No Vacancy podcast today because I’m taking a little break from the serial this week while we move, but I do have yesterday’s video ready for today, so heck yeah! I did a little baking in my brand new kitchen that doesn’t have a fridge yet, so that was a lot of fun.
On a side note: I can’t believe Blogoween is almost over! I’ve kinda been checked out this past week and not creating the quality of stuff that I’d like, so this weekend is going to be nose to the grindstone type stuff. I still need to NaNo prep, visit a Halloween store (I haven’t been to one yet this season! What the heck??”), and get my actual Halloween costume done. The season’s gone by too fast!
A commonly held belief amongst baker/homemaker/mom-type people is this: there is nothing better than homemade bread. Dear Reader, these people are correct.
I’ve wanted to make bread for a long time. Growing up, my grandma had a breadmaker which she used on pretty rare occasion, so my brain took that mixed with the fact that to make bread you need this living ingredient called yeast and decided that making bread is incredibly difficult–so difficult that one needs a machine that’s sole task is to make bread–and I just never attempted it. Also I knew it was time-consuming and I think we’ve established here already that as a millenial I need instant gratification.
But all of that was super dumb of me because, like, I have the entire internet and can learn to do just about anything while sitting on the couch in my underwear, and if I’d taken two seconds to watch a video of people making bread I would have realized long ago that this shit is easy AND yields amazing results. I can say with certainty that homemade bread, unlike Pacific Rim and becoming an adult, does in fact live up to the hype.
So I watched about twenty videos in which everyone did things just slightly differently, and because I have a very weird personality where I can’t just do the easiest version of something because I assume that’s too easy so it must be cutting corners, I picked out a how-to that seemed just difficult enough to not be faking it, but easy enough so that I would succeed because another facet of my personality, stemming from being only slightly above average as a child and thus praised for what I thought was pretty normal behavior, is that I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT FAIL AT ANYTHING EVER. (I mean I do, but it really fucks me up when that happens.)
Step one was to make sure the yeast was alive and to feed it. Dear Reader, I gave up meat over a year ago because I don’t want to eat things that are alive (except fish which I’ve convinced myself, well, I know they’re alive okay? I’M TRYING HERE), and yet there I was, offering a meal to the little yeasties, literally fattening them up with with sugar like a forest witch coaxing strange children into her house to eat the walls. But I did it. I brought the yeast to life just to murder it. And I’d do it again.
After you’ve noted that your yeast is foamy (and smells like a frat pledge who died of alcohol poisoning), you make dough. Did you know that bread is basically flour and water? I assumed there were other things like butter, milk, eggs, and all the other baking type things (perhaps a soda or a powder or even both!), but no, it’s basically flour and water (and yeast and sugar and salt and oil in the case of what I made but IT’S BASICALLY JUST FLOUR AND WATER, OKAY?) And boy oh boy is it a LOT of flour. I am very into being healthy and making good food choices, and bread is really…not that, but it is delicious, and because carbs were so scarce for our ancestors we crave them now, which all basically makes bread impossible to resist so because biology and evolution are against me here, I feel okay about giving in.
Beyond homemade bread smelling and tasting amazing, the action of kneading dough is so pleasantly visceral that I would say the experience of physically making the bread is almost necessary to get complete enjoyment out of it. I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy baking, so maybe this is just another aspect of my odd character, but when I make food I need to know knowing why I’m doing what what I’m doing, that kneading the dough is building up gluten and moving around the yeast to allow it to eat more sugars, and that will contribute to a fluffy final product. The food didn’t just happen, I made it happen, and there’s some science behind it that I can put to use when making other things. (Thanks, Alton Brown.)
But more than that (and warning: this is fucking weird), the act of kneading dough felt very ancient. Like praying or walking alone in the woods, it felt a bit like I was calling up muscle memory from my ancestors. Smashing this squishy ball of processed ingredients that I didn’t work hard at all to collect over and over into a counter top that I didn’t craft in my air-conditioned kitchen somehow made me feel like I was doing something wholly organic and vital to the human condition. This was a part of why humans exist: to experience this exact act.
I told you it was fucking weird.
So I made the dough and I set it to rise:
And it rose because THE YEAST IS ALIVE:
And I punched the fuck out of it, placed it in a loaf pan, let is rise again, and baked it and omfg, Dear Reader, omfg.
I. Made. Bread. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.
And then I made that bread into a motherfucking grilled cheese sandwich because I am that extra.
This isn’t something I can do often because the next day I felt like death. In fact, I’m still suffering a bit from wheat gut two days out, but it was worth it. This bread was marvelous and it made me feel a little (actually, a lot) like a hearth goddess. So I implore you, Dear Reader, if your soul is craving something you just can’t place, put on your wheat crown and knead you some dough.
So I thought I was prepared for Christmas. Presents bought and wrapped, plans laid out, decorations and comfiness abounding, then I realized that I had no idea what we were going to eat! Husband and I have been eating out so much recently I forgot that cooking was an option and that nothing is really open on Christmas day, and I don’t really want to make someone else cook for me on Christmas. Plus, I vowed to actually do Christmas this year, and that includes a fancy dinner!
But this is also my first Christmas as a vegetarian (pescatarian, to be fair, but only like twice a month). Husband isn’t vegetarian, but he really enjoys a lot of meat-free dishes, so I put together a menu that’s going to be bangin’. I don’t usually do recipes exactly as they’re suggested (unless I’m baking), so I’ll be doing a version of the following:
Mushroom Parcels (say it like an English person, drop the “r”, it’s so much fancier)
I also bought a mini apple pie for dessert from the Publix bakery. This thing is legit adorable, just wait til you see it, But you won’t until Christmas!
It’s going to be a cheesy menu, but we will probably need it. We went to a hibachi tonight with lovely couple, and while that food is amazing, we always vacate our bowels afterwards. In fact, I’m blogging from the toilet right now! We also did a gift exchange with lovely couple, but that deserves its very own blog and, frankly, more energy than I have right now. Just know that omg it was ah-may-zing!
Listen, Russia, I get that it’s fucking cold and dark 90% of the year there, and there’s nothing else to do besides pose as Americans on internet forums, but why the fuck are your cakes SO DAMN COMPLICATED?
I’m making this chocolate spartak cake for a coworker. The “C” in my place of business’s name stands for “cake.” There’s always cake in the breakroom. But it’s Costco cake. Now, if there’s one truth to know about me, it’s that I love Costco. I FUCKING LOVE IT. And their cake is good, but it’s not THAT good, and we’re also a bunch of spoiled bunch of assholes, so when there’s free cake to break up the afternoon, we complain that it’s the same old cake as always from Costco, but you can bet your sweet ass we all fucking eat it.
I love cooking and baking, but I do very little of both now that I’ve lost so much weight. I eat really simply and am also pretty lazy, so as much as I love cooking, I prefer to spend the few hours I have between coming home from work and going to bed in a near-comatose state on YouTube. But it’s my eastern European coworker’s birthday in a few days and coupled with the same conversation we always have about the Costco cake, I asked him what kind of cake he would want if he could have any kind of cake. This is what he said, so this is what I’m making. It’s the season of giving after all. The cake is complicated of course, but I understand baking: it’s a science. You measure everything by weight and you can’t fuck it up. Right?
Gods, I hope so.
But this fucking cake. Okay. So I followed Tatyana’s directions to a tee. And you know they’re good directions because her name is fucking Tatyana. So as I’m making the dough I’m thinking “I’m not adding any sugar to this. Weird.” I mean, there is sweetened condensed milk, which is basically liquid sugar, but it didn’t seem like it was going to be sweet enough. I continue on and finish the dough, and it’s actually the same consistency as hers and I’m thinking “holy shit this is correct!”
But I didn’t have as much as she did. How the fuck that happened, I will never know, but instead of making 8 layers, I just went with 6 which I still couldn’t get to fill out the 8″ round pans, so I had these floppy fucking dark, floury pads of what I tasted was not particularly sweet at all dough, but fuck it–into the oven they went!
After 10 minutes I had no idea if they were done because you stab these little bitches so they don’t rise and they’re full of dark cocoa, so they don’t change color, and they’re supposed to be hard but also floppy so there’s no consistency I was really aiming for. I took them out and hoped for the best.
Then there was the filling. Tatyana boned me on not having enough dough, but I figured all things being even, I should have enough not-enough frosting to cover my not-enough dough disks. My kitten was really excited about this part because he got to taste a bunch of new things: sweetened condensed milk, heavy whipping cream, butter, and cream cheese, none of which any cat should ever have, but his mom is kind of clumsy and he’s a floor scavenger. But I realized: there’s very little sugar in this either. Where is the sweetness going to come from?
Tatyana says very emphatically to make sure your butter and cream cheese are at room temperature before doing this. That’s all well and good, but I assume room temperature in Russia is a lot colder than here. Regardless, I left those things out for quite a while, but she DIDN’T SAY TO LEAVE THE OTHER STUFF OUT so when the butter hit the other cold stuff it just stiffened itself right up like it caught a glimpse up Aunt Jemima’s skirt and my frosting/filling had chunks of butter in it no matter what I did, and I was afraid I’d over-cream the whole thing and make, you guessed it, MORE BUTTER. So I left the little chunks because, once you taste this stuff, you can’t really tell what’s what anymore. Like, it’s good, but it’s weird.
Assembly was exciting. I envisioned something beautiful with even layers and a smooth finish. But my cakes were misshapen and even though I literally weighed the damn dough for the 6 pieces, I still ended up with a couple smaller than the rest. As Tatyana warned, the higher the cake gets, the less stable it is, but I only did 6 layers and not 8, so I win?
So it doesn’t look that bad, I guess. Tomorrow I’ll drizzle on the chocolate ganache which, like paint, covers a multitude of sins. It will get eaten on Wednesday, sitting for the optimal two days that Tayana suggests because she hasn’t technically steered me wrong so far except about the dough and the frosting, so what could go wrong, hu? What?
But I came to a realization when I thought about the ganache: this is a fancy cake. This is not a sugary confection of tooth-hurting proportions. This is supposed to taste subtlety of things. It’s supposed to be about the textures and the flavors and the high-quality ingredients.
I should have added more sugar.
Oh, also this is blogmas, so here’s a (kinda) Christmas song about food: