amazing and cool shit, bread

…another variation on a theme…

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Perhaps, another reason why making bread is fun for me – maybe not just making it, but having accumulated enough little tidbits of knowledge along the way to be able to do things on the fly. It underscores the whole idea of the difference between knowing something intimately versus simply being able to do something. I made up this recipe in January of 2010 when confronted with a request for rolls. I searched the few ingredients in the cupboard available to me in Eastern Washington and along with the small bit of starter I always pack, realized I could likely come up with something decent.

I made these again for dinner today, Liljulaften (‘little Christmas Eve’), a Swedish holiday brought to my family by my stepmother, whose mother resurrected it for her in a previous state of existence. I’m always happy, at least in hindsight, to know that between tasks in the kitchen I always write stuff down, fill journals with sketches and recipes and tactics before I actually cook anything. It’s my dry run, where I figure out everything I’m going to need; parchment paper, or peeled garlic, or some other ingredient, and how I’m going to do it. It’s the place I figure out where on the counter I’m going to stage stuff as I’m doing a different thing while prepping and cooking.

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I always tweak things, and go back and revise or note what I do differently; in this case I’m out of honey, so I’m using 1/4 cup of Maple sugar as a substitute…

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Milk, sugar and butter go into a sauce pan to warm and melt…

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The evening before, when feeding my starters, I took a small bit to make a sponge to build from… I always marvel at seeing that I’ve tamed nature, and that it’s agreed to assist me in my endeavor once again. Lovely.

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Now, I add in flour – I don’t measure, I simply pour some on top; an inch and a half deep. I know I can always add more if it’s too batter-like. It’s harder to remove when it’s mixed…

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A pinch of Kosher Salt…

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…letting the butter, milk and sugar mixture cool. Temperatures even slightly over 110 degrees can kill your fragile yeast, so if it feels even a little bit too warm to the touch, I just let it sit for a bit…

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I mix in the milk, butter and sugar into the flour and starter only to incorporate all ingredients, and check the consistency. It’s a fairly slack and wet dough, but that’s exactly what I’m shooting for. I put it in a zip top plastic bag and refrigerate overnight…

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The next morning, I crank up the oven to 350, clean off my counter and dust it with flour. I turn out the dough…

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Then I divide it, work into a couple of 1 1/2 inch thick ropes, and cut it into portions…

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I slather my hands with butter and begin shaping them into balls…

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I place them on a parchment lined sheet pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise a bit…

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After 40 minutes in the oven, I baste with a little bit of butter and allow to cool…

Miscellaneous thoughts and reasons behind the recipe… When I sit down and begin thinking of a recipe, I usually think of what I want the end result to be and work backwards. I wanted them to be moist, delicate, almost cake like inside, with a slightly sweet and buttery flavor to go along with the hint of the sour/acidic sponge… With breads, there’s the flour, the liquid, and the cooking that comprise the final result. The flour is largely unchangeable at least in terms of flavor it offers, but the variations one can get from the latter two can be amazing and interesting to experiment with…

The butter, milk and sugar comprise the liquid component of the bread. I use the butter for its fat content and shortening ability (namely keeping the gluten from sticking together too well) in addition to the flavor. The sugar is to primarily add sweetness to the dough. High quantities of sugar can impede yeast activity, so I kept it low, but high enough to be noticed on the palate. Finally, the milk. I use it because it yields a softer and silkier crumb texture.

I roll these out with buttered hands and place them apart on parchment so they’ll rise and touch, but won’t stick to each other. Butter also helps to keep the crust from getting too dry.

I bake them at a relatively low temperature to ensure even cooking without a lot of browning of the crust. Finally, I baste them with butter when they come out of the oven to soften the crust yet again.

All told, it’s a recipe that turned out very well, perhaps another simple illustration of why cooking and knowing how to can be much more rewarding than what winds up on the table…

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