Monday, 16 November 2009
Making bread, breaking teeth . . .
I was reading a post by Cate from 'Show My Face' and it reminded me of our forays into making bread.
It simply isn't true that all you have to do is follow the recipe and success is guaranteed. I tried and Barry tried. Now I'm accustomed to my efforts failing. Usually it's because I've lost interest in the whole venture half-way through or started reading a book or made some telephone calls. Perhaps I haven't got all any of the correct ingredients and those I have substituted are incompatible with each other or occasionally usually simply wrong. I mean, have you ever tried using pickled onions instead of fresh?. . . when poaching white fish? It might even be because I've had a glass several glasses of wine. That brings to mind the jokey card which depicts a woman declaring, 'I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.'
I start with enthusiasm for part of the process. It may be that I've found a recipe while having my hair rearranged by the hairdresser. (I hate going to the hairdresser, of which more for another time.) I will have written scribbled the whole procedure and, relieved at escaping from the hair salon (why salon? Why not workshop?) I have gladly traipsed the food aisles in search of ingredients. Of course, by the time I reach home, I've lost any passion I briefly felt because a) the ingredients I needed weren't available; b) I couldn't read my scrawl (I've never quite grown out of that childhood phase of trying to make my writing look adult which implies writing very fast and apparently fluently) c) the queues at the check-outs were so long I decided to use the self-service check-out which failed on every second item in my basket; d) I forgot where I'd parked the car and had to search (it's a long walk home!) e) all vehicles on the road (apart from mine) were being driven by brainless idiots who wouldn't give way to a herd of charging elephants; f) I'm so hungry and tired that I just grab bread and cheese and fling something easy in the oven.
It's relatively recently, in the last few years, that I've discovered that I can actually produce edible food and sometimes it even tastes delicious. My family learnt a long time ago to be sparing in their praise of anything remotely palatable as the chances were that I'd be so thrilled relieved that I'd reproduce it day after day. It's no surprise that all our children have become excellent cooks – they realised early on that the only way to avoid serious digestive disturbances was to cook for themselves as soon as they could reach the worktops. They learnt their skills from their father. Barry is an imaginative and enterprising cook. He tastes as he goes and tweaks the mix accordingly. I never rarely taste – that way you may be sure none of my germs go into the concoction. The downside of this is that pretty much all my dishes taste the same. They all contain garlic in great quantities as that is good for your heart and also disguises overwhelms the slightly overdone burnt taste.
Anyway, back to the bread – I carefully obeyed all the instructions and left the dough to rise in a place neither too warm nor too cold. The allotted time passed and I peeked expectantly at the soon-to-be-bread. The dough had not moved. It lay sullenly in the dish, staring up at me resentfully. I covered it and left it for a little long while more. Without much optimism I gazed again on its sulky face – nothing, zilch, zero – and thus it remained, as cold and hard and heavy as stone.
Barry's efforts were suitably rewarded with gracefully rising promises of treats to come. Triumphantly eagerly he placed his splendid results in the oven, neatly separated into small mounds, for we were to have rolls. They baked and filled the house with the unforgettable and mouth-watering smell of fresh bread and we duly salivated. The plate bearing the delicacies was brought to the fireside and we each took an offering. 'Mmmm, tasty, lovely, delicious . . . ' Many and varied were the compliments as we bit into the rolls. The initial mouthful was indeed delectable – dense, chewy – yes, excessively chewy. In fact it seemed to take took quite a very long time to reduce the first bite to a form in which it could be swallowed. Visions of snakes swallowing elephants came to mind. We struggled gamely on, the children and I, reluctant to hurt Barry's feelings. He was still happily munching but after a while even he had to admit defeat. I think he managed to consume one complete roll. All thoughts of further food that day disappeared. We were replete, sated, stuffed!
Strangely, we didn't attempt to make bread for some considerable time until we bought a bread maker. Now that is the way to produce home-made bread. Yes, it's cheating and no it's not the same – it is infinitely better. Even so beware, it's still possible to fail. Forget one of the ingredients – not usually the flour, it's true – and the whole thing founders but it is a great deal more reliable than handmade home-made bread, at least in our house!