Continuing birthday week ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

19 October 2007

Continuing birthday week

We decided that since equipment was so limited, and we'd been very organized and only brought a handful of new recipes, it was fine to cut birthday week to a minimum and only make one new thing a day. It didn't have to be elaborate or anything. Of course, then we made bread.

Day 2: Raw thin-slice salads. We shaved long strips of carrot, cut apples as thin as possible with a set of astonishingly dull knives, and dressed each with lemon juice. This sounds too simple and boring, but it wasn't. They turned out astonishingly good. The apples were BC ambrosias, a kind I for one had never had, which were very crisp and tart and wet. The carrots were just ordinary carrots, but good ones. The whole effect of lemon was to make each salad completely juicy and point up the apple and carrot tastes. To go with them we had very highly sophisticated quesadillas with black beans from a can. Whee go cabin vacation food!

Day 3: Bread. Bread is totally easy, although it takes forever. But we had this big bag of flour left over from the gnocchi, and we wanted to use it.


Stick a packet (2 tbsp) yeast in a big mixing bowl with a spoonful of sugar or honey. Add a cup or so of warm water and wait. In a few minutes, the yeast will begin to bloom in the water: it'll start to foam and rise to the surface as it wakes up in the sugar and water. Wait until its activity has slowed down, and then add (for two loaves) another cup of water and about two cups of flour. At this point you just want enough flour to make the business easy to mix, i.e. enough that water isn't slopping all over the place. Also add a couple good big glugs of olive oil, a couple big spoonfuls of salt, and another spoonful or two of sugar or honey. The salt balance can be hard to get right in bread; ours turned out undersalt. We solved it later with sprinkled salt, melted cheese, and etc in that vein, but still.

So once the mix is stirrable, get out your big wooden spoon and start stirring your dough. Stir all in one direction to develop the gluten in long strands; if you switch direction you break the strands. Mix mix mix. The tenet is generally to give it 100 strokes, or to stir until your arm is good and tired. Then start adding more flour a handful or so at a time. Mix it in gradually until the dough forms a ball.

Now it's time to knead. Get a clean counter or big cutting board and dust it with flour. More flour is better than less, since you'll still be adding flour while kneading, and besides, you really want to avoid an entire blob of dough sticking to the counter. Flour your hands, whack the dough onto the board, and start kneading.

You can find a million descriptions of kneading technique online/in books. I generally fold the dough toward me and then rock back against it with the heel of my hands, putting my full body weight into the dough. Then I pull it back toward me and do it again and again and again, turning every several kneads and adding flour whenever things get sticky. Knead for about ten minutes, or until the mass of dough is springy and elastic. Then make it into a ball and give it a smack. It should feel about as solid as a smack on someone's butt. Most people say "a baby's butt", but any butt will do.

("I don't know what a baby's butt feels like!" It feels like a butt. You're welcome.)

Let the dough sit and relax while you wash out your bowl and dry it. Put in a glug of olive oil and spread it all over the inside of the bowl with your hands. Then put in your dough. Turn the dough so it has oil on all sides, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and leave it somewhere warm to rise. It'll take maybe an hour to double in size, so go do something else.

When things are appropriately risen, punch down the dough. Stick your fist straight into the middle of it. The dough should hiss and deflate a little. Take it out of the bowl and slap it back on the floured (but cleared of extra dough bits) counter. Now is the time to divide. How many loaves do you want? This will make two big or god knows how many tiny loaves of bread: you decide. Cut the dough into appropriate pieces with a pastry cutter or decent knife, then form each bit into whatever loaf shape you desire. I desire batards. Stick the formed loaves on cookie sheets, cover with towels, and leave to rise a second time. This time 45 minutes should do it.

When the loaves have mostly risen, preheat the oven to 450F or your preferred degree of bread hotness. Make sure it's totally preheated before you add the loaves--bread likes lots of heat. In the meantime, get a sharp knife and cut some diagonal slashes in the top of your loaf. You can also brush the top with water if you want an extra-crispy crust.

Put bread in oven. It will bake!

I have very little concept of timing for bread, considering I just made it the other day. I generally check after 30 minutes or so to see if the tops are starting to get brown and if I need to rotate the pan. The degree of goldenness will determine the rest of the time. Bread is done when a rap on the bottom sounds hollow.

Bread! We ate half a loaf almost immediately.


Bee said...

here's a bread tip: Don't wash your bowl between mixing and rising it. It's a wasted effort. You can scrape it a little first with your wooden spoon and dump the crumbs in the trash if you've got a lot of them, but just put the oil in direct. I swear it's actually much easier to wash the bowl after saturating all the gluey gluten-ey bits in oil first.

Becky said...

I rarely have the patience for bread, but yours looks so beautiful I might have to give it another shot! Enjoy the rest of your birthday week!

Eileen said...

bethany: so you just oil on top of the flour then? Interesting. I should try it.

becky: You should do it! Bread is totally easy. All you need is a lazy day of the weekend. Thanks!