Bread 1.0

Bread 1.0

More than three decades ago, I started making homemade bread. Before breadmakers and cell phones, I learned the feel of the dough that marked the end of the kneading process. I fell in love with the smell of bread baking and the taste of the first steamy slice slathered in butter. All of this followed months of failed attempts where I made bricks, and I even sliced and tasted them. The best lessons are learned by failing. I repeatedly killed the yeast with too-hot water to produce those bricks. I recall making half a dozen bricks, at least, before accepting that I needed help.

At the local park I met a mom of two little blond boys. My red-haired daughter caught the eye of the red-haired mom and helped me make one of my first adult friends. The other mom and I got to know each other and one day at the apartment complex pool I told her the funny story of my bread bricks. She didn’t laugh like everyone else. She invited me over the next day to teach me to make bread.

She taught me to proof the yeast with some sugar in a small bowl with the perfect temperature of water. She actually taught me the feel of the water by showing me what was too hot and too cold and just right under the tap.

She taught me to knead, from the raggedy mess of the starting mixture to the smooth and elastic ready-to-rise dough.

She taught me to form loaves and how long to bake them, and to melt butter on the baked crust by rubbing it with a partly peeled stick of cold butter to make the crust delectable.

She saved me from my path to one hundred bricks.

For Christmas this year, my daughter (who has given up on gifting me novels anymore because she said my writing hobby has ruined me as a reader) gave me a bread cookbook call BEARD ON BREAD, first published on Mole Day in 1973. Unlike my pie habit from last year with glorious heaps of meringue and brightly colored fruits, my bread blog entries might be bland and pale and tan, but I’m willing to give it a try.

Last weekend I made the first recipe in the book, called “Basic White Bread” on page 22. Unlike my memorized recipe, this loaf called for no butter or milk, and a flipped ratio of sugar to salt. I followed along like a neophyte.

I proofed the yeast.

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I mixed and kneaded the dough.

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I let the first rise occur in a buttered and covered bowl until doubled in bulk.

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I formed a loaf and let it rise again.

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I baked for twice as long as I’ve ever baked a loaf, and even preheated the oven for half an hour and left my pizza stone in there. I tapped the loaf to hear its hollowness and set it on the oven rack sans pan for a few extra minutes to finish the bottom crust.

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Then I served it with pasta. It smelled right and looked beautiful and tasted so bland and basic. It made me miss my memorized recipe.

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Next time I’ll try a sour dough recipe since I have never had success in that arena and I must learn some new tricks in 2019.

 

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>20 Pies in 2018 (and why setting goals is a bad idea)

I made more than 20 pies in about 40 weeks. I didn’t set a goal. I didn’t feel bad when I didn’t have time to bake or blog. I simply enjoyed baking and sharing these beauties, while messing up and learning.

In other decades of my life I have set goals–to train for a half marathon, to plan a new course, to lose weight, to finish a first draft of a novel. Routine and habits help me eat the elephant. But in every case, after days and weeks of making myself do the thing I used to enjoy, I’d hit a time when I just didn’t feel like doing the thing, but I’d kick myself into guilt for not doing it, and then feel bad about myself while I was doing it. In the end I always felt good that the thing got done, the elephant eaten, and all that jazz. There was just no need to make myself feel bad about something I was supposed to enjoy.

So, with this series of pies, I found my way to have a hobby that I love without feeling bad about the time it takes from my obligations. Sharing the pictures, the fun, the mistakes, the mess, and the taste of these pies from SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR was a highlight of my 2018 year. Here are my pies, and if you keep scrolling, I added a set of favorite pictures and bloopers.

When it can’t get any worse, you might as well smile and eat some pie.

I got a new cookbook yesterday as a gift from my daughter. It’s a bread cookbook, so someday soon stop by for a peek at Bread 1.0.

Pie 20.0

Pie 20.0

This is it. The absolute end of my pie blogging. (I think.)

Pie 20.0 is the first pie in my beloved SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook (so I made it last) and it’s called “Sweet Victory Pie.” I made this cherry delight because of its beautiful lattice crust and to bring to a party where the hostess said not to bring anything. When I’m the hostess and I say that to my guests, I mean it. Other hostesses say don’t bring anything but hope you’ll bring something. Turns out this hostess was in my club and she really didn’t need (or want) me to bring anything. (Remind me next year, ok? ‘Cause I’ll forget.)

The double crust dough was the normal recipe, made ahead and chilled in round disks. If I read ahead I would have seen a square disk would’ve been smarter. Next time.

The filling was just cherries and starch and sugar. I used frozen cherries because it’s December. They look kinda’ like meatballs, don’t they? I had a pot of meatballs and sauce going on the stove. Luckily, I didn’t mix them up. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson from Big Guy Strawberry Pie–I didn’t cook down the fruit and this one came out soupy, too. There’s only one slice left, so my pie eater has not become a connoisseur. Good thing.

I’d never made a lattice crust before. The directions had some laid-back comment about just cutting random widths, straight or curvy, just WTH… or be more precise, depending on your personality. Right. Just chilling in the kitchen. They suggested cutting 8 slices from a 10 inch square, and said the slices should be 1.5 inches wide. Apparently math is hard for laid-back folk: 10 divided by 1.5 will not produce 8 lattice pieces. I got out my tape measure and slide rule and pencil and paper, my pizza cutter and straight edge and log chart, and I measured my little engineer heart out.

I whipped the egg with water and brushed it on. Then I sprinkled on way too much of the expensive sugar. I’m just chill that way.

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I baked Pie 20.0 for a very long time. She came out pretty–I did hold her sideways over the sink to drain out a flood of juice. (Another benefit of the open lattice, dear novice bakers. I threw myself on the sword for you again)–and tasted fantastic with coffee.

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Pie 19.0-19.2

On Thanksgiving eve I was missing my sisters as I planned to bake Pie 19.0, so we all made the same pie in our distant kitchens! In New York, Pie 19.1 was whipped up. In North Carolina, Pie 19.2 was crafted. In the end, we made very similar pies with slight variations. Like sisters, our pies are clearly related, but not precisely the same–due to differences in experience, mood, “help,” and other life demands.

Pie 19.0 was a banana cream concoction named “Banana Cream Daydream Pie” from page 111 of the SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook. As noted in a previous post, in my kitchen Pie 19.0 and Pie 18.0 were concocted simultaneously.

The recipe called for a blind baked pie crust, but we all made a vanilla wafer crumb crust instead.

 

The filling was cooked to yummy thickness on the stove. Yes, we licked the pan.

 

Toffee bits and sliced bananas got layered on the crumb crust before adding the delicious pudding layer. The filled pie chilled for hours in the fridge before I whipped the cream for the top.

 

I whipped the topping with my mixer. See the lemon, pastry brush, and the green lemon squeezer beside the banana in the picture? I brushed fresh lemon juice on the banana slices for the top to keep them from browning.

 

In a kitchen in NY, my sister used a whisk to whip the cream. Somehow she churned butter instead.

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Here is Pie 19.0, made by me in SC. I brought this beauty to a Thanksgiving dessert and my neighborhood pie-eaters scarfed it up.

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Here is Pie 19.1, made by my sister in NY (the one who made the butter instead of whipped cream…looks like Reddi-wip!) Notice that her countertop is the same as mine!

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Here is Pie 19.2 made by my sister in NC. My, such a dainty crust.

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Next weekend I’ll make Pie 20.0 for a Christmas party!

Pie 18.0

Pie 18.0

Let’s cheer up this black Friday. The turkey drippings and butter have been wiped up, the pies cut, and the Alka Seltzer and Pepto consumed. We slept off whatever we overdrank or ate. Coffee pot is gurgling, dear husband (DH) still snoozing, and it’s time to blog a pie.

Pie 18.0, chosen by my DH and called “Life’s a Rocky Road Macadamia Mousse Pies” on page 141 in the SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook, was constructed in three dozen easy to follow steps side-by-side with Pie 19.0 (coming soon). I told you I can juggle.

First step: SHOP. Publix had everything I needed, including (to my delight) a dozen 4 ounce jelly jars.

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Second step: CHOP. Macadamia nuts are soft. I chopped a couple of cups to begin the mess.

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Next, I made a cookie dough, and baked 50 macadamia chocolate cookies. The chocolate was supposed to be white, but I used semi-sweet regular old chips. Only 15 cookies were actually needed for the “pies” so the cookie jar is full. DH declared them “really good” so the cookie recipe is on my short list now.

The cookies cooled, got crumbled, pulsed in the ancient blender and met up with some melted butter before they were squished in the bottom of the little jelly jars and baked for a few minutes.

I do try to use only the finest ingredients, but I am inherently frugal (aka cheap). I could not resist this grandiose claim on the cheapest vanilla bottle, reassuring me I wasn’t purchasing mere brown water.

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I’d like to add that my novels are presented by special request and are excellent quality products. Just FYI. In case you needed reassurance before spending a week reading them. They are not merely brown water either. But, really, why can’t authors self-promote when it’s acceptable (and even effective) for cheap vanilla distributors to do so? My books cost less than a bottle of brown water, they took decades to write, were revised and polished dozens of times, and painstakingly proofread and tweaked. And I can’t even claim they are excellent quality products? So silly.

OK, down from my soapbox now. The air was cool and refreshing up there. Read on if you will.

The filling had a whipped component folded into a creamy white chocolate concoction. Absolutely dreamy, but ruined (to my taste) by introduction of more chopped nuts. I might be nuts, but I don’t like ’em.

This white fluffiness got spooned over the double-baked cookie bottom in each jar. More crushed cookies and nuts were sprinkled on top. The jars were sealed closed and stored in the fridge.

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We took a few jars to a dessert gathering after Thanksgiving dinner. They were a hit. Another win in the record book of my virtual bakery.

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Pies 18.0 and 19.0 were created in parallel. That means I chopped nuts and sliced bananas in a concerted fashion. (My orgo students know “concerted” means “at the same time” and can imagine what my transition state looked like.) Alas, although I can make two concerted pies, I cannot blog them in unison. Pie 19.0, pending permission from two bakers/sisters/photographers, is coming soon. You won’t want to miss that story–it will be high quality as promised in black and while indelible ink, just like that indisputable non-fiction claim on the vanilla bottle.