#4: The Cook Book Lottery (aka baking cursed bread)

Posted by Megan on April 29th, 2011

I’ve never been much of a cook. My recipe catalogue only has about a dozen recipes, and most of those contain either cream of mushroom soup or marshmallows as the main ingredient. I’m terrible at meal planning. I’ve been known to eat 4 – 6 bowls of cereal for dinner and my husband and I are regulars at Subway and Noodles and Company. Don’t get me wrong, I love food, I just don’t love cooking it. I pretty much refuse to make any recipe with more than six ingredients. People who claim the “love to cook” just seem weird to me. I’ve made some positive strides towards being more culinary adventurous over the past year but I still stick strictly with dishes I’m familiar with like lasagna, turkey burgers and grilled chicken.

For this week’s challenge I resolved to do the Cookbook Lottery. The concept is simple: open the cookbook to a random page and prepare that dish. This was made exponentially more difficult considering the Greek cookbook I choose had no pictures and the titles of all the dishes were in Greek. The page I opened to was for “Lagana” YES! I thought, Greek lasagna, this was going to be easier than I thought. What more, the recipe only had six ingredients. Double YES! After scanning the ingredient list it was apparent that this was definitely not Lasagna:

3 envelopes active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
7 to 8 cups bread flour
2 1/4 cups warm water
1 tbsp. salt
5 tbsp. Olive Oil
Sesame seeds for sprinkling

Crap, this is bread!

My grandmother used to make bread from scratch. She would knead and rise and role and rise and knead some more. Her bread was fantastic. I loved making toast and slathering it with butter AND peanut butter, but it was still just bread. It seemed like a lot of damn work for a good piece of toast. I really appreciated all the love and time she put into it, but seriously you can buy bread at the grocery store for like $2.

But, the cookbook lottery had spoken and I was stuck with Lagana.

I intentionally did not google what Lagana should end up looking like. I wanted to be completely on my own, with no expectation of what the finished product should look like.

The first step was to mix the warm water with the yeast and sugar. Umm, this is not looking right.

Is it supposed to be so grainy? My cookbook has no guidance on the consistency aside from “Until the yeast is blended.” What on earth does blended yeast look like? Blended yeast sounds quite a lot like a bad infection I had last summer.

The next step was to let the mixture “fester” for ten minutes. I gave it a little saran wrap hat to speed along the process.

Excited to finally have a vacation from the far back cupboard where my cooking utensils live, my stainless steel bowl quickly made friends with my other stainless steel appliances.

“What’s up guys? Do you like my blended yeast?”

Next it was time to sift a crapload of flour.

Time to check on the blended yeast. Holy cow! Now it looks even more wrong. I started pondering whether I could abort this mission and make baklava instead. Damn your lottery and insistence in sticking me with bread!

Onward and upwards. I mixed in the flour.

And shaped it into a ball.

Now’s where the real work of making bread comes in: the kneading. If I had three arms I would have taken a lovely photo of me assaulting the dough, but alas you will have to imagine it. I’ll set the scene for you. Fifteen minutes of kneading are required:

  • Minutes 1 – 3: Happily singing along to Justin Beiber as I knead and feel proud of my domestic adventure
  • Minutes 3 – 4: Start feeling somewhat annoyed
  • Minutes 4 – 5: Wonder if I can multitask while kneading and attempt to read a Women’s Health
  • Minutes 5 – 6: Quickly realize that I am not smart enough to read while kneading
  • Minutes 6 – 7: Feel bad about myself for being so dumb I cannot read and knead
  • Minutes 7 – 8: Think about how weird the word knead is and wonder if anyone has ever needed to knead or kneaded to need
  • Minutes 8 – 9: Think I have made a philosophical breakthrough with my kneaded to need
  • Minutes 9 – 10: Become even more irritated that I need to knead for five more minutes thus answering one of my previous questions
  • Minutes 10 – 12: Realize that I am in heart rate zone two just from kneading
  • Minutes 12 – 13: Decide kneading is my workout for the day
  • Minutes 13 – 14: Wonder why 15 minutes seems like an eternity
  • Minute 15: Rejoice!

This is what my 15 minute brawl with the dough ended up looking like.
I’m not sure who won.

I put the dough in time out for two hours to think about what it had done.

The tea kettle was disgusted.

After the dough completed its sentence and was released, I separated it into two balls. The description said to form them into six inch balls. I had to get out a ruler to ensure I was on the right track. I feel a better description would have been “the size of good snowball.” This would have saved me the step of measuring. Mental note: Write a letter to the editor of Greek Cuisine in America.

Next I used a rolling pin to flatten these suckers out.

Then it was time for time out #2. One hour this time.

Chili dog attempted to help. And by help I mean, attempted to lick any surface that had flour on it. That’s right, my dog is such a fatty that he will eat straight up flour like it’s steak and beg for more.

The final step was to poke the bread with a fork and brush it was olive oil. This part I can handle.

Into the oven it went, for 20 minutes and came out looking like this.

I had no idea if this was correct. I’ve never heard of lagana. Time to google it and see if my lagana came out correctly.

The good news: My lagana looked exactly correct (albeit slightly misshapen).

The bad news: According to every Greek website I googled, lagana is only to be made one day a year, on Clean Monday, the first day of lent. Furthermore, folklore dictates that anyone who cooks it on any other day would be the recipient of ill will. Crap! I just spent six hours making evil bread.

I ate it anyway – and it was delicious!

And this is why I don’t bake more:

  • © 2011 Megan Steil