Relearning How to Bake

5 December 2011

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Aside: Wow… I know I’ve gone since Tau Day (late June) without posting, but you know it’s been too long when you barely recognize the interface.  It’s going to take some getting used to…

I am the baker of my household.  My wife is the cook (with exemptions for breakfast, which is my domain, and one special recipe which comes from the Lebanese part of my heritage).  I cooked when I lived alone, of course, but without enthusiasm.  Baking, I love.

Between teaching, research, and family life, I don’t have much time to pursue my own interests, baking included.  But we are now entering the one time of year when I make time for baking, when I consider my privilege to push aside other commitments and timesinks in favor of baking almost absolute: the Christmas season.  It just wouldn’t be Christmas without baked goods filling the kitchen and surrounding area with the smell of the holidays.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s that Christmas spirit comes in through the nose.  There are pies to make, and cookies and cookies and breads and cookies and cookies and cakes and cookies and cookies.  I did say bread.  I make almost all the bread we eat around here.

Bottom line: I bake a lot, and I consider it an essential Christmas ritual to escalate baking to ridiculous levels in the immediate future.

Cut to Friday, when we learned that our son Gabriel (almost three years old, though that hardly seems possible) is allergic to egg whites, peanuts, milk, soy, walnuts, dogs, and shrimp.  (Yes, seven distinct things; this explains why it was to hard to nail down the one thing that was causing his chronic allergic reactions….)  Peanuts wasn’t a surprised, and we’ve been avoiding them for quite a while now (sunflower butter is quite nice).  But egg whites, milk, and soy?!?  In case you’ve never read ingredients lists, that’s not much different from outright being allergic to food.   (Dairy subsitutes, and egg substitutes, are almost invariably soy-based.)

So my wife has spend the weekend culling from our pantry and fridge all the newly excluded foods, and finding as many new, acceptable foods as possible (no small task, especially in small town Michigan).  Me, I’m thinking “but, cookies… how will I make cookies?”

And so begins my adventure into highly-constrained baking.

Before I get to cookies, though, today we ran out of bread.  Today I made my first attempt to bake kid-friendly, wife-friendly, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free bread.  The recipe I used is an adaptation of Brother Fitzgerald’s Basic White Bread from The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, an outstanding book by Rick Curry, which should be in every breadlover’s collection.  I had to make some substitutions, though.  What follows is my amended list of ingredients.

  • 9 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups warm rice milk
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • ~4 cups of bread flour
  • ~3 cups of pastry flour
  • 2 Tbsp Olivio coconut-based spread

I dissolved the yeast in 1 cup of the milk (the recipe called for just 1/2 cup at this step, but I couldn’t get all the yeast to dissolve at that quantity) and let it set for a little while.  Then half the flour, the rest of the dry, the frothing yeast monster, and the the rest of the milk go into my stand mixer bowl.  I mixed it for a total of about 12 minutes, adding the rest of the flour gradually.  (Without a stand mixer, I’d have to do a bunch of kneading at this point.)

I let it double, punched it down and kneaded a minute or two, let it double, punched it down and kneaded a minute or two, let it double, punched it down, put it into bread pans and let it double.  I have a warming oven, and I let it spend the latter two rises hanging out in there.

The recipe calls for an optional egg wash (apparently that’s how Brother Fitzgerald does it), which of course I had to skip.  I misted the loaf lightly with olive oil, which has worked for me in the past with other recipes.  Then into the 425° oven to bake for 40 minutes.

It’s baking as I type this, so it’s too soon to report on how well it goes over.  Fingers crossed.

My wife’s cousin Mouse sent me this banana bread recipe, which seems like a winner, so at least I can make one baked goods treat.  Time to go exploring for more.

The next thing I attempt (assuming that this bread is not deemed so disastrously inedible that I have to make up another bread recipe, pronto) will be toaster pastries.  Y’know, Pop-Tarts.  One of my son’s favorite foods.  Before we knew about the allergies, I made this recipe, which was fine (I thought they were tasty, anyway) but a lot of work.  Actually forming the individual rectangles and positioning the filling took entirely too long.  I bought a foldover press thing from Bed Bath and Beyond that should be a big time saver.  Again, we’ll see.