Friday Baking

So my mom and sister drove down to see Jon and me yesterday and take us out to lunch. We had lovely discussions and I realized that, though my mom can be oddly judgmental a lot, she really doesn’t mean any harm by it. So that was a nice little ‘it’s time to grow up, Dee!’ moment. But, of course, today’s blog is not about complicated mother-daughter relationships. It’s about baking. So why’d I start by writing about my mom and sister’s visit?

Simple. Yesterday was the first time they saw our new, teeny apartment. I showed mom the French bread and the pumpkin Challah bread we made, and she asked if I’d really actually been baking in this kitchen. This kitchen being only slightly larger than a moderately comfortable bathroom. Proudly, I said, “Yes!” and she chuckled and nodded and said, “Cool!”

You see, baking in such a tiny kitchen, and pretty much all cooking in general, is difficult. We have about eight inches of counter space on either side of our sink, a bookshelf on top of which we keep our slow cooker, a short black table, and the stove. I mention the short part of the black table because that’s the only surface we can really cut our vegetables on – one side of the sink has the coffee maker, and that’s about the only thing that can fit there, and the other side has our make-shift dish rack (and by this I mean a towel). And in order to cut vegetables on this table, you have to hunker your shoulders and lean forward. It’s mildly uncomfortable.

But we make do. A couple times a week, if we can afford it, one of the three of us housemates likes to make dinner or cookies or (this week) a loaf of bread or two. It requires a juggling of kitchen tools and food that’s difficult to conjure into words – I’m hoping the use of the word ‘juggling’ gives a vivid enough image that you get the idea. And the thing is, it would be so easy to be lazy about cooking and baking with a kitchen as small as ours. As often as we can, though, we find comfort, solace, and a sense of purpose in the kitchen. We feed ourselves and each other, sharing our stresses and finding reasons to laugh.

 So, onto the baking segment of Friday Baking. As I said, this week, we made two loaves of French bread and a loaf of the Golden Pumpkin Challah bread recipe I posted earlier in the week. Also, we made pumpkin cookies.
 
First, a note on the Challah bread. Somehow, in the midst of creating what should have been a masterpiece of sweet, chewy, pumpkin-y perfection, we forgot to add the sugar. When I first realized this, I thought to myself, Well, the sugar is there to feed the yeast, right? Maybe it won’t be terrible? I mean, the yeast has other things to feast on, like the pumpkin. Perhaps my understanding of yeast is a little wobbly, but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be a problem. After the bread came out of the oven, I remembered the sugar is also a tenderizer, cutting into gluten strands and making bread and other baked goods more delicate. So we ended up with Challah bread that had the consistency of French bread. Not bad, but not the amazing, I-would-walk-forty-years-in-the-desert-for-this loaf that I was hoping for.
 
And the French bread… well, I wasn’t in charge of it passed the first fermenting time, because I had to go to work. So the fact that they were flat, almost unrisen disks when I returned had nothing to do with me! I swear! Anyway, from what I gathered, the loaves were placed too close together on the pan for their second proofing, and when my roommate saw that they’d melded together, he tried to reform them or punch them down again. So while they turned out fairly tasty, we all learned to give proofing loaves of bread more space (because, you know, they are supposed to double in size).
 
Working in a tiny kitchen, as I mentioned, can be frustrating. Sometimes the frustration, the tight-space, the way trying to work with somebody else just makes everything more claustrophobic, can lead to mistakes. Silly little mistakes that make you huff and puff and questions yourself as a baker. I’ve made Challah bread about six times over the course of Autumn semester and it turned out fine! Suddenly I make it in my home and it’s of lackluster quality, striking out on my ‘I would totally serve this in a bakery!’ test that I put all of my baked goods through. It’s maddening, and on those days when I can feel myself doubting more than usual, I start to wonder who the heck I think I am, trying to become a professional pastry chef in the face of an astronomically absent-minded brain.
 
But, of course, the fact of the matter is this: I love baking, and I will put myself through the cramped frustration of attempting to do so in my miniscule kitchen as a way to cheer myself up on a low day, or to bring energy and motivation into the house on a boring one.
 
And those cookies? They turned out beautifully. 100% delicious. Here’s the recipe:
 
Old-Fashioned Soft Pumpkin Cookies
 
Ingredients
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
 
Procedure
 
Set oven to pre-heat at 350 degrees F. Cream together butter and sugar. Mix pumpkin, egg, and vanilla. Add to butter and sugar. Mix all dry ingredients together, then add gradually to mixture. Drop spoonfuls onto greased pans and bake for 18-20 minutes.
 
There is also a glaze that goes with it, although we did not make this glaze. Also, we ran out of sugar (grrrrr) and had to use half sugar and half brown sugar. The cookies still turned out incredible.

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