a damp towel and place in a warm place. Let dough rise 45 minutes.

Fold in salt and oil. (Do not stir or cut into the dough.) Fold in an additional 3 cups of whole wheat flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Knead on a floured board, using more flour (about 1 cup) as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board. Knead about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, smooth side down. Turn so both sides of dough have been oiled. Cover bowl with a damp towel. Let rise 50 to 60 minutes until doubled in size. Punch down.

Let rise 40 to 50 minutes until doubled in size. (This rising may be omitted if you're in a hurry, but makes the bread lighter.)

Shape into loaves and place in pans. Let rise 20 to 25 minutes, or until top is near top of pan.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In the meantime, whisk together egg and cold water or milk in a small bowl. Brush tops with of loaves with egg mixture.

Place bread in oven and bake for about 1 hour, or until golden brown. Remove from pans and let cool.

Makes 2 loaves.

Adapted from 'The Tassajara Bread Book'

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