Monday, August 29, 2011
It's a bit unbelievable that I am able to make bread. Shocking really. Patience is a trait everyone who knows me well teases me about not having. When I was in high school, my parents told me I wouldn't make a good social worker because I wasn't patient. I would expect people to change on my schedule, and they wouldn't. My friend Katy once gave me a "patience" candle. Maybe one of those aromatherapy things, or possibly a sales gimmick--either one.
Yeast bread is one of those things that comes absolutely on its own time. And maybe that's why it has taken me so long--with so many trials and errors--to get it. It involves precision, attention to detail, (another thing NOT on my list of strengths) and waiting. But I think I like it because it's such a challenge. Plus, wow, the payoff is pretty great.
I made croissants for the first time when I got back from Thailand. It was this phase I went through, cooking everything I had never tried before. At the time, I only had a part-time job then and had just spent six months in Thailand without a kitchen. The apartment I was living in there had like one pan and someone gave me a rice cooker, which was completely ridiculous since I could go downstairs and buy plain rice for like 20 cents. Back in Omaha, I had my mom's newly remodeled kitchen and an endless supply of free food waiting for me to experiment with. I can recall making croissants, French baguettes (which turned out horribly), squash risotto and a pork roulade. The croissants, I recall, were incredible. A fluke I'm sure. I hadn't made them again since probably because they are definitely something worth buying over making.
It takes hours, half a day to finish. Whereas one can buy a perfectly crafted chocolate croissant at the Bread Oven in Dundee for probably $2. Well worth it. Not that I think my time was wasted making croissants five years ago or a couple weeks ago for that matter. Au contraire. It's illogical to think that I would spend six-plus hours on anything that had incredible potential to be a bust based on my lack of skill. I do possess the tools now to make something that in this case turned out incredibly tasty, light, flaky everything croissant-like yet very lopsided and burned on the bottom. I couldn't even eat all the croissants I made. I gave more than half of them away to happy recipients: friends and neighbors. These were filled with not quite enough almond frangipane cream and strawberry jam (if it's even possible to overdo this not-too-sweet almond filling).
The process in making something like a yeasted croissant is not difficult, but it is so impractical and food is above all things practical. It's essential to life, yet here I am go taking all day to make something that did turn out quite delicious. It's essential to me in another way. To me, cooking is good for the soul. It's essential to me to spend a quiet afternoon listening to Cat Stevens while crafting a not-quite-perfect but soft and flaky pastry.
Almond Cream: from Tartine Bakery Cookbook
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup almond meal (ground of nuts of any sort really)
2 tablespoons flour
Cream the butter and the sugar in a mixer. Add the egg, mix, and then add the vanilla. Add both the almond meal and the flour at the same time, mixing until smooth. Set aside.