Sunday, September 5, 2010

Baker's Dozen

I, quite simply, love bread.  I can't begin to fathom how the combination of flour, water, salt and yeast can yield so many fantastically delicious variations (have I said that before?)  At a maternal-family (read: Italian) dinner, Hubs once commented that he NEVER would have guessed that so many people could wax philosophical on the topic of bread for an entire meal.  It's true.  We're carb junkies, and proud of it.  Last weekend, I experienced bread in three glorious forms: artisan bakery, homemade, and prepared in a café.  Let the yeast-leavened worship begin!

How could you NOT talk forever about this?!  Silly Hubs.
Making my own bread has had its ups and downs.  I can remember making a recipe for simple dinner rolls when I was about ten years old.  This particular variety was made from a soupy, batter-like dough poured into muffin tins.  The recipe yielded 18, but not wanting to do two batches, I distributed the dough among one twelve-cup standard muffin pan.  Mistake.  Disaster.  Dough everywhere, mushrooming out of the cups, dripping into the oven.  I recall that my dearest, kind, and patient mother was none to pleased.  That's when I learned to put a cookie sheet under precariously full baking vessels.

These buns were more successful, if slightly more complicated.
Above you'll see today's experiment: paposecos, or Portuguese bread rolls.  I was introduced to these a few years ago while working in a government lab, trying to engineer the perfect human race (not really, that's just what most people feel that someone with a genetics degree would be doing).  Anyway, the social committee, designed to lure the reclusive scientists out of their labs, put on a chili cook-off.  The advertising flyers also boasted the presence of "Fresh Portuguese BUNZZZZ!!!!!!".  Hmm.  What was it about these "bunz" that warranted the all-caps and multiple exclamation points?  I soon found out.  Oh, my.  Still warm from the bakery, these reminded me of what Italian panini rolls SHOULD be.  Slightly chewy crust, with a soft, open-crumb interior that was miles away from the dry flakiness of the Ciociaro Club's traditional bread-basket fillers.  DELICIOUS, and well-deserving of capitalization.  I must have eaten about six of these, no word of a lie.

My "little soldiers", as Gina Neely would say, shaped and ready to rise.
Even though I had just had some of these tasty treats at Ni and Aron's wedding picnic, I attempted these on my own, following this recipe.  My only substitution was actual lard instead of shortening; I didn't think that Crisco would be frequently used traditionally.  They didn't turn out exactly like the paposecos I'd had in London, but they were still a delicious bun.  I think the error of my ways came in shaping them; I tried to follow the directions closely, but I imagine it takes a well-practiced vovó (Portuguese version of nonna) to get it right.

The bottom-middle bun looks the most like what I was aiming for, shape-wise.
As for my bakery adventures: earlier in the day, I stopped by a bakery/café that I'd been eyeing for a couple of months: Bread & Circus.  I wasn't looking for a sit-down meal, just a unique loaf of bread.  I spotted the "sun bread": round golden-brown loaves displayed on wooden racks in the window.  As soon as the girl behind the counter told me that sun bread = hazelnut maple bread, I was in love.  The staff packaged a loaf and brought it down to the register... where the hipster-esque male cashier proceeded to swap it for a different, slightly larger, "less pathetic" loaf of the same for me.  He was very chatty and extremely pleasant... and it wasn't until I was back in my car that I realized he MIGHT have been flirting with me.  Maybe.  I'm so oblivious to these things now, having been with Hubs for almost a decade, that I'm sort of slow on the uptake.  Ah well, nice to be noticed.

Sun bread, basking in the sun.  I hate that this falls into the category of "things that would kill Ni and Tori", since it was super-delicious
Cross-sectional view.  The bread was actually quite dense, and almost a little doughy still in the middle.  I'm not complaining, though... it was a prime candidate for toasting.
Ready for toasting (see the slices in my $10 Walmart appliance??).  The only thing that made this bread better?  A generous slathering of Nutella.  Not for the faint of heart.
Last but certainly not least on my weekend of dough-based goodness: the in-house baked bread at The Tallest Poppy.  Went for brunch there with my friends/coworkers on Saturday morning... definitely a treat.  It may be on a stretch of Main Street that's juuuuuust starting to get into the sketchy zone, but still worth a visit!

My café breakfast: delicious local eggs, over-easy, hashbrowns made with red-skinned potatoes, thick-sliced peppercorn bacon, homemade mixed berry compote, and (drumroll please...) slices of their in-house loaf, a dense, slightly sweet, flat-ish bread brushed with butter and dotted with poppyseeds.  This was fantastic with the berry spread, which I suspect may have contained Saskatoons.  Mmm.
Jess' French toast, made with the same in-house bread.  The density really helped it soak up the egg mixture; this went great with their locally-roasted Black Pearl coffee.  Also of note: the little index card in the background contained a little story about how a king had once built a castle using breadsticks stolen, over time, from restaurants.  It encouraged others to do so.  With the price of real estate in the city, I might just.
Please forgive the quality of the café pics... I accidentally left home without my Canon PowerShot A430 and had to rely on my cell phone camera (which has a crack in the lens, boo).  I really enjoyed The Tallest Poppy's bread; I'll have to see if I'm up for a bit of DIY recreation.  We'll see... I'm running out of yeast packages rapidly now!

Thus concludes my bread weekend.  If I haven't inspired you to either go out and buy a loaf of interestingly-flavoured bread, or to attempt to make your own, then I've failed myself here.

Feeling incredible sympathy for those on gluten-free diets,

P.S.- It's not bread-related, but check out this pic from the décor at The Tallest Poppy:
This café is eclectic.  How eclectic?  In addition to mismatched chairs and wood paneling, it has a statue of a very angry-looking bear wearing a sombrero in its front window.  Hmm.  But is it art?  It didn't really speak to me, personally.  Or literally.  Yeesh.  He does look rather upset... maybe he's waiting for coffee?  That's my only complaint about this café; service was a tad slow.

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