I am an unconfirmed Catholic. My mother stopped taking us to mass when I was about ten. My sister and I continued going sporadically for some years when we visited my grandmother, but it's been a good 20 years since I took Communion and 30 since I confessed. (Never having gone as far as Confirmation, it was many years before I found out you were supposed to go to confession regularly if you wanted to take Communion.) So religiously, a pretty lapsed Catholic. But culturally...that's another story. I'm as good at guilt as any regular attender of mass. Better, in fact.
My latest guilt trip? It's this beautiful shiny red baby. To me, the Kitchenaid mixer is the Rolls Royce of kitchen equipment. Given my meagre salary it's something I've never aspired to owning before becoming a grandmother. (And even then I figured my grandchildren would have to club together to get me one, if I were so lucky as to have grandchildren.) But the Critic earns a good salary. And he's generous. And he loves shiny exciting flashy equipment. So it was like shooting fish in a barrel to hint to him that a Kitchenaid mixer (red please) would be a most welcome Christmas gift. Not only was he generous enough to buy me the mixer, but he was a sucker for the set of attachments that go with it. AND he was extraordinarily imaginative in giving it to me. Rightly assuming that if I saw a huge box under the tree I would guess I had the mixer, he primed me by a) telling me that he had decided not to go all out on presents this year as he may be leaving his high-paying job soon and b) leaving the box in the car. And once I we had opened "all" our presents (and he bought me a lot of others to cover the story) he offered to take the garbage out.
Okay, admittedly at this point alarm bells should have been ringing in my head. But I was a bit dopey and put it down to some weird Christmas spirit. And when he came back up with two big boxes, even THEN I didn't catch on and assumed it was something new for the Boy. I am really dense.
So then I was feeling guilty about asking for an expensive gift (and getting it). AND there was the fact that one of his gifts from me was an electric knife so that I could trick him into carving the turkey.
I'm going to have to make it up to him on Valentine's day or I'll burst.
The first two times we used my darling were actually on Christmas day - to mix the Critic's stuffing and to whip the cream for our Christmas pudding. It was beautiful. It hums. It dances. It shimmers before me, a delight in red.
And this weekend, I tried out the amazing bread kneading hook. When I first heard about the Kitchenaid mixer's bread kneading hook I was probably about ten or twelve years old and my aunt Betsy was talking about her new machine. New to the yeast-setting-set I looked down my nose at a machine that would take away half the fun of bread-making: the kneading. With the wisdom of years, I have come to realize that the dough needing attachment actually allows you to have your cake and eat it too. The first kneading of a yeast dough is a messy business. Yes, there is satisfaction in bringing a mass of gooey yeast and bread to an elastic lump. But there is also satisfaction in judging it properly through the funnel of your red Kitchenaid mixer for the first time. And the dough is just as elastic and warm when you are done. And when you turn it out on the counter for a second kneading after rising the dough does not stick to the counter and you do not have to spend half an hour cleaning afterwards. And come on, it's another toy - it's FUN!
So here is the recipe for my first loaf of bread in about 20 years too as it happens. I'm going to be experimenting a lot with my new toy, especially in the bread line. Paris has such wonderful bread that it's easy to forget how much joy can be found in an afternoon of making your own bread. So bring on the joy...
Half Whole-Wheat Bread (an amalgam of two recipes from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
3 cups whole-wheat flour
3 cups white flour, plus about a cup extra for kneading
1 cup hot water plus 1/4 cup lukewarm
1 cup milk, scalded
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
2 1/2 tsp dry yeast (one package)
Put the butter and salt in the scalded milk (while it is still hot) and stir. Add the hot water, stir and let cool to lukewarm. (The butter should melt completely into the milk and water.) In the meantime, stir the sugar into the 1/4 cup lukewarm water in the bowl of your Kitchenaid mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the top evenly. After five minutes, it should be puffed and double in size. If it's not, your yeast is not active and you should start that part over with fresh yeast, water and sugar.
Once the milk mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add it to the yeast. Add a cup of flour and start the mixer going on a low speed. Gradually add the rest of the whole-wheat flour and begin adding the white flour. As it gets thicker, turn up the speed a bit to setting three or four. You don't need it to be whipped but there is no reason to take several years getting your dough mixed. Keep adding flour until the dough forms a big lump on the hook. Give it a few more minutes for good measure. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes, adding a little flour if the dough is sticking to the work surface.
Put the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with a damp towel. Set it to rise for one hour in a warm place. Near a radiator is good. Inside an oven that has a pilot light is ideal but not common here in France. I turn on the oven to 40 degress Celsius, crack the oven door open once it reaches that temperature and turn off the oven. After ten minutes or so, I shut the door to preserve the remaining heat.
After an hour (or less if the dough has already doubled in bulk - it depends on the yeast), punch down the dough and give it another little kneading on a floured surface, say five minutes or so. Shape your dough into whatever form suits your fancy: you can have a rustic round or go for a conventional loaf, as I did. If you are using a bread pan, grease it before putting the dough in it.
Put the dough back in a warm place to rise again. Do not - as I did - put the bread pan on the lower rack with only a couple of centimeters of space to the next rack. Your dough will rise up and stick to the rack above and you will be very sad as I was. My bread did not turn out as light as I would have liked and I put it down to this little indiscretion, which led me to taking the dough out, kneading it again and starting the rising process all over. I didn't have the time to let it rise a full hour from that point, so the bread was a bit dense. Though that could be the whole-wheat too.
Ten minutes before the bread finishes rising, preheat the oven to 220C/450F. Bake the bread for fifteen minutes at this high temperature and then lower to 190C/375F. Bake another 30 minutes (so 45 minutes total) and take out when it is nicely browned on top and sounds a bit hollow when tapped with a wooden spoon. The bread will have pulled away from the edges of the pan slightly too.
Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Slice only once it has cooled a bit (though it's lovely to have your first slice when it's still warm enough to melt the butter you slather over it). If you want a crusty bread, allow it to cool completely before putting in a bag to store. If you want a soft crust, cover it with a towel while it is cooling. And enjoy!
Although the total amount of time expended on bread-making seems enormous, the actual time you spend working on it is pretty short: 10 minutes getting the dough together and five minutes kneading it. Then you wait an hour, in which you can go shopping, watch TV, clean or play with the boy. Then another ten to fifteen minutes kneading and shaping. Another hour of leisure while it rises again. And then you bake it. Easy-peasy as my stepdaughter would say. And so very delicious! It prompted me to make a lovely Broccoli and Stilton soup for dinner on Sunday, just so we would have an excuse for bread and butter. And the house smelled wonderful for hours afterwards.
This is a habit I need to keep up.