Friday, 22 February 2013

the experimental cook

It was too cold to work outside, even for a gardener of almost boundless enthusiasm verging on obsession.  I took a car load of weedy green waste to the dump, made a mental note that the dump would be closed for improvements the week after next, and decided that was my outdoor work done for the day.  The staff at the Clacton dump are very helpful, and a kindly man swaddled in numerous layers of clothing topped off with luminous green lifted all my bags of waste into the garden waste hopper while a light dusting of snow fell on us both.  The Systems Administrator says there is a petition in the post office for the St Osyth dump to be reopened, but I can't think it's going to be, not if the waste company are investing in the Clacton one.

Instead I took to the kitchen.  I made milk rolls, which will do for my lunch box over the weekend.  The last batch of rolls took much longer to prove than the Good Housekeepers recipe book said they should, so this time I was more aggressive about warming the milk to tepid, instead of using it straight from the fridge and assuming that standing the bowl near the Aga would do the trick.  The dough rose in a lively fashion almost immediately, which made it worth the extra hassle of washing a milk saucepan.  The moment of truth will come tomorrow lunchtime, when I discover whether I cooked them for long enough.  I thought the last lot were maybe a touch overdone, and gave these a couple of minutes less.  Since the Aga isn't reliably exactly the same temperature from one baking session to the next, the only answer is to keep practising until I know exactly what the rolls ought to look like when they're cooked.  If I daren't risk undercooking them they will always tend to come out overdone, just as if I won't take a chance on overcooking them they may always be doughy.  To learn where a boundary is you need to be allowed to cross it.  I said this to the SA, who said not if you were a test pilot.

Then I had a go at some coconut buns, which can be my contribution to enliven the chilly tea beaks in our staff room.  I couldn't remember what recipe I used last time, and after searching fruitlessly through my file of cookery clippings and internet printouts found it still on my laptop.  It is a good bun recipe*, very plain, and basically a coconut flavoured version of rock cakes.  I don't grudge the time to cook for my workmates, but I'm afraid they're not getting friends and family party level ingredients, so no ground almonds for them.  Half a packet of butter and some flour and sugar I can run to.  We had the dessicated coconut anyway, left over from a curry.  The cooking time given in the recipe would have been more helpful if it had said how many buns to make, and therefore how large each bun was.  Their little knobbly bits caught slightly in the top oven, so maybe next time I'll try them in the top of the bottom one, even though that is theoretically colder than the temperature in the recipe.

After that it was time for another Elizabeth David basic loaf.  Again, I made up tepid water with some hot out of the kettle, and the difference to the speed and liveliness of the dough was dramatic, even though I have a warm kitchen to prove it in.  For bread making to be a regular fixture I do need it to be happen reliably within a defined timescale.  Dough that sits around for hours, not really doing anything but demanding my attention, or finally announcing itself ready to be cooked at about the time that I should like to go to bed, is a nuisance.


That interlude was me getting the bread out of the oven.  It had fifteen minutes in the top oven, which is hot.  That's where I slightly burned the buns, then fifteen minutes in the lower oven, which is less hot but still pretty warm, then another fifteen minutes upside down in the lower oven turned out of its tin.  The book says to start it at 220-30 C, then reduce to 200 C, but the Aga doesn't have any temperature gauges, and recipes expressed in terms of a conventional oven don't seem to map on to positions or timings in the Aga in any linear fashion.  The loaf looks done, but I'll only know whether it is tomorrow when I cut a slice.  Elizabeth David says sternly that this sort of bread is not good until it is quite cold, and in fact does not develop its full flavour until the day after it is baked.  At least it has risen convincingly above the top of the tin.

*Coconut buns from The Recipe Corner (no idea who they are, I Googled coconut buns)

225 grammes self raising flour, 125 grammes butter, 125 grammes caster sugar, 50 grammes dessicated coconut, an egg, 1 tbsp milk (15 ml if you're worried about being consistently metric), vanilla essence.

Rub the butter into the flour, stir in the sugar and coconut, mix to a stiff dough with the milk, egg and vanilla essence, cook at 220 C for ten minutes on a greased baking sheet.  Makes around twelve buns.

Addendum  The SA experimented with Toad in the Hole last night.  It came out very well, except that it caught a bit, so next time we might risk opening the door to check on its progress and maybe even turn it round, even though all the experts say you MUST NOT LOOK until it is cooked or it will deflate.  The SA was very worried beforehand that it wouldn't rise, and we would just have a tray of cooked batter in grease with sausage.  I explained that I had got so cold gardening that a tray of cooked batter in grease sounded delicious.  It rose up.

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