Sunday, December 05, 2010

Cold sledding, warm bread

The saga of the First Snow continues with our very brief sledding excursion. "Hmm. Wonder why no one's sledding today?" I asked innocently as we pulled up to the hill. The kids helpfully pointed out that four kids were indeed sledding, but normally after a first snow there would be many more.

The answer became painfully clear about fifteen minutes later in the form of my nearly frozen fingers. Ever get so cold that you begin to lose feeling in your hands -- you know, the part where they really  start to hurt (your body basically screaming at you to get them someplace warm). Yeah. That was me. Jaybird lasted only two trips down the hill. Mouse, however, was so enthralled with her newfound snowboarding skills that she hung in there for a whole hour (along with Bear) -- and her jacket was half unzipped. And she wasn't wearing a hat! Or scarf! Or a sweater! And it was 13 degrees out, with a wind! What kind of parent would let their kid go outside in below-zero windchills dressed like that, I ask you?

Oh yeah -- apparently, me. (Note to self: Check fashion-crazy daughter's clothing before going sledding!)

Jaybird, back when she was warm.

Bear, who can snowboard down the hill
and over small jumps without falling down
more often than not now.

Mouse, at the beginning of a successful run down the hill.

After a cold afternoon sledding, the kids want hot chocolate. Me, I like warm bread, which is why I am so glad my brother and his wife (probably mostly his wife) bought me this great book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, for my birthday. I have been wanting to try making homemade bread for several years now, but haven't primarily because of not having the time or an easy-to-understand book. Thanks to this book, though, I'm starting to learn.

And what a learning curve it has been. My first attempt at a baguette was a disaster of epic proportions -- gloppy dough (I think I may have mis-measured something), flour spilling everywhere, missed steps, and finally, an exploding glass cake pan. The recipe calls for steaming the bread in the oven by pouring a cup of water into a broiler pan that is already in the oven (which has been preheated to 450°). Smart me, I decided that a glass baking pan would substitute fine. So, science fans, what happens when we pour water that is, at best, 120° F, into a glass pan that has been heated to 450° F? If you answered that the cooler water causes the glass to cool very rapidly and unevenly, thus causing it to shatter, you're right! A very loud experience it is, too.

Then there are problems with the equipment. I don't have proper measuring cups or measuring spoons (ordered the spoons on Amazon yesterday so I don't have to keep converting teaspoons into half-tablespoons), a pizza peel, a decent baking stone, an oven thermometer, or a dough scraper. This has meant much improvising.

Nonetheless, the bread has been GOOD. Very, very good. Crispy and pleasantly crunchy on the outside (even if the loaves look deformed), and chewy and flavorful on the inside. The book says to let them cool, but we've been having them warm -- we just tear them apart rather than slicing them. Here is my latest baguette:

And here are the people waiting to eat it. Incidentally, the Brussels sprouts just below
the bread caused a major incident later with one of our non-Brussels-sprouts-loving kids.
No one was injured, but we may not be having those things again anytime soon.
As for the book, I think it truly will be a five-minute-a-day proposition in about a month or two, after I've figured out all the little tricks and techniques that forestall kitchen disasters. Since getting this book, I have met or heard about a surprising number of people who are using this book successfully. I can't wait to branch out and try some of the other recipes.