Category Archives: Food

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.

11

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

Pancakes Are My Nicotine Patches

There’ll be no Sunday Steals today. Why? Because it’s my sodding blog, you buggering piece of– Alright, I never got around to making the list for today and I feel the need to write about pancakes.

Lately I’ve not been baking as much as I would like and it’s bumming me out. Not only have I done nothing related to Samuel’s 2013 Great Baking Escapade but I’ve done no real baking. Since moving to Amherst I’ve produced two cakes and… yeah, that’s it… When I made the move I had some delusion that because I was temporarily unemployed I’d suddenly have so much more time to bake. Well, first I had to get my life organized and then as my temporary unemployment became longer than I hoped for I realized that I didn’t have the financial resources to get buy all the flour, sugar, eggs, etc. that I wanted.

Pancakes have been getting me through.

I’ve known about the link between my depression and baking since high school. The alchemy of mixing and measuring has a soothing effect on my mood instability. When my mood crashes and dark clouds roll across my eyes I am buoyed up by the art of baking. My depression comes with a crippling sense that I’m losing control and producing a pie helps me. The first part of baking, the measuring and mixing, helps me establish a grip of control and the second part, placing the pan of pale yellow goop into the heat, helps remind me that there are some things I can’t control. My baking helps keep me to be happy and I’ve not been as attentive to it as I should be.

Like I said, pancakes have been helping me.

Yes, they’re not the cakes that one can frost and slice and serve after a nice roast but they’re useful. Though I can’t afford to be producing all the cakes and cookies that I’d like to I can afford to make a pancake dinner for myself or serve up some pancakes to my roommates on occasion. They’re simple and delicious and open themselves up to exploration. The recipe that I like best is the Joy of Cooking recipe. Please hold on with me

while I go on a brief tangent: When I started university and was separated from my parents’ severely battered edition I turned to Google to get my pancake recipe. What I ended up finding was a highly enjoyable Yahoo Answer’s request for the recipe I wanted. Not only did it provide me with the information that I wanted but I also got my daily dose of snark. Here’s a screenshot:

If you can't read this screenshot than click through to the source.

Look at how angry the original poster is when they realize that Charles C is lying to them. Look at how angry Charles C is when accused of lying. The bitterness that Charles C uses when spitting out “Happy?” is so visceral, so acidic that you can feel it burn. God I love the internet.

Let’s face it. We can all agree that this recipe needs vanilla extract. Now when it comes to adding vanilla extract to my baking mixtures I’m not a big fan of measuring. I just dump it in until I think it’s good and ready.  As I’ve begun itching to bake creatively I’ve started experimenting with what else gets dumped in. My roommate’s re-hydrated blueberries, Smucker’s raspberry jam, cinnamon and nutmeg, etc. Now that I’ve been bitten with the pancake bug everything I look at has started to look like it can go into a pancake. Ground beef? Why not! Yogurt? That’s an old one! Acrylic yarn? Bring it on! Fruit? That’s also an old one! Avocado? Fuck yeah!

What do you like to put in your pancakes? Greasy grimy gopher guts, perhaps? Chopped up birdie’s feet, maybe? Mutilated monkey meat, possibly? Let me know, I’d love some more ideas.

Look, this pancake came out a bit like a heart. It's probably a sign or something, I dunno. I do know that it was delicious and wonderfully nutmegy and cinnamony.

Look, this pancake came out a bit like a heart. It’s probably a sign or something, I dunno. I do know that it was delicious and wonderfully nutmegy and cinnamony.

Well, It Started as a “Crumb Top Coffee Cake”

Body achy? Yup.

Tired? Exhausted.

Short tempered? Hoo boy.

Reclusive? Piss off.

Looks like my depression is flaring up after a good two weeks or so of keeping it at bay. Time to bake a fucking cake.

My cupboard isn’t overflowing with supplies and my cookbooks were accidentally left behind in my move fifteen days ago but here comes Supercook.com to the rescue! Discovering that there’s a website where you put in your ingredients and it generates a list of recipes that only need those ingredients was a beautiful moment in my culinary-internet life. Still curled up in bed under my quilt I tell Supercook that I’ve got baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, eggs, flour, milk, molasses, nutmeg, peanut butter, sugar and vanilla. After then telling it that I’d like a cake recipe, particularly a crumb cake, a list of six crumb cake recipes collected from various websites is provided.

I ended up using Food.com’s “Crumb Top Coffee Cake” but once I realized that  I just wanted to dump everything into my Bundt pan and screw the whole crumb top I began to deviate from the recipe. And by deviate I mean dump in a bunch of spices without measuring them. Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and ginger (my go-to cake spices) all ended up in the cake batter and were followed by generous amounts of vanilla and lemon extract. In retrospect I do wish I’d cut back on the flour and added a second egg just to compensate for the fact that I didn’t set aside half the mixture for the topping.

That being said I am fairly pleased with the resulting cake. Sure, the edges are a bit, mmm, crispier than I’d like but it’s so light and fluffy and I can’t wait to toast a slice and put some butter on this. Also, considering the fact that I didn’t measure my spices I am in awe of the fact that it’s tasty and doesn’t taste like ginger vomit. I’d recommend pairing this cake with a big ol’ mug of sweet tulsi tea sweetened with some honey. Why that pairing? I dunno, that’s what I was drinking when I was eating.

One day I'll have a camera that isn't shit. Or maybe I'll learn proper lighting. Ha!

One day I’ll have a camera that isn’t shit. Or maybe I’ll learn proper lighting. Ha!

Samuel’s 2013 Great Baking Escapade Master List

In 2013 I vow to bake everything on this list at once. By affixing an image of Julia Child and her husband Paul together in a bathtub to this post I do affirm that I have never before attempted to bake any item on this list, that I will bake every item on this list before the year is out and that I will blog about each baking attempt. So say we all.

The 2013 Great Baking Escapade Master List (Updated As Needed)

Christmas Baking

This Christmas I’m getting* crafty. Hand knitted scarves, linoleum block stamps, jars of cookie dough and similar gifts. A few of my relatives are getting a miscellany of baked goods in festive tins. These are the recipes that I’ll be using to make this yuletide gay:

*”Dark and Damp Molasses Cake” (TheKitchn.com): Yeah, I know it’s a really bad idea to use untested recipes for gifts but I lost the molasses cake recipe that I used to have and it was an emergency and I have relatives who are kind of fond of molasses and I love baking with molasses and this sentence needs to be done. The warning that this cake is for serious molasses fans only is not to be taken lightly. I’d also like to remind people that this cake should be taken out of the oven when the timer goes off. There was a lot going on when I was doing my baking and I might’ve left it in the for a few extra minutes. The extra minutes only make the edges a bit harder than I would’ve like but the taste wasn’t damaged.

*”Gateau A L’Orange” (Orange Spongecake) (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, link to WeekendCooking.wordpress.com): This cake was my second recipe from Mastering and it’s a really simple recipe. Without the whole beating-the-egg-whites-into-peaks bit this is actually one of the easiest recipes I can think of. The result is delicious although I can’t vouch for the recommended orange frosting as I’ve never actually attempted it, I keep meaning to but…

*”Golden Eggs” (Confections of  a Closet Master Baker, link to epicurious.com): I first came across this recipe in Gesine Bullock-Prado’s wonderful (and delicious) memoir/cookbook. The batter produces a rich nutmeg-y product that I bake into cakes rather than the muffins/eggs that Ms. Bullock-Prado recommends. I’ve found that this batter fits into an 11×7-in baking dish with enough leftover to make a little cake with my heart-shaped baking dish (45 minutes or so should be good). The cinnamon, sugar and butter mixture that’s intended for making the eggs extra lovely can be made into a nice streusel topping for the cakes. Also, I get that epicurious.com is a cool website and all but if it’s possible y’all need to get your hands on a copy of Confections (local bookstores anyone?).

*”Easy No-Chill Cookies” (Food.com): I used this recipe for the first time last weekend when it suddenly hit me that I was going to leave for my friend’s in a few hours and I didn’t have time to let sugar cookie dough I needed for her present** to rest in a refrigerator. Google came to my rescue and now here I am. The recipe is pretty straightforward but learn from my mistakes and make sure that the dough is even when rolled out; I had some cookies come out much thinner than others and they became a very nice shade of crispy black while their thicker siblings were lovely.

*Look at me not using the past tense. Good on you for noticing that! Here’s a cookie. I’m writing this paragraph on the Sunday before Christmas but I’m posting this on the Wednesday after Christmas to prevent sensitive gift related information leaking to the wrong sources (Yes, by wrong sources I totally mean FIS agents. Getting my gift related information is a main priority for the KGB’s successor.)

**I made a variety of sex-positivity sugar cookies for her. These cookies included ones shaped liked penises, vaginae (This is the only plural form that Google Chrome’s spell-check will accept. Does anyone know anything about this?) and breasts, as well as a few labelled “Patriarchy” and “Slut Shaming” (Why fuck the patriarchy when you can eat it instead?). I was very proud of my work. This is me making the “Patriarchy” cookie:

Photo credit to Madeleine Madigan. Check out her Facebook page.