Celebrating life’s little triumphs: BBA Challenge #2 Artos Greek Celebration Bread

by piecurious

Sometimes I fear that I am a perpetually ungrateful human being.  At any given time in my life there seems to be something—some goal, some physical object, some skill—that I believe I need to acquire or develop in order to secure stability, contentedness and satisfaction in life. If only I had… could… or did… then I would be free from the stresses, fatigue, and general discontented moments that sometimes seem to define life at a given moment.

When I was about ten years old I whined to my Mother that if she bought me a puppy surprise for Christmas, I would never be bored again.  Well, I got my puppy surprise (the black and white one with FIVE puppies in case you’re wondering) and I can honestly say that I have not only been bored numerous times since, but my demands have increased substantially from disturbing plastic-faced, plush-bodied birthing dogs, to going to a private audio recording school, leaving London, finishing my Master’s degree, getting a car, working in a bakery… the list goes on.

And with each accomplishment (or perhaps failure and resignation) a new desire—a new something to acquire or strive toward—develops to ensure that the sense of all encompassing urgent need to acquire and achieve persists.  The sense of relief or contentedness that the previous accomplishment or acquisition was to provide dissipates, the accomplishment/acquisition becoming merely a fixture or inconsequential feature of le quotidien.

Of course, despite my chastising tone, it isn’t all bad.  In many cases it represents healthy ambition and provides the impetus behind self-development and self-betterment.   But sometimes it can be difficult to discern which needs or desires are beneficial and productive, and which might simply be symptoms of rapaciousness, overindulgence or unwarranted dissatisfaction. When wants and desires fall into the latter category, we tend to be overambitious, severely self-critical and self-demanding, and in many instances, insensitive not only to the need to recognize our past accomplishments, but also to celebrate our little life triumphs—to marvel at, be thankful for, and satisfied with, that which we already have.

And so rather than waiting until I had something extraordinary to celebrate to make Artos Greek Celebration Bread—the next recipe in line for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge—I decided that I would make this bread in celebration of all of the ordinary accomplishments that I often take for granted. In other words, to consider all of the seemingly mundane, and perhaps less than perfect or ideal, triumphs that have occurred in the past or occur on a daily basis outside of their context and examine them, not in relation to other similar things, but rather absolutely, in order to appreciate them for exactly what they are.  To celebrate, for example, the freedom of movement and exhilaration I experience with every stride on my daily run.  Or the pleasure and satisfaction I derive from piping whipped cream uniformly onto a coconut cream pie at work, avoiding any splutters or splotches.  And even if the next day my stride is heavy and lumbering, or my piping looks a bit sloppy, the whipped cream over or under-whipped, yesterday’s run was still refreshing and the piping was still perfect.  So let’s celebrate that.

The bread itself is a little triumph that deserves to be celebrated.  It’s creation wasn’t entirely sure and steady from start to finish, nor was its end result perfect.  In fact, I wasn’t even impressed by its taste, although its texture, tender and plush as a cloud, was dreamy.  And yet here it is, with its deep chestnut-coloured crust, and its white crumb–a creation I nurtured from start to finish, from flour and water to toast for breakfast on my plate.

Artos is an enriched bread, made with eggs, oil, honey and milk—the ingredients that give the crumb its luxurious quality—as well as a collection of spices.  The crust is washed in a honey glaze upon emerging from the oven.  Both the glaze and the dough are punctuated with the addition of orange or lemon extract, which makes the bread delicately fragrant and lures the senses.  But the lure is deceptive.  I found the bread lacking in flavour.  The spices seemed to vanish, leaving the crumb with only a faint hint of lemon and the crust carrying the weight of the flavour through the glaze.  Perhaps it is my fault—I have grown accustomed to eating either intricately flavoured sourdough breads, light and airy ciabattas, or sweetened, quickbreads.  Maybe the mild flavour of this white bread was lost on me.

I’d also like to note that this bread grew massively in size within the interior of my oven.  I have a very tiny, one-rack oven and even with the rack on the second lowest rung, the bread experienced an ovenspring that shot it straight to the top elements.  The recipe does claim to make one large loaf, but the loaf was beyond large, it was massive.  I might suggest dividing the dough in two to get two large loaves, which will be far more manageable to bake and to consume.