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Making magic and banging on while I do so

We’re moving house soon, and getting rid of as much stuff as we possibly can in anticipation of the process. Stuff like the breadmaker. M was the first to suggest getting rid of the breadmaker. I was initially reluctant, because I have always relied on it to do my kneading and rising. But I’m developing an aversion to any gadgets that can be described as a [noun]-[verb]-er — they always seem over-specialised and, in the case of the breadmaker, cumbersome and space-hogging. M spent a lot of time researching kneading techniques while I sipped cocktails and flogged the staff, and eventually had a few goes at hand-kneading with zero disaster.  Then he took the time to explain the process to me, using some butcher’s paper and fruit-scented markers.  Dudes, it is as easy as anything you’ve ever done in the kitchen. Cross my heart. Away with breadmakers and away with mixers-with-dough-paddle-attachments!  Take up kneading by hand, my breadmaking brethren!  It takes me about ten minutes to get from mix to a proper bread dough: ten minutes, people. It’s not hard, and, at the risk of getting a bit hippy on your arse, it’s kind of magical.  There’s a lovely moment where the mix really comes together, where you can feel the transformation taking place and you realise that the glutens have begun to develop and strengthen.  Suddenly your mix becomes tauter, silkier, springier and more cohesive.  It’s rather cool.

Building up speed!

I’m reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the moment and it’s got me thinking all about the transformative processes that take place in our food chain, permitting energy (calories) to be passed along to different participants in the chain.  At the most fundamental level, there’s the life cycle: decomposition breaks down into things like hummus; worms and fungi break down ended life — animal or vegetable — and all its stored energy into a form that permits it to be reused by vegetable matter. In the pastoral example in Pollan’s book, this becomes grass and other pastures, which becomes cow fodder. The cows turn some of it into cow meat, some of it into dairy, some of it into poop; flies come along and turn some of that poop into grubs, which chickens come along and turn into eggs and chicken meat; it’s all fairly miraculous, this waste-free process of use and re-use that transforms calories from one form into another. It got me thinking about what happens later: here’s me, a multi-celluar organism burning up calories to make fresh calories — in this case, I’m turning fruit, English muffins, cheese and tomato into bread:

Pound! Knead!

And then I leave the bread alone for a good long while, covered, in a big bowl.  You can rise dough at room temperature, unless things are abnormally cold, but I’ve discovered that sitting a bowl of dough on top of my fishtank hood is the best rising zone ever: it’s consistently warm, it’s broad, flat and stable, and I’m unlikely to accidentally knock anything into it, and I don’t have to operate a second, space-hogging appliance to get the dough warm and rising.  Breadmaker, you’re history.

It looks a bit like a giant potato.

I was inspired by this recipe for Apricot and Brie bread, which I came across via the most recent YeastSpotting from Wild Yeast. But! Big changes. You’ll notice, firstly, the absence of both apricots and Brie.  I wanted a much more savoury, herby bread to complement the French Onion Soup M was making for dinner: instead of apricot and Brie bread, I have rosemary and chive bread, with the Brie on the side (briefly — then sliced and spread over the hot-from-the-oven bread).  The thing that intrigued me most about the apricot and Brie bread I linked above was the beer in the mix: I happened to know that there was some leftover champagne in the fridge, so I made champagne, rosemary and chive bread! Sounded good, but champagne doesn’t seem to do much to the flavour of bread, not the way beer does.  I think next time I’ll probably just make a simple herb (and maybe onion or shallot) bread, and take care of the champagne myself.

I win at breads.

But I still think it was a pretty smashing triumph. Tasted good (albeit a little under-salted), and served warm with Brie and slowly-cooked French Onion Soup, it was heaven. This was my Saturday dinner. No, jealousy is normal: don’t feel bad.

Soft bread, soft cheese, warm heart

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