Snow hoe hoe & and a recipe for butter.

I invented a winter sport called snow hoeing yesterday. A difficult variant on the more popular snow blowing and snow shoveling events, snow hoeing entails using a hoe to hack through a 6-inch sheet of snow-covered ice that forms as a result of city snow plows repeatedly pushing slush into the driveway. See, snow shovels don’t work on ice. Hoes…well it turns out they don’t work on ice either. So in one day I invented a sport, competed against myself, and lost. Failure, hunger, and cold feet finally made me throw the hoe (more a summer sport than a winter sport, but I had the hoe handy) and bake bread instead.

Dark soft roll and butterI’ve been craving dark bread and sweet butter since A Veggie Venture‘s prolific Alanna wrote an article for Sauce Magazine on St. Louis and nearby food bloggers that generously mentioned me in distant central Illinois. I have fond memories of St. Louis from my teen years when my brother, a happy Cardinal fan, and I, a depressive Cub fan, made annual pilgrimages to catch a 3 or 4-game Cubs/Cards series at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Our itinerary often included a stop at the restaurant of legendary Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith to ogle his display of glittering gold gloves and to enjoy the complimentary loaf of black bread and lightly sweetened butter. I bet Ozzie could have snow hoed while doing back flips.

King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking has a recipe for dark and soft restaurant dinner rolls (similar recipe here, but search for “restaurant” because I can’t seem to link the recipe directly), using 2 tablespoons of Dutch process cocoa for the dark color instead of caramel coloring. The recipe produced soft, sweet loaves with a squishy texture and the muted cocoa scent of tightly wrapped chocolate bars. They neither looked nor tasted like Ozzie’s almost black and possibly rye bread, but I didn’t care.

Let me be honest here. While I love homemade bread the way I love sunshine and good friends, I have a helpless lust for butter that’s similar to the lust I feel for a certain unnamed actor who has an unfortunate penchant for throwing communications devices at hotel staff. Note that the butter is taller than the bread in the pictures—Freudian plating exposes my lust. The problem is that you can’t eat butter straight. Even in France that’s unacceptable. I believe that shortbread and pound cake aren’t foods but meticulously designed Butter Utilization Vehicles, or BUVs, which were invented to let you eat lots of butter without losing all your friends. Bread is my BUV.

Sweetened butter provides a great contrast to the hearty flavor of whole grain bread and doesn’t compete with its complex flavors as much as honey butter can. I feel silly writing a recipe, but it did take me some trial and error to get it right. Powdered sugar keeps the butter smooth instead of grainy and salt enhances the flavor. If you prefer a lighter texture you can whip the butter, but keep in mind that whipping adds air. Air is made of air, unlike butter, which is made of butter. Personally, I prefer less air and more butter because butter is special. Not to complain, but I have air all the time.

Makes 1/2 cup

· 1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons, or 1 stick) unsalted butter
· 1/4 cup powdered sugar
· 1/8 teaspoon fine salt, such as canning or popcorn salt

Let the butter soften a bit. If you’d like, whip it until light and fluffy. Thoroughly mix in the other ingredients. Slather on top of the BUV of your choice. Sprinkling crunchy salt such as Maldon or fleur de sel on top of the spread butter is delicious too, and you can omit the salt in the butter if you do so.

More dark rolls and butter

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…