I started this morning with the full intention of making a loaf of bread, after a successful loaf made last week, despite over-proofing it; chocolate chip cookies, for part of the cookie-making fat debate I have going on for later publishing; and hard-boiled eggs, because there are a little over three dozen eggs in the fridge, 30 of which are farm fresh and need to be used up. All before I needed to get supper on the table, and tonight’s a church night, so I was on a little more of a time limit. I scalded my milk, melted the butter and dissolved sugar while I measured out a cup and a half of bleached flour and three and a half cups of white-wheat flour and mixed it up to warm (I keep flour in the freezer – that may change). I got distracted by stuffing envelopes and sticking address labels (upcoming baby shower), and so when I got back to the milk mixture, the butter had made a skin on top. No big deal – I just warmed it back up to melt, and added my yeast as directed. Last time, I let the yeast sit on top and proof – not this time. This time I got the bright idea to mix it in. I think that may have killed it, because it didn’t proof nearly as well this time as last – instead of a foamy yeast head, there were little blobs of yeast floating in butter and milk. Soldiering on.
I slowly added the milk mixture to the flour, thinking the whole time that I would need to add the whole mix because the air was cooler and drier than last week, and I was working with wheat, so I could definitely use the extra moisture in proofing. I even added an extra teaspoon of yeast to the flour and mixed it in, hoping that even though the proofed yeast didn’t proof well, the extra yeast would help while the dough was rising. The dough got shaggy, and looked too wet, so I stopped short by several tablespoons, and set the dough out to knead before first rise. Even then, I knew something wasn’t right – the dough soaked that “over extra” moisture right up, and felt a little too heavy and rough. Soldiering on.
I am, no question, a complete sucker for laminated pastry. I love tearing a horn off a croissant and biting into There is a small French bistro-type franchise in East Cobb called La Madeleine, that Mom and I must go to in order to have a proper visit over lattes and croissants, maybe a quiche. For a franchise, its pastries are delightful, thankfully fresh-baked every day. The Bunnery in St. Augustine, FL has every manner of pastry and baked sweet I could want; their croissants are as big as an appetizer plate, and you have to get there early to appreciate them fresh and warm from the oven. (Their coffees are equally huge-sized, and the specialty beverages artfully done.) I have yet to find a local (Athens-area) bakery that I can rave over for their pastries and atmosphere, but I haven’t been looking too hard, especially after recently I made up my mind to tackle croissants at home.
I’m not sure I fall under the category of “normal” pregnancy. Yes, I’m hungry often, but not for weird food combinations (any weirder than usual, anyway, if you ask my husband – who else eats ketchup on scrambled eggs?), or really for anything in particular. Except for sushi. I am all about some sushi. But anyway. I don’t really want chocolate, ice cream, or sweets in general; more likely, I’m in the market for some chips, super-buttery-salty popcorn, or something else savory/salty.
Ever since I picked up Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food at my puny local library, I’ve been inspired. Grow my own. Prepare simply, eat simply. The nine principles in the beginning of the book are simple in themselves, and easier than expected to follow in most cases, especially when you’re like me and love to make things yourself. The pages in the first half are descriptive and loving – roasted chicken with crispy skin, pan-seared fish, handmade pasta and pizza. Handmade. I love that word.
The handmade pasta I’m looking forward to at another time – I have an unearthly desire to make black pepper pappardelle, or spinach ravioli with ricotta – but the pizza dough was last night. And this is where the lesson in trust comes in.
I am not, in my opinion, a seasoned baker by any means. Adventurous, a little impetuous, yes. Not seasoned at all. I do enjoy baking, which still occasionally surprises me because I used to hate baking. Too much work, too much fiddly preciseness. But now I love it, almost as much as I love cooking and grilling. They all have their own draws, different but nonetheless appealing. Yeast, especially, used to scare me. A lot. But then I manned up one day and made bread, and it hasn’t really had the same scary tack to it since.
Biscuits, like pound cake, are a requirement for Southern life. Biscuits and gravy (yuuuum), biscuits and jelly, the ever-popular chicken biscuit, smoke link biscuit… mm, mm. And no biscuits are the same – everyone has a different method for making biscuits, more often than not a method and recipe passed down from generation to generation. Everything is important and rather particular. Cullen’s grandmother, for example, used only Martha White (with Hot Rize®), Crisco and whole milk. She mixed with her hands in a certain bowl (The Biscuit Bowl) and baked biscuits on a certain pan (The Biscuit Pan). She never cut her biscuits, just rolled them out and tapped them flat. My grandmother, on the other hand, cut her biscuits with a biscuit cutter that her mother had used. I don’t remember what flour she used, but I’m almost sure she used lard when she was still making biscuits. Toward the end, she couldn’t make biscuits by hand anymore and used whop biscuits instead.
My grandmother passed away several years ago, before I got into cooking as much as I am now. My mother isn’t really a biscuit maker, and of course my father didn’t learn how to make biscuits from his mother. It somehow fell to Cullen’s grandmother to give me the Biscuit Touch – and even so, she never taught me how to make biscuits “like Grandmoma made.” But it was because of her that I tried making biscuits at all, and because of her that we have The Biscuit Bowl and The Biscuit Pan. Yes, in our house. And I don’t make biscuits exactly like Grandmoma did, but I make them all right.