My interest in cooking goes back to college, where it flared up a year or so after I moved off-campus and began to tire of frozen pizzas and similar fare.
I admit I was pretty terrible at first, fumbling my way through a few simple dishes I grew up with, succeeding only by the most loose definition of success. (In those days my attitude was very much akin to Hannah Hart’s: “This whole cooking thing is a matter of opinion. There is no right, and there is no wrong. There’s just food and inedible.”) (If you aren’t watching “My Drunk Kitchen,” please, by all means, rectify.)
In the years since, I have continually worked on my kitchen skills, coming to understand that food work, like so much else worth discovering, is a life-long pursuit, not a simple skill set swiftly mastered and filed away before flitting to another goal.
Along the way, I studied a lot of cook books, followed a few cooking shows, and bought my weight in kitchen gadgetry. During my journalism career, I spent the better part of a year soliciting advice from my paper’s worldly wise food editor. Gradually, my methodical, detail-oriented personality drew me to cooking idols such as Alton Brown and J. Kenji Alt-Lopez.
My first and most lasting cooking influence, though, is my mother. I still periodically call her for advice, and I often set my sights on replicating some dish of hers I fondly remember from my childhood.
Sometimes that’s easy, but other times … well, other time’s it’s Mommy Bread.
My mother makes a bread the likes of which I have not encountered in any bakery, restaurant, home, or street stall. It is light, pillowy, wonderful. And, according to my mother, simple to make.
Well, it is. For her.
For me, every time I have attempted it, it has been a hot mess.
Part of the problem — okay, most of the problem — is that my mother knows this recipe so well that she makes it without thinking. She throws a few things in a bowl, no measuring, and it comes together. Every. Damn. Time.
I have watched her, and I have tried to estimate amounts, and procedures, and it has driven me near to madness. (Not a long drive, but still …)
So, this week my mother was in town, and I decided that, before the week was over, I would figure this bread the hell out.
I finally came to the delightfully simple answer to my problem: I had my mother throw things together as usual, but, before each addition, to her great amusement, I put the work bowl on my scale and measured.
Some math later, I had a proper recipe.
Last night, to my great delight, I followed that recipe and achieved the dream.
I made Mommy Bread.