Raining, raining, raining. Rainy afternoons this week. I have a new cookbook called The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr. I LOVE this book. I am reading it cover to cover and I'm about halfway through. What I love about it is that it is basically written for young adults, so it is thorough yet totally unintimidating, and I have already learned so much about the basics that I didn't really know. I also really love the photography — it's very homey and natural and just . . . not precious, somehow. It's gorgeous, and exactly what I've been looking for without even knowing that I was looking for it. I am really excited about this book.
In the past twenty years that I have been cooking, I honestly don't think I have ever made my own bread. Like, bread that has to be kneaded and rise and be kneaded and rise, etc. I'm not sure why, exactly, but I suppose I was just intimidated. And lazy. And I just didn't think I could do it so that it would actually be good. It seemed like a lot of work for something that would be sucky. Because baking bread had always seemed to me like reupholstering stuff, or dyeing your hair, or making Chinese food — not something you can ever do as well at home (at least I can't).
But when I read the recipe for raisin bread, I knew that I wanted to try. I thought it would be perfect for a rainy afternoon break. I had a new cast-off piece of countertop granite to knead on that my neighbor gave me, and I hadn't yet used it.
In the pantry I had everything I needed except for the orange marmalade (so I used honey), and I forgot to mix the raisins in with the dry ingredients, and I realized later that I had used active dry yeast instead of instant. But look: DOUGH!
It was so cool. It worked exactly as they said it would. Kneading, it turns out, is NO BIG DEAL. I kneaded the dough, which started out as a shaggy, lumpy blob and slowly became smoother, more elastic, and, I have to say, beautiful [wipes away tear]:
I know that breadmaking is sort of a sacred art. I had read about the mysterious alchemy of yeast, flour, and water before. I had heard people talk about dough in terms both passionate and humbled. In that moment when the dough comes together, you feel, for just one second, like you get it.
It's really, really neat. Thank you, book! I put the dough it its bowl to rise for two hours, and I have to tell you that I was pretty excited.
'Night 'night, darling! Time for your nap.
By four o'clock, it had indeed doubled! Just like they said! It rose to a "great big puffy, ballooned mass, twice its orignal size"! I punched it down (fun) and kneaded it a bit more, then laid it nicely in its pink pan for twenty more minutes before popping it into the hot oven.
When I opened the oven door I said, out loud,
"OH MY GOD! I MADE BREAD!"
'Cause I did!