Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Staff of Life: A Day With Bread

The very cool (and slightly creepy) thing about bread dough is that it is Alive.  Yeah, I said ALIVE.

And sometimes it has Attitude.  The bread I made yesterday had a great big fat case of Don't Wanna.  It wasn't entirely the dough's fault. 

For one thing, I couldn't really afford butter for breadmaking this time because I needed to spend money on other groceries.  It was a matter of making pennies go just as far as they possibly could, so I picked the absolute cheapest margarine at the store.  Don't know if they have it where you live but this margarine is so cheap that it doesn't even come in a box--it's just a big yellow block wrapped badly in a single sheet of thin waxed paper.

For another thing, just as I got started scalding the milk and proofing the yeast, my friend called because she Needed To Talk.  She didn't want to chat.  She Needed To Talk.  That's different.  When a friend has a problem, I'm gonna listen to what she needs to get off her mind, and I don't care if that means that I miss my seat on the last shuttle leaving earth before the asteroid hits.  Friends listen.  I turned off the heat under the milk but there wasn't anything I could do about the yeast.  It kept growing and growing and growing until it spilled out of the container.  By the time I got off the phone, I had a mess on my hands but I had to use that yeast anyway.

And finally, I didn't even think about the fact that the dough would get all ticked off because the house was chillier than it should have been.  It didn't seem that bad to me.....even though it was about 10 degrees cooler than it was outside.  When this house gets cold, it stays cold and the central heat won't come on until it's down to 61 degrees.  The house was 65, and since it was raining cats and dogs I didn't want to open the windows to warm the house up.

I set the dough to rise in my HUGE 13 quart stainless steel mixing bowl.  An hour and a half later, it should have been cresting the top and busting to get out.  Nope.  Yesterday, half full.  Not good.  So I had to plug in a space heater and aim it at the kitchen counter for the dough to feel warm enough to rise.  Finally, two more hours later, it was just almost big enough.

Now this is Not a small recipe or a small undertaking:  my mother's Very Best Bread recipe makes six loaves of bread from a full five-pound sack of flour, a quart of milk, three eggs, and half a pound of butter (okay, awful yellow margarine this time).  I will be eating this bread for the next four or five weeks; that has a major impact on my food budget so, no matter what, it just had to come out okay.   

When I went to shape the loaves, the dough said UnhUh.  It just didn't wanna.  It didn't even want to cut apart with the dough blade.  The dough was tougher than usual and rubbery.  While I was waiting for the second rising, the dough was still uncooperative.  Would not rise.  Just would not.  Strange considering there were great big bubbles popping out all over the place, and my bread Never does that.  It's a point of honor with me:  my kneading always makes finely textured bread but it was looking like that wasn't happening this time.  This was taking forever!  Had to keep the space heater going and move it closer still to the kitchen counter until  the loaves were finally just barely reaching the edges of the loaf pans so I could put the bread in the oven.

Great.  I spent my whole day and a big chunk of my available cash on this:  Ugly under-risen bread with Bad Attitude.....but no, wait.....actually, once  I had eaten a slice of hot bread with sharp white cheddar, I had to admit that it was really, really good. 

My mother's Very Best Bread recipe always makes the Very Best Bread, no matter what.  There is never, ever anything better.  Nothing more like Home.  And I admit that I was the one with Bad Attitude.  (But those loaves are still unattractive.)

I am grateful.
Life is good. 

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