The Bread Whisperer

A brief note...
Found this newspaper article about my Mom from 2001. Newspapers, remember them? A long time ago, Julia Child called my Mom “The Pied Piper of Breadbakers” which is cool (I mean Julia freakin’ Child!) but the reference is actually very icky.

The story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin is about a rat catcher who was hired by a town to take care of their vermin problem. He plays his magic flute and lures the rats out of the town. But then the townspeople refuse to pay him which makes him really mad. So, he gets even by luring their children away with his flute playing. I think Julia Child meant that Mom was a good teacher and had a magical way of getting people to follow her baking lessons… not that she was, you know, a child kidnapper or angry rat catcher.

I think I like “The Bread Whisperer” better…

by Sally H. N. Wright (originally published on April 17, 2001 in The Herald Journal, Utah)

You’ve heard of the horse whisperer. Now meet the bread whisperer.

Betsy Oppenneer can transform rather ordinary-looking lumps of dough into masterpieces of bread baking with a wave of her magic hands, and has appeared on countless cooking shows. Writing cookbooks and making videos have been her latest projects, but she often travels to teach classes, and was in Logan in March.

The crowd of people at Logan’s Kitchen Kneads attests to her popularity among ambitious bakers, and everyone is riveted on Oppeneer, waiting to see what her next magic trick will be.

“You have to listen to your bread,” she tells her audience, making breadmaking even more mystical. “If you’re mixing and you hear a sound like ” (Oppenneer makes an angry, hissing sound) “give it a rest because you’ve mixed it too much and it’s going to get up into your machine and wreck it.”

Oppeneer has made enough bread in her lifetime to know what it should sound like. Working as an apprentice at a small bakery from the time she was 12 gave Oppenneer an auspicious beginning to a bread baking career, and she went on to train at several cooking schools. She is an active member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and has earned the title of certified culinary professional. Always exuberant and enthusiastic about bread, even after a long flight from her home in New Hampshire, Oppeneer’s baking tips reveal her vast experience.

“You don’t want to use a terrycloth towel to cover the bread while it’s rising,” she said. “You’re trying to make a little incubator, so you want to keep air out. Use a bowl that’s a little bit taller than it is wide, with less space around the edges, and use a tightly-woven towel to cover it.”

Oppenneer offers other suggestions for would-be bakers, pointing out that unsalted butter is fresher than salted, and won’t destroy growing yeast. She talks about different gadgets and mixers, saying some work better if users ignore manufacturers’ directions.

“I don’t know why they tell you to start with the dough hook,” she says, shaking her head as she watches her mixer combine ingredients for herb bread.

“It really works better if you start with the paddle, I promise.”

Kneading should be slower and easier than most bakers make it, she said. “If you keep smashing it, it will get sticky and you’ll have to keep adding flour,” she says as she comically demonstrates the wrong way to knead bread dough. Too many bakers knead by smashing and smearing the dough across the counter, Oppenneer says, and it’s just not necessary. In her able hands, the smeared dough becomes a perfectly smooth ball. All the dough scraps from the countertop are scraped off and added back into the dough ball.

“You can’t leave these little pieces,” she says. Oppenneer holds up a tiny piece of dough, one most bakers would undoubtedly throw away without a second thought.

“This is almost a whole bite of bread!” she exclaims. “Never throw away little pieces.”

Read the full article…

2 thoughts on “The Bread Whisperer”

  1. Mark:

    This is so awesome. I just love your blog. You and Becca are such interesting, cool people and we are luck to have you as friends! Plus your bread is awesome.

    Suzanne and Todd

    1. Hi Suzanne – really appreciate your note! I hardly ever get comments, so please forgive my not seeing this sooner! Hope you guys are faring well – Cheers, Mark

Leave a Reply