Sunday, January 13, 2008

And excuse to write "gobbed with gobbets of gluey ecru crud"...

It's Sunday again. My hair should be washed, my floors should be vacuumed, my laundry should be fluffy, folded, and put away.

Instead, my kitchen is coated with a light dusting of flour (as is myself) except for the parts that are gobbed with gobbets of gluey ecru crud.

I'm learning how to bake bread.

Item the first re: baking bread: it takes a really long time. Hence the horrible abuse of Sundays. Still, a girl's got to get good at something, right? I'm going to get good at bread.

I blame France completely. In France I learned to like all sorts of offensive things, like stinky, squishy cheeses that were probably still alive, fresh fish that came out of the oven looking utterly like a fish, and Jeunet and Claro movies, but the real lesson was in the bread.

So inculcated was I upon arrival with the view that bread should be rectangular and pre-sliced, that I hunted the aisles of Monoprix and came home more than once with what looked like proper bread, but turned out to be cunningly packaged Melba toast.

Eventually I got the hang of things, and learned the special joy that comes of hitting the boulangerie just after the loaves come out of the oven, and being obliged to purchase two because you're walking back to your apartment with this warm weight in your palm and this delicious scent wafting into your nostrils, and you'll find yourself in your kitchen with a small piece of crust and some flaky crumbs on your lower lip. So: one loaf is for dinner, and the other is for the walk home.

My boyfriend at the time and I would make a meal out of a good-sized loaf: bread and Boursin for the hors-d'oeuvres, bread and hard salami and swiss for the entree, and bread and Nutella for dessert.

I love good bread.

Good bread can be found easily enough, even in this cultural desert of a city -- I give full props especially to Nova Bakery, and not just because the lovely Serbian family that owns it employed HWLHiJ as a tutor last year. We used to live practically around the corner from them, but have since decided that some things, even good bread, are not worth so many rats in the walls, and have moved on to more post-Diluvian housing. Sadly, housing is far away from bakery. And it's possible to get a decent loaf at the local Harris Teeter, but sometimes one needs that arm and that leg. Anyway, I decided to learn how to bake bread. It's a craft. One should know a craft.

I'll tell you what: villanelles are easier. Spelling "Diluvian" is easier. Moving back into that rat-infested house on Eastway is easier than baking a good loaf of bread.

HWLHiJ helped matters greatly by purchasing self a very, very, very nice mixer. Alton Brown has this mixer, is all I'm saying. Mom helped further by buying self The Kata... Kala... fuck, I have to go get something... oh my, I was way off... The Tassajara Bread Book. It is considered the Bible for serious bread-makers. Granted, it's written by the granoliest hippie-assed motherfucker I've ever encountered, and he gets a little uncomfortably intimate on the degree to which one should cosset and love one's yeast, but it too has furthered my progress along the path to bread enlightenment.

Because enlightenment, so to speak, is actually the issue. I followed Alton Brown's sourdough bread recipe on my first attempt and got a doorstop. I figured I'd done the kneading all wrong and took a scientific approach on the following two Sundays: the first kneading significantly less, the next kneading significantly more. Two more damn doorstops. Then came the mixer and the book, and last Sunday was my first outing with both.

You know you have an awesome mixer when you turn the dial to "pulse," dough flies all over the kitchen, and all you can think is Wheeeee! Let's do that AGAIN! HWLHiJ actually had to make me go settle down. I still haven't taken that baby past 4 on the dial. I wanna get some egg whites in there and see what that bitch can really do.

Anyway, the attempt turned out a lot better than the previous efforts in the taste department (I still have some in the fridge actually, and it's still soft and muy delicioso) and it wasn't quite doorstop material, but it was still lacking the lovely holes of yeasty steam that I so yearn for. This week was even better (got better flour) but still not the pinnacle of perfection. Next week: more yeast! It's a million-to-one chance, but it just might work!

Honestly, I don't care. Half my brain has grown tired of the extra poundage I'm carting around and has sworn off glutens and all beverages except water. Of course the other, shall we say weightier, half of my brain is sucking down an egg-nog latte and saying, bugger that for a game of soldiers, we haven't even mastered ciabatta yet.

In other words, it's the journey, not the destination. Now I have to go get the chisel and start cleaning up the kitchen. And get started on the friggin' laundry.

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