Saturday, January 30, 2010

Live graciously and well

Note to self: When a recipe suggests that a bigger container would be best for rising bread, either buy or find a bigger container.

I tried a new recipe for almost no-knead French baguettes. It's a simple recipe: water, flour, yeast and salt. There's very little kneading needed, but kneading with a dough hook is part of the process. I used the dough hooks on my hand mixer for the first time (it's a sticky dough) and got the exact result described in the recipe. It poured out of the mixing bowl into the oiled rising bowl pretty easily, but I also discovered why you add the flour to the water instead of the water to the flour in this kind of process; it's so all the flour is incorporated. Okay, so that went well. I covered the rising bowl, the biggest bowl I own, with plastic wrap and set the hole thing to rise on the stove for two hours. Since it's out of my usual line of sight, and I didn't think it was anything to worry about, I let it sit for two hours and came back. Boy, howdy, did the dough rise dramatically. It had spilled out of the bowl and down the sides, spilling over onto the burners and down the front of the stove. Lovely. I scraped the drying dough and tossed it down the sink and replaced the plastic wrap and put the whole thing into the refrigerator -- that was the next step in the process. The dough rests, and droops dramatically, in the cold temperature of the fridge and will keep there for a whole week, longer if its frozen at this stage. In a little while I'll quarter the dough and freeze two pieces, shaping the other two pieces into baguettes that will rise in two hours and soon bake into a fragrant, crusty outside and tender inside French baguette made in my own little American kitchen. So far, everything has worked out just the way the recipe detailed and it should taste just as good since I plan to make asparagus and eggs Benedict over toasted baguette pieces for breakfast tomorrow morning. I may even make a cassoulet tomorrow afternoon for dinner.

I was in a baking mood yesterday. It's all part of my relaxation program to de-stress from the work day. Baking and cooking relax me. I usually bake when I'm depressed and I cook massive quantities when I'm stressed. Cooking and baking are my version of therapy. Anger means I bake bread, the kind that needs to be kneaded, so I can take out my aggressive tendencies on the dough, so this almost no-knead bread works out pretty well since there's no one I felt like hitting yesterday. Kneading is also good exercise and I was on my feet enough yesterday and didn't need to pound dough.

Anyway, back to baking. I also baked Madeleines, with rose water since I didn't have any orange flower water on hand, for afternoon tea. That's another part of my relaxation program. The British have a good idea with afternoon tea. A cup of tea and baked goods, especially when they're home baked, are like a great big sigh after holding my breath all day. Just exhale -- bake, brew tea, sit down and enjoy.

Oh, Madeleines are tender little scallop shell shaped cakes that are golden brown on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. They're simple to make and the trick is in thoroughly beating eggs, a small amount of sugar and the flower water until it is light and quadrupled in volume. After that flour is folded in, just one cup of cake flour or organic soft red wheat flour, and four tablespoons of butter. The pan looks like scallop shells and it's buttered thickly (helps with the golden crust) and the batter is spooned into the molds. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 12 minutes and turn out onto a cooling rack, dust with confectioners' sugar and eat while warm. With a cup of Earl Grey tea, they are just the right touch for slowing down and exhaling. I've only made Madeleines once, that was yesterday, and they were wonderful -- even if I do say so myself.

It all comes down to gracious living. Gracious living doesn't necessarily mean expensive or ostentatious, but living well, treating yourself like royalty and taking the time to just sit down and enjoy a cup of tea and a few Madeleines, scones, crumpets or a gourmet meal. Gourmet can be as simple as cornbread and beans simmered all day with a bit of salt pork or bacon with a glass of ice cold buttermilk or as lavish and cassoulet or a prime rib dinner with a glass of wine and a decadent dessert. Even poached eggs, steamed asparagus, toasted baguette and Hollandaise sauce can be an elegant meal. It's all about attitude and using the best ingredients available, quality over quantity.

Well, it's time to divide the dough and get the loaves ready for baking. I'm looking forward to a sandwich on home baked bread.

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