Staff of Life

In food on 02/01/2010 at 5:32 pm

My foodie adventures have recently been stymied by my other life – work. Well, I’m done delivering babies out of every orifice, whether natural or artificial or somewhere in between, and this week I start treating the little critters outside their cozy wombs. 

The other half has been busy shuffling paperwork into wee hours of the evening for the Man. Our resident desk jockey is also quite proficient at shortcuts/ mysteries of Excel. So on our only weekend off this past month, we bought a bread machine. It’s the slow cooker for foodies.

This one was the only model available on a stretch of route 22 that’s really an endless strip mall. The other half postulated a Sears must exist somewhere nearby…lo and behold, there she was, a squat, broad concrete building wherein the basement coughed up our stainless steel treasure.

One summer in college, I sublet an apartment in Cambridge that came with its own bread machine. Incidentally, it was in the same neighborhood as Julia Child’s house. I don’t know whether the happiness I enjoyed those three months was from eating fresh baked bread with no fuss, or catching a glimpse of the hulking legend ambling down the street.

Since then I’ve tried making bread from scratch, but those pesky yeasty beasties are petulant if they aren’t kept warm. Then they go on strike, so the dough never rises. Even in the summertime it just never gets warm in that mythical ‘warm spot’ in the kitchen. The proof goes *poof.*

Our resident baker tested our new bread machine with its inaugural innocuous loaf: white pullman. It took about 3 hours from start to finish. The mixing mode was slightly noisy, and we tried dampening the sound by putting cork coasters under the feet. I requested some added goodies, oats, nuts or berries, but was overruled due to the Rule Of Following The Recipe Before We Mess With It.

As we were purchasing our new toy, one of the saleswomen interrupted our transaction and asked, what is the point of a bread machine? I mean, does it really bake the bread?  Uh…yes, it is a machine invented for the purpose of magically producing an edible loaf of bread from raw flour and friends. Or you could just take advantage of it for its proofing power and make biscuits, rolls, or doughy dinosaurs in a conventional oven. Our particular model also makes jam. I bet I could rig it to braise a nice beef stew too.

Yesterday we searched in vain for a crunchy granola mother Earth store where we could buy lil’ bits o’ things to add into future loaves. But of course, either nothing was open or within driving distance. We even ventured into the overrated Ironbound district of boo-tiful Newark, New Jersey (or so says one enthusiastic conductor of the often unreliable NJ Transit) – think Harlem meets downtown Astoria. We ended up road trippin’ down to Princeton to a less than optimal organic store that didn’t even sell jars of yeast.

My planned photo-op of a bountiful counter cornucopia of nuts n’ berries didn’t pan out. You’ll just have to settle for this:

Basic All-Purpose Farmhouse Loaf
1 1/2 cups water + 2T
3 cups white bread flour
3/4 cup wheat bread flour
1 Tbsp buttermilk powder (or regular milk powder if you can’t find)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter, diced
1 pkg instant active dry yeast (or 1 1/2 tsp)
1 Tbsp high gluten powder

Pour water into bread pan. Make sure pan securely fastened in machine.

Sprinkle flour to cover water, then milk powder.

Place salt, sugar and butter in separate corners of pan.

Add yeast in small well in middle of flour.

Sprinkle high gluten over top of everything.

Close lid and set to “basic white/normal” loaf, loaf size = 1.5lb, crust type = medium.

When machine beeps during kneading cycle, pause machine to put in optional add-ins, i.e. chopped sun-dried tomatoes, shredded cheese, jalapenos, chocolate chips, seeds, etc…

Try not to eat the whole loaf when it’s done in ~4hrs.

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