Kneading dough, the old-fashioned way

— After 22 years of faithful use, my Cuisinart food processor finally died. It had a little help, I admit. I had recently learned I could use it to make pizza dough. In a family of three girls who wanted to order pizza every weekend, it was getting a preemptive workout.

To be fair, I also have to admit that I wasn’t only using it for pizza dough. In fact, the particular date of its passage, I had already made pretzel dough and a batch of sweet roll dough. Washing the work bowl is the worst part of making bread with it. So I had devised a system to make four different doughs, one after the other; and then, I’d only clean the machine once.

Everything went well for the soft-pretzel dough, then the pizza dough. It goes so quickly in the food processor, once you know how the recipe differs from making it in a mixing bowl. Then I did the sweet roll dough and set that aside. When I got to the wheat bread, I smelled a faint burnt smell — then, all power died. I had a sinking feeling it was fatal, and I was right.

Looking back on it, I’d forgotten that I can only add four cups of flour, total, and I’d put in five. It was a careless mistake. And I’m sure for my tired processor, it was just plain the last straw. When I did research on machines to get a new one, I read (too late) that processing large batches of dough can burn out the motor. Ah. Well, as they say, it was fun while it lasted.

I love making bread. I learned the art from my great-aunt Dorothy the summer I lived with her for a month, just after I graduated from high school. She was a patient teacher, and she made it look easy. The trick, she said, was to not use fingertips—only knead with the palms. She used the old-fashioned cake yeast, letting it rise in an earthen bowl till it puffed up high and pungent. She’d set it to rise in the sun coming through the window, then go about making lunch. After lunch I’d practice violin on her back porch while she took a nap. Then we’d finish the bread together.

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