Friday, 2 March 2018

a culinary failure

I walked down to the gate again this morning and looked at the track to the farm, and if anything it looked worse than it did yesterday afternoon, heaped up in long stretches to fully two thirds of the height of the posts along the neighbours' fence, and rather higher than that on the upwind side.  Mind you, the wind blew all last night and the field on the windward side was largely stripped of snow, except what had collected in the furrows.  The Systems Administrator said that it was just as well they ploughed it last week, otherwise even more would have blown off and on to the track.

The bread still had not risen.  I left it in a cupboard overnight to see if it would finish its second proving, but it still lay in the bottom of the tin like a sad, damp slug.  I put it back on the Aga warming plate, resting on a saucepan so that the bottom would not get too hot, and waited to see if it would do something.

According to the forecast it was snowing heavily with a probability of ninety per cent, except that it wasn't.  Then smears of what looked like rain began to spot the glass of the front door.  I opened the door and tested one with my finger tip to see if it was actual rain, or the freezing rain they'd been talking about on the Today programme, but it felt wet enough.

By teatime I decided to cook the bread anyway, since the chickens would probably eat it.  Poor chickens, I gave them another bowl of clean water in their house this morning in case they were thirsty, but by the time I went to check them again before shutting their house for the night they'd kicked it over and scuffed sawdust in it, again.  I washed and refilled it, since when they are out in their run they do often take a drink of water before going in to roost, and gave them a handful of sultanas by way of small consolation.  I checked the egg box just in case, although I was not expecting them to keep laying all through the blizzard, and found six eggs.  They are very diligent chickens.  And they still have all their toes.  Actually, they looked more cheerful than I was expecting them to after spending four days hiding in their house in the snow.

The bread rose alarmingly in the middle, and the SA thought we might be able to eat it anyway.  I have seen more peculiar looking loaves for sale on artisan market stalls for quite a lot of money, but I had some doubts about how this one would taste.  They turned out to be academic, because it was stuck fast in the tin.  I could not shake it out for its final fifteen minutes of cooking, and still couldn't get it out when it was supposed to be done.  Banging the tin upside down had no effect at all.  I tried to slide a non-serrated knife around the edge, but the loaf was stuck so firmly the knife wouldn't slide, and I began to worry about scratching the enamel of the tin, which is a good one, so had a go with a silicon spatula instead.  Then I tried to prise the loaf out with a metal spatula, but it refused to budge.  It is no good, it will have to be dismantled in situ for chicken bread and then I will have to soak the tin.

I can't work out what went wrong.  I've made bread successfully enough before from that recipe.  Should I have used more yeast?  It is such a long time since I last made bread I can't honestly remember how much I normally use, and it was a very cold day, and perhaps the yeast is getting a bit old, although it worked fine quite recently for waffles.  The trouble with the recipe is that it assumes fresh yeast.  Perhaps there are amateur home bread makers persuading their high street baker or supermarket in-store bakery to let them have a piece of fresh yeast each time they want to bake, but I doubt it.  Surely most people making bread at home use dried yeast nowadays?  Only professional food writers seem to cling to the fresh yeast myth, or else quantify their dried yeast in sachets.  Please.  How big is a sachet?  And how many home cooks have scales able to weigh ten grammes accurately?  What's wrong with the unambiguous standard 5 ml teaspoon?

The forecast now is for heavy snow with ninety per cent probability until midnight.  Then fog.  And then, joy of joys, for the temperature to rise above freezing and remain there.  This is the warm air coming in from the west.  It is not actually snowing at the moment, or not very much.  I really hope it doesn't.  Tomorrow morning I have to start digging, and there is quite enough snow to dig as it is.

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