Friday, September 11, 2009

Leftovers, Reading, more Reading and Bread

It's the end of the week, which in my kitchen means clear-out-the-fridge-day. In other words, no cooking today. It's just one of those things I put a lot of effort into, besides sticking to a food budget, and that is to avoid throwing out food. I have discovered that food is not valued in our society as much as it should be. Growing up in a missionary family of 6 we learned early on to value every slice of bread, every piece of fruit even if it's a little brown - otherwise we may run out before the next grocery shopping day. I think it's a good value to have, even if my kids don't need to worry about running out of food. Somewhere in this world, someone worked hard to produce what is now on our plates, and probably earned only a small wage for a long days work. I am hoping one day to grow at least one green thumb so I can teach my kids the effort that goes into planting and harvesting. Until then, and maybe never (!) I hope to find good sources of local food, and purchase directly from where it came from in the first place.
Back to cleaning out the fridge; there are plenty of leftovers for dinner but I do need bread as I have run out completely, and pb & j sandwiches don't go over so well on burger buns... I switched my cooking book for baking and flipped to yeast breads, hoping to quickly and simply throw together a loaf of white bread. Turns out there is A LOT more to yeast than I thought! I have in my past worked in a bagel shop where I made, from scratch, about 1000 bagels each and every day. And so as I am reading along, some of the things I was required to do to make these bagels properly, finally make sense to me. Like steaming the bagels in the oven when they first went in. Or fermenting, retarding then proofing the dough... exact temperatures of ingredients and in the air. My head is buzzing with all this information, information I know I will have to come back to many times in the future as I attempt different varieties of bread. Turns out bread making is not only an art, it's a very exact science too. Time was running out, although it was only noon, so I had to move on. One thing I do know is that bread made from scratch can take a long time. I put my book down and got out flour, milk, sugar, eggs, salt, oil and yeast. The bread recipes in my new book call for malt syrup, which I do not have and have yet to find out what it is, so I decide that I have enough understanding of yeast to take a basic bread recipe from my bread machine cookbook and turn that into a beautiful hand made round loaf.
I have to admit there was a bit of guess work involved as I was kneading the bread since I don't yet own a kitchen mixer. In my new book, a soft white bread is put in the mixer on low for 10 minutes. What is low when you are hand kneading? I figured I would just knead for 10 minutes and do a windowpane test - which is a stretching out of the dough to check for a thin, translucent membrane. I never really got that, even after 15 minutes. I am blaming that on my all-purpose flour. Note to self, put bread flour on the shopping list. And malt syrup.
As I am writing, my dough is about ready to be put in the oven. We'll see what happens, I suppose. At the end of the day, I am sure it will look even just a little nicer than what my bread machine puts out. As for steaming the bread, I placed a brownie pan with water in the oven, to hopefully make up my ovens lack of a built in steamer. One can only hope!

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