Samuel’s 2013 Great Baking Escapade!: Virginia Woolf’s Cottage Loaf

February 13th, 2013; Preferment:

Well I’m happy to say that the first part of my first escapade of Samuel’s 2013 Great Baking Escapade! is done and sitting quietly in my refrigerator.

For my first baking escapade it seemed only right to start with something that combined my favorite writer and one of my favorite baked items: Virginia Woolf and bread. When I found Paper and Salt‘s post about this cottage loaf I was happier than a Tea Party Representative at a 15th century witch burning. I knew that I had to bake it.

After several weeks of putting off any large baking ventures (waaah, I’m moving in, waaaah, I’m looking for a job, waaaah, I have to start the Common Application, waaaaaaaahhh) I finally forced myself to buckle down and get started. I’m giving my friend a birthday dinner on Thursday (home-fries, nutmeg-cinnamon pancakes, scrambled eggs, ginger spice cake) and this seemed like the perfect time to offer up a Virginia Woolf bread (they’re fans of Ms. Woolf as well.) Despite having baked very few breads before, and none on while unsupervised by my mother, I set my mind to getting my ingredients and getting this bread baked. After all, the whole point of this Escapade! is to challenge myself to get comfortable baking items that I’m unfamiliar with.

There's nothing like switchell to make your roommates want to vomit.

Make your roommates vomit!

Like any good Vermonter feeling under the weather I made certain that I had my mug of switchell close at hand while I began to prepare the preferment. The first trouble that I ran into was when I realized that I didn’t have a shifter. Damn it, I knew I should’ve stolen my parents when I moved down here. Being the resourceful Yankee that I am I ended up using a fork and I think that it came out just grand.

When I say that not having a shifter was my first problem what I meant was, “The only problem that I ran into…” Honestly this part of the baking process was fairly straight forward and I think I can safely say (knock on morning wood) that I nailed it. It was wonderful to knead the preferment as I haven’t had to knead dough since… well, the day before Christmas I punched down my mother’s babka dough for her and that’s the closest I think I’ve gotten to kneading dough in years. I’d forget how much I love working my hands into the dough. It’s different than working out cookie dough as the bread dough feels alive. Maybe it’s the yeast or the way it clings to your hands or some cosmic force (I like to think that if there is a/are deity(ies) out there they’re bread bakers, it just fits perfectly in my mind.) but it’s hard not to think of bread as sentient as you work the dough.

It's alive! Quick, Spock, concuss it with the wooden spoon before it eats Checkov!

It’s alive! Quick, Spock, concuss it with the wooden spoon before it eats Checkov!

Here’s a brief intermission where I tell you a yeast anecdote. I went through a pretty intense militant animal rights phase when I was in sixth grade. My passion for the rights of our oppressed brethren knew no bounds (except, you know, not eating them) and I was a real dick about it. During some science class our teacher brought up the fact that yeast is technically an animal (I don’t know, that’s how sixth-grade me processed it), forever changing my life.

Horrified that we would keep a living animal in the cold of our fridge I went home and immediately liberated these little fellow from their frigid entrapment. Commandeering a small bowl for my purpose I added warm water and then released the yeast! I was a hero! All I needed to do was make certain that their water was nice and warm and I would have my own yeast sanctuary. Bonus: I’d also have my own pets to talk to and play with! I was a very lonely child.

My pets lasted for several hours and then while I slept their water temperature dropped. Whichever parent was up first that next morning tossed out my bowl of now dead friends (probably while wondering what my resale value was) and then I woke up and ate breakfast and went to school and didn’t think about the yeast again until just a few years ago. Wow, who wouldn’t want me as their child?

I'm a good Vermonter.

I’m a good Vermonter.

I’ve mentioned this before but I get anxious pretty quickly. The instant I reached the step where I was told to let the dough rest at room temperature for an hour I started to think of everything that could go wrong. Maybe I used the wrong yeast. What if I was too rough with the kneading? I’d probably destroyed everything with my improv shifter. It was at this point where I  realized that if my dough didn’t rise than I’d been a terrible parent.

My dough did rise. Not as much as I was expecting it to but it did rise. So I guess I’m not a terrible parent. With that weight off of my shoulders I put saran wrap over my baby and placed it gently into the fridge. Someone get me a parent of the year mug!

SUCH a good Vermonter!

SUCH a good Vermonter!

February 14th, 2013; The Baking:

Producing bread is one of life’s miracles. What else can you call the rising of bread from just flour, salt, water and yeast? The part of this miracle that I love the most is the fact that it’s a day-to-day miracle. You don’t need to wait for divine intervention or take a pilgrimage to a far-off location, you only need grains and heat.

Forgive me if I wax poetical but the bread that I baked was just that good.

Down you miserable peasants! I will beat you down!

Down you miserable peasants! I will beat you down!

During the mixing and kneading I was entirely in control. My kitchen was my kingdom and no peasant was going to challenge my right to rule. Might is right! MIGHT IS RIGHT! Vive le feudal system! Feudal power relations, these are the things that I think about while kneading bread. Relaxing.

7The peasant uprising came when I had to let the dough sit. Do you know how hard it is for me to sit back and let the natural process of yeast reacting to warmth work on its own? It’s fucking hard. It doesn’t help that I have basically no spatial relationships so when I’m told to let the dough rise to twice its original I get easily frustrated. The dough could quadruple in size and I’d still be wondering if it was really any bigger. In the end I had to make an executive decision allowing me to make my own decision as to what “double in size” actually meant. The only thing that got me through my harrowing adventure in nerve-wracking fear was how pretty the cloth covering the dough was.

My executive decision made I broke the dough into two balls, approximately 2/3 and 1/3 of the total dough (and when I say approximately I mean really badly approximated) and stacked them.With a prayer and a kiss and a shot of switchell for my nerves I put the dough into the oven and then promptly panicked until it was done. My oven’s a bit funky so I had to put the bread back in a few times but soon it was ready. The result of my not so accurate measurements for making the stacked balls ended up with the top ball becoming top-heavy and rolling off. I ended up with two loafs of bread, not that bad at all.

The finished bread was eaten warm and with soft butter. Six of us tore into it, cracking the solid crust to get at the soft center. At first I afraid that the rigidity of the crust was a result of my over-cooking it but I think that’s the way it was meant to be. I adore a good crust on a bread and this one was supremely satisfying. Here’s some photos because I’m a proud parent:

8 9 10

We also had cake.


Samuel’s 2013 Great Baking Escapade! is my adventure to explore new recipes that I haven’t tried before.

2 responses to “Samuel’s 2013 Great Baking Escapade!: Virginia Woolf’s Cottage Loaf

  1. Shifter or sifter?

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