This past Christmas two very dear friends – who perhaps have a rosier notion of my technical abilities than is warranted – gave me a breadmaker. Not a baker, as in a person who makes bread, but a squat stainless steel machine that makes bread. It would not exactly be true to say that I have always wanted a breadmaker, but I do love bread, and in particular, I think a French baguette is one of the most perfect foods on the planet. This breadmaker does not make baguettes, but we will not discuss that.
My first loaf – Artisan white – was perfectly fine. So fine that instead of recognizing it for beginners luck, I became cocky and decided to try for a rye bread, CSB’s favorite. The recipe called for Vital Wheat Gluten. I had never heard of Vital Wheat Gluten and had no idea what it was. But I had heard of Wheat Germ, and while I don’t know what wheat germ is either, I had some in my refrigerator. I have since learned that Vital Wheat Gluten and Wheat Germ are not the same thing. Which would explain why they are known by different names. The substitution of Wheat Germ for Vital Wheat Gluten in the rye bread recipe may not be the only reason for the pathetic failure of that bread. I say that because my attempted oatmeal bread also turned into a lumpy, messy, hardened and unmixed lump. And Vital Wheat Gluten was not called for in the oatmeal bread recipe. I did however substitute honey for maple syrup. You may think that my creative substitutions are the reason for my failures. But I used the exact ingredients listed for the rosemary bread, and still, it deflated like one of those hideous inflatable Christmas dwarfs in front yards.
Hagio-alert: saints will now be mentioned. It has occurred to me to consult with various of the patron saints of bakers. One of the more interesting of these patrons – though his patronage does seem unintelligible & random – is St Meingold. He was born in Huy, which is in Belgium now but was not then because Belgium did not exist then; it wasn’t even imagined back in 850 CE. Meingold was adopted by the childless Emperor Arnulf of (somewhere in) England, and so he crossed over to meet his new family. His first mistake was to marry Geyla, whose brother Albrecht was hostile, violent, and plagued with persistent shingles. Albrecht besieged the newlyweds and tried to set fire to their castle, but managed to drown in the moat instead. The emperor fished him out. Following that debacle, Meingold and Geyla gave up their estates and silken robes, dressed badly, and wandered for seven years from shrine to shrine, admiring finger bones and skulls and even some very special vials of saintly blood. Meingold was killed by some old enemies while he was praying, and there is nothing in the story about him ever having anything to do with bakers or baking or even ovens, though it seems safe to assume that he ate bread. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is a far more obvious candidate for Patron Saint of Bakers, as the bread she was carrying to the poor turned into roses when she was rudely questioned.
The bread I tried to make just turned into an unappetizing lump, though the chickens were delighted with it.
As I read it, the subtext of his tale is that Honorius of Amiens was not a particularly saintly person. When she heard that he had been made a bishop, Honorius’ old nursemaid was baking bread and said, “That brat is no more likely to be a bishop than this peel (shovel/spatula) is about to turn back into a tree.” I don’t need to tell you what happened next. Her baker’s peel sprouted roots and instantly grew into a blackberry tree.Nine hundred years later gullible pilgrims were still visiting it, and Honorius got to be a patron of bakers. There is a chain of cake-shops in Hong Kong named for him.
If the above is possible, then it should be possible for me to produce an edible loaf of bread with a state-of-the-art breadmaker.