Baking Bread on a Cold Winter Day
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If you reside in the Pacific Northwest and have ever attempted to bake bread at home, you’ve probably wrestled with the issue of baking in the winter months. Let me rephrase: you’ve agonized over how the hell to get bread dough to rise in your freezing cold house (without paying an arm and a leg for your heating bill).
Really, I blame Mother Nature and her sick sense of humor. It’s her fault that the time of year that I want to bake (and devour) fresh bread is precisely the time of year when the weather makes it the most difficult to bake it. This contradiction frustrates me to no end. My usual method of baking bread in the winter looks something like this: I turn my thermostat up to 80 degrees and set the bowl of bread dough directly next to a heating vent. I constantly check to make sure the dough is rising, and adjust the heat if necessary. I stand guard over the dough, to ensure that my cat doesn’t eat it. By the time the dough is finally ready to bake, my house is sweltering and my stomach is growling. Later, I cry over my heating bill. It’s an imperfect system.
A while back, I was bemoaning these winter bread woes to Brian Spangler, the maestro behind Portland’s lauded Apizza Scholls. He told me how to solve my problem. He told me to simply place my bread dough in the oven, turn on the oven light, close the oven door, and walk away. (Note: Not the actual oven. Just the light.) That’s it. The light generates a small amount of heat in the enclosed oven space, just enough to allow the bread dough to rise properly, even on a chilly winter day.
And just like that, my winter bread-baking routine was changed forever: The oven light!
It’s so simple, I’ve been smacking my forehead ever since and wondering why I didn’t think of it myself. Thanks to Brian, I can now happily bake bread all winter long.