Despite my general avoidance of Baked Goods these days, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of being able to bake.
Maybe it’s the Appeal of the Unattainable. The baked goods I grew up with almost always came from the local bakery - Lord’s, on Merrick Road in Massapequa, New York was a heavenly place, the aroma of which still lives strongly in my mind - or from the basket of goodies that the Dugan Man would schlep to our back door twice a week as he made his rounds. My mother, a good enough home cook but no Cat Cora by any means, baked exactly one cake in all the years of my childhood; bread and pies were completely out of the question.
Perhaps it’s the chemist and chemical engineer in me. Baking, more than most types of cooking, is more a science than an art, with exact measurements of weight, volume, time, and temperature critical to success.
Regardless, I’ve always felt a certain amount of envy towards the people who know how to handle dough, that mysterious substance that comes of the blending of flour, water, and leaveners.
I baked my first cake when I was in seventh grade, using a recipe that was parenthetically included in one of my science textbooks (there’s that “baking as science” meme again). It was surprisingly good... so I continued to attempt more complex recipes - chocolate! food coloring! - until I managed to start fucking things up. For many years after that I stayed away from baking, only resuming sometime in the early 1980’s when I discovered the books of Maida Heatter.
Bread, though. Bread was always a mystery to me, an unfathomable challenge... for it involved yeast, a living thing, in lieu of physical or chemical leaveners.
Most of my attempts at producing anything bready have, historically, been failures. But now, thanks to the example set by Elder Daughter (a dab hand at making delicious challah bread), I have had a few Good Results. Behold!
It’s ridiculously good. Both Elder Daughter and I have independently tweaked the recipe a few times, and the loaf pictured above is probably my best one yet by popular consensus. It has gotten to the point where I am afraid to make one of these beauties, lest I be tempted to eat the Whole Fucking Thing. Hot out of the oven, it’s impossible to resist the urge to tear off a hunk (the braided loaf is a mighty facilitator of hunk-rippage), slather it with soft butter, and devour it on the spot.
I’ll be happy to e-mail you the recipe - just post your request in the comments or send me a note.
Yesterday, I decided to expand my repertoire (and, alas, my waistline) by making a batch of cinnamon buns. My rationale was that the Mistress of Sarcasm and her friend Aaron, currently visiting us as part of a whirlwind tour of the eastern seaboard, would be able to have something decadent for breakfast... and I could try my hand at giving Cinnabon a run for their money.
Iced down with the traditional cream cheese goop, they were Pretty Damn Tasty. I’m more than pleased with the results... but to preserve my health and sanity, this is liable to be a Very Occasional Indulgence.