The Bread of Death: A loaf dressed for mourning

10 Jul

I just finished the Leaving Cert, and I can safely say that it is cooking’s enemy.

The other day I made possibly my worst cauliflower curry to date – I don’t know what possessed me to follow a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe over Madhur Jaffrey’s unparalleled equivalent, but I hold my previous exams  at least partly responsible.

Today is also proof of my theory.

This morning, I set about making a basic dough. Plain flour (no strong in the cupboard, alas), a little wholemeal, water and yeast. Simple. So I kneaded it for about 10 minutes (at which point my upper arms were screaming in agony) and popped it into the airing cupboard for a relatively rapid rise.

The general idea is this: the warmer the atmosphere, the less time required for the prove, and vice-versa. My deadline was lunch, so unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of a long and lazy rise. In other words, I skipped the daytrip around the dusty byways of Provence, and opted for the autoroute.

But needs must, and I still had high hopes for this bread. In fact, I skipped a pleasant, non-figurative walk in the woods so I could knock it back, shape it and tend to it after its second prove. I burnt my hand trying to drag the pizza stone out of the scalding oven. I made sacrifices for it. It had officially become my baby.

So you can imagine how distraught I was when I overshot the timing. Not by a little, but by a long, Provençal country mile. I told my brother how long it had been baking, and then asked when I should take it out. ‘After about half an hour,’ he replied. ‘How long did you say it had been in?’

‘Fifty minutes.’

Cue smoky oven, blackened crust, and my horrified expression as I pulled my mangled child from what had turned out to be its own personal crematorium.

I swallowed, attempted to smile, but I swear I have rarely felt so devastated. I even had to go upstairs to release a very brief sob. Pathetic, I know. But anyway.

Anyway. The crumb luckily wasn’t affected too badly, and remained springy and quite delicious. Unfortunately, it was also dense, an issue that couldn’t even be excused by my timing error.  Shape-wise, it could’ve done with a little more height, but blackened shell aside, it looked very edible indeed. The diagonal score running down its length would have worked a treat, actually. The polenta and flour mixture I rubbed the dough with would’ve also been a nice touch.

I can safely say my lesson’s learned on the timing front.

But the crumb still worries me. While I’m working on a starter, I’ll experiment with a wetter dough, using roughly the same timing and kneading process. One variable at a time.

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