I think that I should get extra points for blogging at all with our pathetic internet connection. The little switch on my phone that turns on a personal hotspot implies that I could then be able to use the internet on my computer. It seems to be more complicated than that. Trying to understand why sometimes the hot spot works perfectly and other times completely doesn’t work at all is like trying to understand the meaning of life, or god, or any of the other great mysteries of the universe. Strange theories have been circulating about the weather, the time of day, the position of the phone, and possible government conspiracies to keep my boundless widsom from reaching the masses.
I did a little internet dance and I’m wearing my lucky purple shirt, so cross your fingers and let’s see if this works.
COOK IT 2012! FEBRUARY RESOLUTION: BAKE BREAD
Last month I spent my free time covered in semolina flour, making batch after batch of fresh pasta. It was deliciously messy, every bite of it. This month, I’m focusing on bread baking. I think I’ve mentioned on here before that I’m a horrible baker (I made chocolate chip cookies the other day, and on my first batch, the bottoms were completely black and the tops were still semi-raw. Nice, right?) I really want to improve these skills. I can make an amazing seville orange marmalade. I know how to cure my own bacon and grind my own sausage. I can do remarkable things with butternut squash and kale. Yet somehow if you involve flour and the oven, I’m lost.
I’ve seen all these great things on the internet about making wild sourdough bread, beautiful whole grain sandwich breads, and all kinds of other special techniques. I knew that before I could attempt anything like this, I had to be able to bake a plain loaf of boring sandwich bread with absolutely no fancy bells or whistles. I don’t usually do this, but I ended up just googling “white bread recipe” and going with one of the first ones that came up. It used white flour and what seemed like a lot of refined sugar, but I just went with it anyway. (The nice thing about experimenting with bread is that it’s cheap. A batch of failed jam can set you back, oh, $20, but a failed loaf of bread is just a couple bucks, and can easily be turned into breadcrumbs, bread pudding or croutons if it doesn’t come out quite right.)
I’m not necessarily all that enamored with the idea of breads. I don’t eat very much of it and I don’t really crave it the way I think some people do. A wonderful thing happened while I was working on this project, though. Part of the reason I wanted to do these resolutions is that spending time in the kitchen working on a project is very relaxing for me. I may not actually care about bread all that much, but forcing myself to stop running around like a crazy person and spent a morning at home in the kitchen was a huge victory. It reminded me of yoga class, when the instructor tells you to relax and clear your mind, to let go of all the stressful things you’re thinking about. I tried to quiet my thoughts and let my mind settle in to the motion of kneading, the smell of yeast. I realized: It’s amazing how hard it is to stop thinking running errands, working, chores, bills… It kind of worked though. I spent the morning at home. I baked bread. Everything stopped for a few hours. It was great. Right now, even, sitting here writing. I have work I should maybe be doing – my greenhouse got totally destroyed in a windstorm two nights ago, and I really need to go put it back up and work on starting tomato plants. It’s nice to take some time and say:
……….yeah, i’m not doin that now.
Strange how deciding to learn something new turns into a meditation on laziness and procrastination, right?
Whole Grain White Bread, adapted from the Amish White Bread recipe here
Makes: 2 loaves
Cook Time: 2 Hours
- 2 c. warm water
- 2/3 c. white sugar
- 1 1/2 tbs. dry yeast
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 c. canola oil
- 4 c. bread flour
- 2 c. whole wheat flour
In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and the water. If your kitchen is cold, it may help to warm the bowl in the oven a bit. (My kitchen is freezing). Stir in the yeast and set aside to proof. When the mixture is ready it will look slightly foamy. Mix the salt and the oil into the yeast mixture. Mix in the flour, one cup at a time. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until it’s smooth and starting to feel springy. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a wet cloth. Set it somewhere warm to rise for an hour or so, or way longer if you’re in my freezing kitchen. When the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl. Punch it down and knead it for a few minutes. Divide the dough in half and form it into loaves. Put them in oiled 9×5” loaf pans. Let the dough rise again, until it’s 1” above the pans. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. The loaf will be nicely browned on top and have a pleasant hollow-sounding thump when you tap the bottom of the pan.
Yes, one of the reasons that my baking suffers might be that I’m using a liquid measuring cup for dry ingredients. The kitchen smelled incredible at this point. I’m always struck by how aromatic yeast is. I panicked when I checked my dough after an hour and it hasn’t risen at all. Not one bit. In the end, I had to turn my oven on to 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then turn it off, and then put the covered dough in the oven with the door slightly cracked. That’s how cold my kitchen is.
And at last…
Warm bread and peach jam is certainly very luxurious… but what I really eat is this:
Is a recipe really required? Toad-in-a-hole, eggs-in-a-basket, whatever you want to call them, they’re my favorite breakfast. My dad referred to them as “sewer-lids” all through my childhood, which is charming. I still wonder if this is some kind of reference to his upbringing in New Jersey. J. decided that eggs-in-a-basket should be named “pregnant toast,” which I think is pretty hysterical.
Oh, one thing- melt some shredded cheese on top to make them extra delicious.
If you want to be included in the great pasta-roundup, make sure to get your posts to me by February 15th.
The deadline for this month’s challenge is March 15, at 12:00 PM PST.