When I was fresh out of university I moved away to the big city and found myself living far away and feeling nostalgia for home baking. I bought myself a few cook books, including a giant book of cookie recipes.Continue reading “Honey Oat Grizzly Cookies”
On day one hundred and seventy of my temporary working from home I attended a meeting where I was told to think about how I was going to transition to a permanent working from home scenario. That’s corporate-speak for things just got real, so maybe buy a comfortable chair and clean up your home office because you’re going to be there for a while.
We started making pandemic sourdough on the same afternoon I came home from the office. I’d stopped at the grocery store and there was literally no flour to buy and the shelves were half-bare. It was a reaction to the reality that we had enough supplies to bake a few dozen loaves of bread if… y’know… nothing else was available.
Things have settled.
We wear a mask to the store, limit our visits to once per week, and the shelves are nearly fully stocked if with some weird items sometimes being limited or quietly missing. Groceries are 99% normal even if the experience of getting them is not.
But I still like my sourdough, and we’ve bought barely enough store bread to fill a reusable shopping bag in the nearly six months of pandemic-mode living. When last night I pulled loaves 83 and 84 from the oven it was just another evening baking exercise, so routine now that I was fitting it in between other things.
The Kid has requested softer crusts, so I bake at a lower, longer temperature.
The proofs are a little more casual, and my rises need some work and better timing.
The loaf pans could use some TLC, but have become a permanent fixture on the counter because they’re rarely cool long enough to both putting into a cupboard.
And bread, and bread, and more bread.
Eighty four loaves of pandemic sourdough, and where I once thought a hundred seemed far fetched, it now seems inevitable — and not even the final milestone on the “Achievement Unlocked!” badge for covid-themed cooking.
…I really should have been more serious about making jam.
In the early 2000s, shortly after that movie Love, Actually became a kind of holiday film phenomenon, the Wife and I took a trip to the UK. On her travel bucket list for our trip was to locate a slice of “Banoffee Pie” which was not something that had made it’s way over to Canada, but had been mentioned in passing in a scene of the movie.
Small ideas can drive life long adventure, and one of my stories of this is wrapped around a slice of banana and toffee pastry.
Banoffee Pie has some variation in it’s composition, but the basic recipe seems to be this: a graham cracker crust is painted with a generous slosh of dulce de leche (a kind of condensed-milk liquid toffee-equse bit of heaven in a can) filled with sliced bananas and topped with sweet whipped cream. It turns out it is amazing. Every time I make a banoffee pie it disappears with compliments and people asking what the hell was that and can I have the recipe?
Until recently, however, dulce de leche was not just something that was easy to come by. Sure, it can be made at home, but with some risk that involves the potential for explosions and minor kitchen destruction. Now, in Canada at least, it’s part of a very small product line by a company that also makes condensed milk — they just caramelize some of it and sell it as this nectar of the gods.
The result tastes so close to banoffee pie, even aligning some of the textures with the crunch and the swirl, that even after just a few bites I’m debating, but I think this may be my preferred banoffee format. I think. Either that or I just invented the worlds most perfect ice cream flavor.
So it goes that four and half months into this pandemic … quarantine … lockdown … work-from-home experiment … I’ve baked my six-dozenth loaf of sourdough bread.
I think at one point I joked about reaching one hundred before this was all over. That joke might be on me. Be careful what you wish for, some say.
Seventy-two loafs of pandemic sourdough into the effort, however, it’s still possible to claim to have learned a little bit more, grown a little more, stretched the mind along with the dough. I even bought a lame to score my loaves. It’s getting serious.
(Not that I ever claimed expertise … merely routine and repetition.)
But as a matter of fact, since my last sourdough update I’ve become a little obsessed with the notion of bakeries. The prospect of economic collapse, unlikely but non-zero-probability of job loss, and the ever-present inspiration granted by the voyeurism of obsessive YouTube-watching means I have put more than passing thought into a what-if question of quitting it all and opening a quiet neighbourhood bread factory. Brad becomes baker.
Such notions were leavened from watching internet videos of passionate small-city bakers extolling the simple complexities of waking up each day with the sole purpose of baking bread. Obsession. Mission. Enlightened existence.
I’m not ready, but if I need to step away from the digital services career path I’m on, maybe an apprenticeship in a local bakery would scratch some kind of mid-life itch. I’d need a good bakery name though. Bread. Name. Business plan.
If nothing else, watching all that ‘tube had the benefit of providing one simple bit of advice: a trick to get me past my lumpy dough. The generic flour I was using lately was especially bad for it, but often I’m plagued by the early mix of water and flour resulting in pea-sized lumps of clumping flour that need to be kneaded smooth. The less-than-obvious but-it-works trick is reversing the order of operations for mixing the ingredients. Really. Rather than adding water to flour … bah-da-boom … adding flour to water. No lumps. I can’t explain it, but five batches of five have proven this viable as a fix. (I’ll update after more data is available.) Who knew?
Well … a real baker that’s who.
For now, however, I’ll merely pursue my at-home bakeshop, small scale operation, where seventy-two loaves of pandemic-style sourdough sandwhich bread is still an impressive feat.