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Sticky Dough and Uncooperative Yeast

People have been making bread since the beginning of humanity as we know it today, yet the skill has been lost on today’s cooking-ignorant population. We buy our bread at the supermarket; if we’re lucky it will be a nice shade of brown, but always with square sides. Few people bother spending the time and money to go down to the local bakery where beautiful loaves of handcrafted breads can be purchased…for twice the price as at the supermarket. But making bread by hand is an entirely different operation that most of us forego completely, and for good reason: it is an epic hassle. Still, we attempted to make some of the breads of the earliest Levantine civilisations, to mixed success.

The motivation to get up from the couch and actually make the bread took all the effort in the world, so by the time we’d even found the flour and salt, we were already exhausted. But, for the sake of the game, we continued on. Trouble already came about when it came to measuring ingredients. The chosen recipe had a crazy high yield, and so the idea was to half it, something we completely forgot about halfway into weighing ingredients. As a result, instead of the beautifully rounded dough that was described in the cookbook, were left with a soupy mess that no amount of hand mixing could fix.

The idea to fix this was simple: add more flour. Sure, but how much? Given the disaster of the dough, it made sense to add an enthusiastic handful and hope for the best. Now, the right thing to do would have been to add flour in increments until something vaguely resembling bread dough happened, but we didn’t know any better. So of course, too much flour was added, because who knew that half a pound would be too much, and we ended up with a chalky mess. Lesson learned: we added just a touch of water at a time and finally wound up with a dough that, though not as shiny and beautiful as described in the book, didn’t mirror something that should be served in a bowl with crackers on top.

Proofing the dough went without great event, minus the general panic when the dough was resolutely flat after close to half an hour. We were meant to wait for twice as long and so, an episode of Mad Men later and we were ready for shaping. Well, the dough rose, which was cause for celebration. But when it came time to shape, it was still a sticky mess and therefore absolutely impossible to form into the instructed baseball-sized mounds, as per the directions. Adding more flour was the only solution, though it was the absolute wrong thing to do, as we later found out. Still, the sticky mess turned slightly more solid, and so vaguely round entities were formed. A second round of proofing later and they were ready to shape.

This was the part that we thought would be easy. Roll out dough into circle, place on cookie sheet, bake for four minutes. But no one told us that getting the dough to the blasting hot cooking sheets would be such an operation. And so the idea of making pretty circular breads fell right out the window, and instead we ended up with what we decided looked like a collection of children’s drawings. Besides nearly starting a small fire, the actual baking part was fairly uneventful. Though our breads came out looking misshapen and uneven, you know what? They were absolutely delicious.

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