Thursday, November 13, 2008

Price index

It’s been a relief to discover that the cost of living in Australia seems to be quite a bit lower than it was in England. I haven’t done an item-by-item comparison (although I probably will at some point, thrifty OCD nerd that I am, and then post it here); so far, it’s just noticing an overall decrease in expenses, and the fact that money seems to stay in my pocket longer than it has been for the last few years.

I’ve noticed a few exceptions to this rule. One of them I’ve already mentioned—imported cheese. Another is Internet access: I’m paying what I consider to be a ludicrous amount for a mediocre connection at home, which moreover has a monthly usage limit. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I had one of those. (Both of these make some sense when you think about remote Australia is from other population centers, and how sparsely populated for its size.)

One surprise in this category has been bread. In England we were in the habit of buying a loaf (a baguette or bloomer/torpedo or similar) once or twice a week to cut up and eat with dinner (the low-carb revolution missed our house), but the price here--about AUD$4.00 (USD$2.60/GBP1.75)--pulled me up short. We were paying less than half that for an equivalent loaf in England, and I just could not bring myself to fork over that amount for what I consider a frill, foodwise. It was just the kick in the butt I needed to get me baking bread again.

Flexible Slow-Rise White Bread
This bread recipe is my amalgamation of imperfectly digested advice, directions, and tips from Laurie Colwin, Elizabeth David, Deborah Madison, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wouldn't call it artisan bread, but it’s pretty tasty. Every time it comes out of the oven, I’m stunned anew that I’ve actually produced bread.

480g/4 cups all-purpose or strong white flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon or less yeast*
360ml/12oz almost-hot water

Measure all the dry ingredients** into a large bowl. Slowly pour in the water, mixing into the dry ingredients with a knife, whisk, or similar. (I use my fab dough whisk—procured thanks to a tip from Chocolate & Zucchini.) Soon you will have shaggy clumps of dough. When your mixing implement starts to get too clogged, remove and clean it, and start working with your hands. (Have extra flour nearby for when the dough starts to get too sticky as you knead.) Knead the bread for at least five minutes—the longer the better. It should feel increasingly elastic and springy as you work. When you’ve had enough kneading, roll the dough in flour and put in a bowl to rise (overnight, say) at room temperature or in the fridge. (It’s a good idea to cover it with something so the top doesn’t dry out; I use a tea towel if I’m leaving it out, and a Ziploc bag, opened over the bowl mouth and secured with an elastic, for the fridge.)

This dough will rise slowly in the fridge, and can be used over a couple of days. Try to remember to knock the air out of it at least once every 24 hours. Also try to remember to take it out of the fridge a little while before you want to use it, although I hardly ever do. To bake, knead it a bit more, shape as desired*** (lately, all I make is rolls), place on a baking sheet (baking parchment is a good idea), slash or glaze as your fancy takes you, let it rise some more if you feel like it (or not) and bake in a very hot oven. (How long you bake it for will depend on the shape: rolls take about 20 minutes, loaves take longer, depending on size. It's done when it smells like bread and/or sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.)

*Slow-rise bread needs very little yeast because you’re giving it hours to rise and you don’t want to worry that it’s rising too much.

**I don’t do any of that business with proofing the yeast; I just dump it straight into the mix and rely on the warm water to activate it. It has never (touch wood) failed yet.

***It’s also a good idea to save a bit of dough to help flavor and ferment your next loaf.


Stephen said... Best Blogger Tips

Hey, the bread recipe sounds fabulous. I'll have to try it. If you haven't tried that no-knead bread recipe that's all over the internet (from the Sullivan Street Bakery in NY) you must try it. It's on my blog. You need time (18 hours) to let it rise - but the results are pure perfection every time. It's baked in cast iron pan. I have the same reaction you do to your recipe - when I take it out of the oven I can't believe I've made it!

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Yes, I've been meaning to try that no-knead recipe. Does the cast-iron pan improve the crust? My wimpy electric oven isn't very good at crust.

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