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Dud fingers

I don’t know what’s happened lately — maybe I had some sort of culinary-specific stroke — but I am really on a string of duds at the moment. I’m staying philosophical for the time being: I scowl at the duds as they come out of the oven, then murmur something like “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”, or “You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you bake your prince”, or “Buy low, sell high”, and then shrug it off. I am so far enjoying the process of cooking enough that the duds don’t sting too much. But man, when they pile up, it can be hard to keep turning the other cheek. For a start, after four turns I run out of cheeks.

Exhibit A: Sexy ugly loaf.

No force on Earth gonna make it pretty.

I tend to shy away from cakes at the fluffier, whiter end of the spectrum, and I love moist, savoury loaves. So it was a bit of a bummer that this spicy carrot and zucchini loaf ended up inedibly bad. Especially since it is so sexy! I love the ugly cooking: browned and appealingly nobbly. I forgot the sugar (or, if I’m honest, the magical culinary dwarves to whom I had trusted my baking fingers forgot the sugar), and didn’t put enough salt in, and the recipe wasn’t really set up to absorb that kind of oversight. I’m sure there are some recipes that would magically become robust and savoury with the absence of sugar, but this one just tasted like it was trying to be something it wasn’t. Plus it came out undercooked, just at the bottom: mooshy and sticky and unpalateable. Dud!

Exhibit B: Sandwich bread.

So smug!

I knew it, I knew it, I knew it: I knew I shouldn’t have posted on my successful sandwich bread making. It was just begging those magical culinary dwarves to pull down my pants in public. Pride goeth before a dacking. This loaf was deceptive all the way. I kneaded until the glutens were lovely and sturdy, the dough moist and cohesive, and did my usual cycle of punchdowns and risings, before finally scoring the top and popping in the oven. You score the top (I usually do a straight slash down the middle, parallel to the two long edges of the loaf) to allow the loaf somewhere to grow; the wonderful oven spring that breadmakers talk about is the blooming that takes place as the dough warms in the oven and pushes up and out. The opposite happened to my loaf on this fateful day. Instead of the scored dough splitting open as the cooking bread grew, it sank and the dough sunk down along the score, giving that telltale heart shape to the top of the slice. It’s a dead giveaway: over-proofed dough. The last rise went too long and the dough wasn’t strong enough to sustain it when cooking. Dud!

But at least I know why it happened. We bought a second loaf tin, slightly taller and squarer than our usual one. While this is a fairly trivial development, I had always used the size of the previous loaf tin as a guide for when to put the loaf in the oven — when the dough rose enough to bump slightly over the rim of the tin, it was time to go in the oven. Of course, with a taller loaf tin, by the time the dough bumps over the rim of the tin, it has risen far more than it would have to achieve a similar bump in the old tin. Ergo: peeping over the rim of the tin = overproofed (when tin = new loaf tin). Voila! I learned something from my dud!

Stand back!

Ah, but the day was redeemable. I started the dud loaf early in the day, so had time to cook a second loaf in the afternoon. That’s the successful loaf on the right, putting the dud loaf (and its sinister counterpart the dud veggie loaf) to shame! Take that, duds!

Not all is lost!

Later I sliced open the dud bread (for science!) and it wasn’t a complete loss. While tasty, you can see that the crumb is quite cakey and open, which means the loaf overall lacks structural integrity — a sure sign of overproofing. See, the yeast gets carried away and makes the bread all fluffy and overconfident, and then it just doesn’t stand up to the hard yakka. All talk. The loaf’s okay — good with soft cheese and even stands up to toasting if you don’t slice it too thinly — but I learned the hard way that it isn’t much good for sandwiches. At first bite, most of the bread crumbled away, leaving me clutching salad and boiled egg between suddenly desperate fingers and hoping none of my coworkers would sneak up on me as my lunch devolved into some sort of egg-salad-mitten. Just a little pro-tip for you: to really zoom up the professional pecking order, try eating a breadless sandwich in a hunched and slightly frenzied fashion, anxious not to let your clamp-like grip relax for even a second lest you scatter sandwich fillings thither and yon and mostly down your front. Really attracts respect.

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