23 May 2006

Bread and Jam For Frances

So when people asked me what I did over the weekend, I told them that I made bread and jam. It sounded a little strange to my ears, and I generally followed up with a recitation of the social round I also crammed into last weekend's agenda (along with cleaning the bathroom, fishtank, catbox, porch, and car. Well. Dave cleaned out the car. I just paid the panel beater $500. But still.)

But the thing I keep coming back to is the bread. It's not like making it afforded me any blinding flashes of insight into my personal life; actually, I got kind of wound up trying to do everything and couldn't sleep Sunday night. But I made the time for it. And somehow at work, sitting in meetings or trying for the thousand time to get a project finished in the midst of eleven hundred interruptions, when I start to get a little stressed and think things like, "Maybe I'll stay a little later tonight" or "I should really come in at 7 tomorrow", I kind of visualise the bread sitting in the fridge and it's like ... maybe I won't stay a little longer. Maybe I'll come in at 8:30 tomorrow. Maybe all this stuff can wait, because I am the kind of person who makes bread. I don't know much else about that kind of person, but apparently it's someone who takes herself seriously enough to go home at 5 to her bread.

I made Basic White Bread, the first recipe in the book. I was a little worried since I wasn't very sure the bread had doubled in size during its first rising; also during the second rising, it rose lumpily from the loaf pan, bulging obscenely on one side and swaybacked on the other. Will my bread turn out looking like it has a skin disease? I wondered.

But no. It was beautifully even across the top, ascending in a sprightly golden fashion above the edge of the loaf pan, with the three diagonal slashes opened up across the top like the spine of a book. Amazing. I can make bread which rises.

It is much chewier than sliced supermarket bread. (This may be a flaw in my breadmaking. I don't know what texture homemade bread is supposed to have. All my bread so far has turned out to be the kind of bread which steps right up and says hello to your jaws.)

In between the first and second rises, I washed and sterilized the jam jars, then put some frozen raspberries on one pie plate and some sugar on another and heated them up good-style. Then I combined the two and (messily) decanted them into the waiting jam jars. (I need a jam funnel. My mom is the only person I know who owns one.) Then I watched Carrie.

Tell me why bread and jam together taste so good? Altogether, my ingredients were: flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar, and raspberries. How did the yeast and the flour and the water mix together to produce this amazingly textured, complexely-flavoured chunk of deliciousness? It's like magic or something.

19 May 2006

Why is being a hausfrau so unstylish?

I bake bread.

So far I have made James Beard's recipe for Swedish Limpa three times and each time it has come out better that before. Previous attempts at yeast baking: dough for focciacia which was tougher than rhinocerous jerky. Supposedly pizza dough is the easiest thing to make, so I figured that maybe baking, with yeast or without (I also make crappy pie crusts) was Not For Me. I don't have kitchen scales or anything, and also, baking is all about chemistry, which was a terrible subject for me in high school.

But possessed by some demon, I decided to try to make the Swedish Limpa recipe which I remembered my mom making when we were growing up. So mom gave me the recipe, and I ... tried it. Despite not knowing how much yeast to put in. (I guessed and went with two teaspoons.) Plus not knowing how to tell how when water is between 100 and 115 degrees farenheit, which is where it's supposed to be when you proof the yeast (an operation of mystery to me). And also despite the three separate risings.

And it came out okay. It tasted fabulous, just as I remembered: lots of orange and cardamom and beery goodness. It was also extremely dense and moist. Sort of like eating a delicious, extremely dense thing. Clearly, the texture left something to be desired. But apparently, bread baking is more like normal cooking, in that you can play with a lot of the ingredients and it will still turn out edible most of the time. I thought maybe I could handle this thing.

So now I have a copy of James Beard's Beard on Bread, where the Swedish Limpa recipe originates from. I am toying with the idea of copying Julie/Julia and baking my way through Beard's 100 favorite bread recipes and blogging about it. Why, you ask, would I do such a thing? Partly because I am a big geek about cooking and homemaking in general. I have an apron collection, people. But also because the rest of my life goes really fast.

I drive fast to get to work, I work to deadlines every day, I jam my schedule as full as possible, trying to shoehorn something in to every minute of the day. And what has all that resulted in? Some strange auto-immune stuff, that's what. I am coming to the conclusion that my body is trying to tell my brain to SLOW DOWN. Which is the nice thing about making bread: you can't rush it. You can't really make bread rise much faster. I don't have a KitchenAid, or even room in my kitchen or checkbook for one, so I can't take a shortcut that way, either.

So it's not like I have time to either make bread or write any fiction, let alone keep up with a blog ... but that's kind of the point of doing it.