Bread basket case.

Lots of coal making, lots of heat,
Warm face, warm hands, warm feet.

— “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely” from My Fair Lady

No, it wouldn’t be lovely. Warm hands kill pie crusts. They destroy biscuits, ruin scones, and wreck marriages. The butter melts, the water in the butter activates the gluten, and next thing you know you have tough dough and your loved one has filed for divorce on grounds of spousal cruelty.

These hands melt then disengage.
— Lycia, “Distant Eastern Glare”

Velvety Bean BreadAll that stress from terror of gluten takes its toll on me and my radiator hands. Making pastry isn’t relaxing because I dislike every pastry cutter or pastry fork that I’ve ever tried, and I refuse to use my food processor featuring 100 hard-to-reach areas for your dishwashing pleasure! Instead I use my fingers, and I use them fast. So when fall comes, I’m eager to make bread again, to take my time and work the dough without fear. In bread making, you want water in the flour, you want to make gluten, you want to toughen the dough. I thrust my fists into my first batch of autumnal bread dough with more glee than a child grabbing at the innards of a destroyed piñata, and I eat the crusty warm fruit of my hard labor with more satisfaction than any kid with cheaply earned candy ever could. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting that my hands aren’t merely warm.

There’s a lot of hot hands around.
— Hank Williams Jr., “Waylon’s Guitar Lyrics”

Bread dough is generally supposed to be covered and left to rise in a warm draft-free place for three hours to double in size. How I wish! More than once, my dough has quadrupled in size after half an hour. I’ve resorted to putting my bread in the freezer after kneading just to calm the yeast down. While I could use my stand mixer, that defeats the purpose of making bread—I want to squeeze, and squish, and squash, and squeal, because it’s darn good fun to sink your hands into a rubbery ball of satiny bread dough.

Take your warm hands off me.
— Ian Anderson, “Toad in the Hole”

My first batch this fall was Velvety Bean Bread from the gorgeous Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World. It’s an intriguing recipe that uses pureed white beans that add no bean flavor but does add, according to the authors, a velvety texture and moisture that helps the bread keep. As the only bread eater in the house, I rely heavily on freezing fresh bread or baking good-keeping breads to keep from wasting loaves. This bread’s moisture and nutrition from the beans had fascinated me since I first read the book.

Bean Bread 2[Pictured: “It’s okay, it happens to lots of bakers…”]

I forgot about my hands and failed to let the dough rest in the refrigerator during autolyse or reduce the liquid and knead with some crushed ice (a clever idea from food scientist, Shirley O. Corriher). The bread rose too fast and too much; I barely caught it before it dropped. After punching down and shaping, the dough rose quickly but weakly in the pan, dragging and deflating under my knife when I tried to slash it. I considered reshaping and letting the loaves rise yet again but decided not to worsen the already compromised flavor. The loaves went into the oven and emerged dense and flat. Ashamed.

Maybe not this time.
— “Baker Baker,” Tori Amos

Fresh bread is still fresh bread, and though dense, I took some satisfaction in the yeasty flavor. The loaf didn’t live up to its velvety promise. That’s my fault, it’s a recipe that deserves another chance. I learned a hard lesson, forgot it, and learned it again. We all have our handicaps in the kitchen—hot hands are mine. Bad memory doesn’t help either.

Don’t give up.
I know you can make it good.

— “Don’t Give Up,” Peter Gabriel

I’ve made decent bread before, I can do it again. I think. I hope. World Bread Day is October 16…

Farmer boy.

As I inspected plums at the farmer’s market, a truck full of produce drove slowly past me. In my peripheral vision I saw the driver lean out and look in my direction. I ignored him. Or at least I tried to until he said, “Hey, nice melons.”

I know I should have been offended, but the line confused me too much. Nobody has ever complimented my, er, melons. I really don’t have melons—at most I have Hachiya persimmons or maybe Comice pears. Peaches come to mind. As I compiled a list of more appropriate fruits with which the jerk could have objectified and degraded me, I realized that I was standing next to a melon farmer who was standing next to a gigantic pyramid of what were, in fact, nice melons.

“Thanks,” said the melon farmer.

“Ha,” I said, pretending that I knew what the truck driver meant all along.

It shows how much times have changed that I would immediately suspect sexual harassment at the farmer’s market instead of a joke, albeit a joke with double entendre. Shopping at the farmer’s market when you’re 32 differs from shopping at the farmer’s market when you’re 10. At that age I followed my mother as she made the rounds buying cucumbers, scallions, honeydew, cabbages, and our family’s favorite, corn. By mid-summer dedicated corn stalls appeared with truckloads of candy-sweet corn tumbling into wooden crates and covering the ground with a carpet of shed silk and pale green husks that grew thicker underfoot as the morning progressed.

corny heartOne day I wore a dress to the market for some forgotten reason. We stopped by a corn vendor where a sandy-haired boy about my age sorted the ears. My mother asked him to bag some corn that she’d carefully chosen. He raised his head but didn’t seem to hear her. Instead, he saw me and cocked his head. Then he smiled shyly.

I felt overwhelmingly chaste in my dress and looked down at the corn. He bagged the corn for my mother and kept looking at me. I knew he was looking at me because I kept looking at him to see if he was still looking at me. Every time we made eye contact, he smiled again in that same, hesitating way. Even as we left and he crouched over the corn to help another customer, I saw him look over his shoulder at me to smile one last time.

Laura Ingalls Wilder books messed with my mind, because for years I thought that I wouldn’t mind churning butter and whitewashing barns. Never mind that nobody, with the exception of certain religious groups and employees of historical re-enactment tourist destinations, really does that anymore. I had once successfully pulled up water from a well in a bucket, I reasoned, I could do it again. Never mind that my farmer boy might eventually leave the farm to go into, say, international banking in Madrid. I believed that we would gallop on horses through prairie grasses with no other company but the wind and sun. Never mind that the scant remaining prairie lands in Illinois are secured in government-protected conservation parks where I’m sure that delusional girls on horses aren’t allowed to enter, much less gallop.

The truth is that I don’t even care for bending over. Weeding around my four tomato plants once wore me out after 30 seconds. My parsley plant fills me with resentment when it needs water. “Why are you so needy?” I’m tempted to ask. I don’t want to churn or whitewash, and if I got on a horse I’d fall off and wouldn’t be all that inclined to climb back on. Eventually I would have forced my farmer boy to go to the city in a reverse Green Acres (new series: Taupe Sidewalks), and he would wither in the noise of urban life even as I cooed over my fake orchid set on a plant stand at convenient waist level. No, it wouldn’t have worked out. It was best that my mom pay for her corn and take her chastely dressed daughter home, never to see the farmer boy again. My desire to live the rural life is as gone as my chastity.

Yet fresh sweet corn in the husk still revives memories of when I thought that the soil and I could bond. I appreciate those who love working the earth, but I’m thrilled that I can eat the fruits of farmers’ labors from a distance. Now and then I sometimes scan the faces of the farmers I visit, looking for a face roughly my age, with hair that might have darkened with adulthood into brown, and a smile that I’d find myself too timid to return. Even now, with a mature understanding of our differences and the problems that they could cause, I might give us a chance.

Just as long as his first words aren’t, “Hey, nice peaches.”


bullet Link du jour
This is almost too obvious. Farmgirl Fare is a hugely entertaining blog about a California city girl who left urban life to start a farm in Missouri. Terrific pictures and great stories give a taste of farm life even to people who hate bending over.

SHF #23: Chocolate-filled peanut butter scones.

When Alanna of A Veggie Venture invited me to participate in this month’s Sugar High Friday, my mind immediately went to scones. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a peanut butter version for a while, but after all the time I’d spent perfecting my own scone, I didn’t feel like experimenting with new recipes when I already had one. So I pondered. Peanut butter is dense but neither a solid nor a liquid. Discuss. Peanut butter is also almost entirely fat. Why do I need both peanut butter and butter in the recipe? Not only is that redundant, it’s irresponsible. Reckless, even.

So I eliminated the butter and froze the peanut butter to make it workable like butter. The scones turned out tender and rich, and despite being butterless tasted just as terrifically bad for you as ever. I used peanut butter in place of butter! I’m a genius! Um well no . . . Nic at bakingsheet used peanut butter like butter in her scones using a food processor, and there are countless scone and biscuit recipes using cream cheese as a fat in similar manner. It just goes to show that little is new in the kitchen, especially when you have Google searches around to deflate your ego.

chocolate pb scone[Pictured: 100% whole wheat version.]

This month’s SHF theme is Surprise Inside, and my surprise isn’t that all that surprising: chocolate. (Making the title of this post “Chocolate-filled peanut butter scones” probably gave away the surprise too.) But layering the chocolate inside the scones keeps it hidden until you bite into it, making it a pleasant surprise for your eater. The layering takes a little work, but feel free to simply toss the chocolate in with the flour instead. I won’t condemn you for laziness, especially if it’s first thing in the morning, you still have eye boogers, and you can barely see the markings on your teaspoons. By the way, you can make these the night before and refrigerate them on the pan to pop in a preheated oven the next morning.

Makes 4 scones

This is a small recipe because these scones are best warm when the chocolate is melty. You can double the recipe but it becomes more difficult to do the layering, so just toss the chips in with the flour if you do that. I made my scones using a sweetened no-stir natural peanut butter with palm oil, but regular peanut butter should be fine. If you use an unsweetened natural peanut butter, stir it well before using and note that you may need more sugar to taste. Half whole wheat flour works well in this recipe because its nutty flavor doesn’t clash with the peanut butter. However, I found 100% whole wheat flour somewhat bitter. Half spelt flour works nicely too.

· 5 tablespoons peanut butter
· 1 cup all-purpose flour
     OR 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
     OR 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole spelt flour
· 1/4 cup sugar
· 1 teaspoon baking powder
· 1/4 teaspoon salt
· 1 egg
· 2-4 tablespoons milk or cream
· 40 semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
     OR 4 small chocolate triangles
     OR 1/4 cup regular or mini chocolate chips (for non-layered version)

1) Smear the peanut butter about 1/2 inch thick inside a medium freezer-safe bowl. Freeze about 15 minutes.

2) Whisk together the flour(s), sugar, baking powder, and salt in another bowl. If you don’t care to layer the chocolate chips in the middle of the scones, stir the 1/4 cup chocolate chips into the flour now. Place the bowl in the refrigerator or freezer.

3) Preheat oven to 450ºF. Lightly grease a small baking sheet.

4) Crack the egg into a small measuring cup. Beat egg lightly with a fork, then add enough milk or cream to equal 3 fluid ounces. Place cup in refrigerator. As you wait for your ingredients to chill, drink some tea, wipe your eyes, grab the paper, feed the cats/dog/fish, etc.

5) Remove the peanut butter from the freezer. Use a spoon or spatula to scrape the hardened peanut butter from the bowl. Add the cold flour mixture and quickly work the peanut butter into the flour with your fingers until the flour resembles coarse meal with some small lumps. Pour the cold egg/dairy mixture into the flour and mix just enough to form a cohesive dough. Add more milk or cream if necessary, but keep the dough stiff. Knead once or twice and remove dough from bowl.

6) Divide the dough in half and, on a lightly floured surface, press the each half into two 5-inch disks without flouring the top of the disks, if you can help it. On one disk, make 4 triangles of 10 chocolate chips each into a sort of 4-leaf clover pattern that will let you cut the scone into 4 quarters without cutting into any chocolate (or use 4 chocolate triangles). Leave a border around each triangle so that the dough will seal well. In other words, you want a 1/2 inch border all around the dough and then a clear path from 12 o’clock down to 6 o’clock and from 9 o’clock over to 3 o’clock. (If all this sounds unnecessarily complicated, add 1/4 cup chocolate chips to the flour mixture before adding the liquid. You happen to get more chocolate this way.)

7) Flip over the dough disk without chips on it and gently place it down on top of the chip-covered disk. Press firmly all over to make a single 6-inch disk. Cut the dough between the chips (you remember where they are, right?) into 4 quarters and place them on the prepared baking sheet with at least an inch of space separating them. Bake scones until the top and edges are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool on rack. Serve warm.

Note: You can also cut the two 5-inch dough disks into triangles then fill each scone individually, but the shaping you’ll need to do to each scone may blunt the edges. I like how the bench scraper cuts sharply between the scones in the above version and lets them rise fully.


bullet Link du jour
The founder of Sugar High Friday runs the gorgeous blog, The Domestic Goddess. She had a son recently so her posts are less frequent but always well worth waiting for.