Monday, November 06, 2006

A Baking FRENZY...because I can!!

Friends, there was so much chaos last weekend because of the Halloween party that I have not had a proper chance to do the victory dance of a functioning oven (picture Roseanne Barr in her "Madonna-like leotard" from "Blonde and Bitchin," then when you've stopped snorting, I'll continue). I can't completely describe my deep, spiritual contentment as I pull out a tray of cookies after 15 minutes (the recipe said 12-15), and they are PERFECTLY done, caramel-brown on the bottom, and just turning golden on the top. Not scorched on one side and underdone on the other--but PERFECT! By the way, they were dang good cookies from my pal, Anna's website, not to mention, a handy way to use up extraneous Halloween candy that may be lingering about your house. Picture a peanut butter and honey cookie with a mini-Snickers inside. DELISH! So definitely check those out.

Then, of course, there was bread...oh yes, ridiculous amounts of bread. First, I made two white loaves from a poolish. But I accidentally fell asleep during the final proof, so they turned out tasty but squatty and unphotogenic (maybe YOU are!). But my second attempt of the weekend was a faaaabulous success. I made two loaves of the most byoo-tee-full sourdough challah. I would have never put those two things together, but it's delicious! You see, I was looking for an excuse to use some sourdough starter that I re-made this weekend. I had let my six-year-old King Arthur starter go bad at some point over the summer. But I always save some, dry it out, break it into pieces, and freeze it in case of just such an emergency. Then all you have to do is break it up more in the food processor, feed it with flour and a little honey or sugar and rehydrate it. Before you know, it will come back to yeasty, bubbly life, and you're back in baking business. Here's the recipe for the sourdough challah if you want to try your hand at it:

Sourdough Challah

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup very warm water (105 - 110 degrees F)
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast (I used instant)
1 Tablespoon honey
7+ cups bread flour (High gluten with a bit of barley flour-or unbleached all-purpose)
2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil (approximately)
1 egg yolk mixed with a few drops water
poppy seeds (I used black onion seeds)

Mix starter, water, yeast, and honey and let it bubble up while you do next step. In a large bowl mix 4 cups of the flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour/salt mixture and add eggs and oil. Add the frothy yeast mixture and stir with a thick-handled wooden spoon or paddle if you have one.

Add flour until the mixture pulls away from the bowl. It need not be smooth. Sprinkle flour on a counter or kneading board and put the dough in the middle. Scrape as much as you can from the mixing bowl and then wash the bowl for use in a later step. Knead the bread adding flour until it is smooth and elastic. It should feel like a baby's bare bottom when you pat it.

Place the dough in the mixing bowl which you have oiled. Cover with waxed paper and a tea towel and set it in a warm place to rise. It is ready when you can see your finger marks in the dough after you poke it. Turn it out on the board/counter and mash it down to remove large air bubbles. Braid into two or four loaves and place on oiled cookie sheets. Let rise for another half hour.

Set oven to 350F. Glaze leaves with egg yolk mixture and sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds. Bake for about a half hour rotating the trays in the oven. Loaves should sound hollow when thumped. Let cool.

And then, just when you think there couldn't possibly be any more bread, there was a knock on my door last evening as my own challah dough was still proofing. Mind you, we live in the middle of nowhere, and no one is ever just "in the neighborhood." But there on my doorstep was my beloved friend, June, bearing the most marvelous of gifts, a loaf of the infamous Z bread, still warm from the oven! Now I know the Good Book says that greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for another. But I'd say a very close second is the selfless act of baking the Z bread for a friend (without the hideous wrinkly bits they call raisins that I hate, it should be noted), and then immediately driving a half an hour north to deliver it, still warm and steamy to its intended consumer when she could have just given it to me today at work. That woman gets a free pass straight through the Pearly Gates for that utmost of loving acts! Just look at its glossy brown loveliness. And oy, the toast that it makes! Divine! Naturally, I swapped her for one of the challah loaves, as it was only right.

That has to be all, right? You'd think so! But even as I type, there is some sugar cookie dough chilling in the fridge, waiting to be rolled out and cut into cute little United States shapes for an election results gathering tomorrow night after pub trivia. Someone help me! I need an intervention! But remember, I have been ovenless for TWO MONTHS! Let me have my fun! Oh, and speaking of the elections, whatever your political persuasion or issue, please get out there and make your voice heard at the polls tomorrow. Despite the fact that this is a mid-term election, it is one of unprecedented importance. (Thus endeth the PSA...I've got more cookies to make.)

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