Thursday, July 17, 2008

Be Nice to Your Mother (Sponge)

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It's time to make your own bread.  Why?  Because I'm a positive and pragmatic person, and I can say with great confidence that the economy is going to hell.

This fiscal catastrophe is an opportunity:  to fall in love again with our families, our communities and with food.  And by love, I mean respect.  Contemplate a loaf of bread.  The wheat most likely genetically modified and doused with a payload of pesticides.  Then it's processed, stripped of nutrients and pulverized into oblivion.  It's mixed with preservatives to allow for an abnormally long shelf life.  And then it's cut into slices of fascist uniformity.  You then buy the bread, forget the bread, let the bread go moldy and then toss it out.  Along with it's non-biodegradable plastic wrapper and that square plastic thingy with the little notch that's supposed to keep the bag cinched but you always loose or break in half.  

I'm not one to judge.  My all-time favorite food is grilled (processed) cheese.  And I only make them with the whitest of white bread.  The kind you can smush into a doughy ball, put into your pocket and save to use at the driving range.  I'll make a few sandwiches.  Berate myself for falling so low:  that bread, that cheese, that pound of butter I used to grill those nasty bits into crispy, melted perfection.  Then I make another.  A then I set the bread aside and let it go to waste.

But make a loaf of bread.  Use beautiful flour and the simplest ingredients.  Dote over the starter and the rising dough. Carefully fashion smooth rounds and wait patiently until the bread is ready for the oven.  And let's assume it bakes beautifully.  There's no chance you'll easily forget that it's around.  You might even wrap it in a bow and take it on a grand tour of the neighborhood for everyone to see; you're so proud of it.  And you'll want to share it. And you most certainly will not waste it.  You may have started the whole endeavor in an effort to save money, you're not paying for transport or packaging or chemicals or manufacturing.  But you'll end it all with a deeper appreciation for what you're putting into you mouth.

If things get really nasty in the next few years (and let's hope they don't), we're all going to have to change our lives. But I believe that we can take this opportunity to transform ourselves into better people.  We can evolve into thoughtful creators when we were once entitled consumers.  Let's start our glorious evolution by baking a loaf of bread and breaking it with each other.  I'll help.

GARLIC-HERB BREAD

I'm going to start off with a recipe that won't frustrate you and has tasty bits inside.  One day, and you'll tell me when you're ready, I'll share with you how to make a mother sponge/sourdough starter.  Jumping into starters too soon can lead to artisinal bread baking that's cruelly addictive.  And since the purpose of this exercise is to strengthen our bonds to food and family, it would be unethical of me to send you onto a bread journey that could plunge you into a flour logged Siddhartha  spiral where you shed all worldly responsibility and devote your life to the perfect loaf.  So let's start here and take it slow and easy.  And respectfully.

INGREDIENTS

5 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 ounce instant yeast

1 pint lukewarm water

1 egg white

1 ounce butter, room temperature

1 ounce granulated sugar

2 tablespoons salt

4 teaspoons dried oregano

4 teaspoons dried basil

2 pounds 2 ounces bread flour (you can also use half wheat/half white.  I do.)





-Saute the garlic until soft but not brown.

-Dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water in a mixing bowl.  Once it's bubbly and no longer grainy,  stir in egg white, butter, sugar, salt, oregano, basil, softened garlic and the flour.

-Using a dough hook on medium speed, knead the dough until it's fairly stiff and smooth.

-Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn to coat both sides and cover.  Let rise for 1 hour.

-Punch down the dough.  Literally whack it so it deflates.  Divide into 3 equal pieces, about 1 pound each.  Shape into a round.

-Place loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment, seam side down.  Brush with some olive oil.  Let rise at room temperature until double in volume.

-Bake at 375-degrees for about 30 minutes.  Wait until it's cool to wrap it in a bow.


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