A quiet weekend here at String. Work made some inroads into it, but I had enough time to catch up on some much-needed household maintenance, and even to shovel out a little bit of family-spoiling. To that end, I baked homemade bread, and made flour/salt dough for Younger Daughter to play with. Older Daughter wasn’t interested, but appreciated that Younger Daughter was otherwise occupied for most of the weekend. And both ate the bread.
The immediate inspiration for the bread adventure was Rose Levy Birnbaum’s Real Baking blog. In particular – her recipe for Baby Hot Pot Bread. I’ve made bread before, but I’ve always been very disappointed in the result. To date my breads have been cakey and crumbly, with none of the crunchy crust or stretchy, chewy goodness/hole-filled interior that I like. I got the closest with various Challah recipes. Although good they weren’t what I was looking for.
Rosie’s bread looked too good and too easy not to try. I admit I mercilessly slaughtered her recipe. I did all sorts of things that should have totally sabotaged it. I doubled the recipe because my in-house bread vultures would scarf down one tiny loaf in one meal. Not a good thing to do because in baking ingredient proportions don’t always scale. I substituted a half a cup of whole wheat flour for some of the flour in the recipe because I had it in the house and wanted to use it up. Again not an ideal practice as different flours have different properties. And for that matter, I didn’t use the flour specified. I used King Arthur all purpose, which again is what I had in the house. I didn’t have a Silpat baker’s mat, but I did have a flexible plastic cutting board that served the same purpose, and I only had one cast-iron Dutch oven, so I used a Le Creuset 5.5 quart lidded pot for the second loaf.
But none of these were my biggest challenge. That was the ambient temperature of my house. It’s far too cool here for optimal rising. The usual solution for this is to put the rising dough in the oven with just the oven light turned on. My oven light doesn’t heat the oven enough. I investigated all sorts of alternatives – even writing to Rose for advice. Since I didn’t have the time or resources to build a proofing box, I ended up doing a combo of things, depending on the time of day and what heat resources were available. I turned the oven on very low and put the bowl on top of the stove, covered with a towel. Later I moved it next one of our hot water radiators, again tented with towels. My last resort would have been putting it (well wrapped against dust) on top of our furnace in the basement. To make up for the borderline temperatures, I ended up letting the thing sit for longer than suggested. My first rise lasted more like 24 hours than 18. The second rise was also temperature-challenged. It went very slowly. I don’t think my loaves ever achieved their potential full volume.
My warmth seeking machinations, the wrong combo of flours, messing with the rise times and other aberrations did not leave me with a high level of confidence when I dumped my two misshapen mini-loaves into their respective pots for final baking. But the recipe is a robust one, able to survive even me. My loaves were perhaps a bit more dense than optimal, but lovely. A very firm, crisp crust; a stretchy, strongly flavored interior, full of holes; no scorching (I was afraid of this given the heat of the pots). And no baking stone full of corn meal, flour, or other burnt crumbs to clean up.
I present the less photogenic of my two efforts. We ate the prettier loaf last night. The sliver of the heel off the narrowest part of my poorly formed bread is just enough to barely make out the airy holes.
The play dough we made was of the uncooked flour and salt variety: About 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt, .25 cup of cooking oil, and about 1 cup of water (we started with 3/4 of a cup but found we needed more). We didn’t bother to color it, knowing that the final product would be baked along with the bread and painted when cool. Here are some of the results. Smaller Daughter saw this entry in the Craft magazine blog, and went on to make her much larger Ninja Valentine statue:
Knitting? I did some of that, too. My Sarah James Ribbed Leaf Sweater back is long complete, and the front is finished to about three inches above the bottom of the armholes.
Rather than give you yet another poorly photographed misshapen object to contemplate, I mark my progress using a visual of the sweater pattern’s own illustration, with a convenient line of demarcation.
Now it’s back to work. The forecast this week is “heavy deadlines, with the possibility of a mid-week blizzard.” February is such a joy.
I haven’t tried it myself, but you might look at a heating pad (they sell them at the CVS for $15 or so) and an inverted cardboard box as a bread dough incubator. I imagine you could control the heat by cutting vents in the box…? Just some thoughts.