If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.
– Robert Browning
My morning ritual begins with a mug of steaming café au lait and two pains au lait sliced lengthwise and filled with cherry jam. Sometimes husband and I sit in comforting silence, side by side, sharing the occasional witticism or a random thought as we sip our coffees and eat our breakfast. Or we flip on the radio and listen to the news, the weather report, a bit of music before flicking it back off and shuffling back to bed for a quiet half hour or so of chat and reading. Once I get back up, I boot up the laptop and check out the Huffington Post headlines as I wait for incoming e-mails. And each and every day since the Newtown massacre, the headlines have been a macabre roll call of yesterdays’ dead by firearms.
Our nation is still in shock, stunned by last Friday’s event. And the debate rages, fingers pointed, accusations shunted back and forth. Politics, culture, individuals, no one and nothing is left unscathed or without blame. I bite my tongue, trying to stay out of the argument although sometimes my anger and emotions get the better of me; yet arguing gets us nowhere. So I close the laptop and try and make it all go away, if only for a moment or two. I talk with my children, prepare for the holidays and bake. Baking soothes the soul, warms the heart and although these well-worn expressions are rather trite and nonsensical, baking is a way to forget the world around me, if ever so briefly.
With bread all sorrows are less.
- Sancho Panza in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
It has been pouring rain for what seems like years. On and on and on. Milky white to dirty gray, the skies fluctuate over the course of a single day, imposing a color on our mood. Slowly, oh so slowly, we get the apartment in shape: two more boxes to the basement, one more bag to the attic, one more door painted, one more set of cupboards purchased and installed. Books painstakingly make their way out of cartons and onto bookshelves. We take turns cooking and carry our plates to the livingroom where we can lose our worries in a thriller or a mystery. And in between, we stay huddled inside, he praying for sunshine and warmth, I praying for snow and bright icy skies. We decided to do something for Christmas this year (or our version of Christmas) and scurry about looking for gifts and choosing a menu. My projects and his take shape and form and color and excitement fills the air: something to celebrate!
The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water,
is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.
- M.F.K. Fischer
Son came over to cook with me last week. Together we made Greek-Style Preserved Lemon Chicken with Olives from a cookbook he had offered to me last Hanukkah and divine it was. Before he arrived I threw together the soft, silky dough for Greek Spiral Feta Rolls. The dough is perfect in every way: easy to put together, soft and luxurious to knead and a pleasure to cut and roll. The resulting rolls are evenly textured, light and fluffy and would be perfect with either a savory or a sweet filling. My sons love feta, always have, so this was enjoyed thoroughly. But I will soon make the dough again, replacing the cheese with caramelized cubes of apples.
I want to share these with Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly all-things-yeast event Yeastspotting.
GREEK SPIRAL FETA ROLLS
From Vefa’s Kitchen by Vefa Alexiadou – published in French by Phaidon
10 ½ oz (300 g) flour = 5 ¼ oz (150 g) regular flour + 5 ¼ oz (150 g) flour T55
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs active dry yeast
5 Tbs warm water (not hot)
1 Tbs sugar or honey
4 Tbs olive oil
½ cup (120 ml) warm milk (not hot)
1 egg, separated
10 ½ oz (300 g) feta, crumbled
2 Tbs sesame seeds
Melted butter for the baking tray or dish and olive oil for the bowl
Sift the two flours together in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and the dry yeast without stirring. Add the warm water and allow to activate for several minutes. Once foamy, add the sugar or honey, the olive oil, the milk and the egg white (only the white!). Stir to moisten all of the dry ingredients and until the mixture forms a shaggy dough. Scrape the dough out onto a well-floured work surface (the dough will be sticky) and knead, adding flour as needed, for about 6 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, well-oiled mixing bowl, turning the dough until it is coated in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and leave the dough to rise for about an hour or so until doubled in size.
Butter a baking dish or baking sheet large enough to hold four rolls (they will expand to about 4 – 5 inches (10 – 13 cm) in diameter) – I lined a baking sheet with oven parchment paper and buttered the paper). Make an egg wash with the yolk and 1 tsp of cold water.
Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll each one out on a floured work surface to a length of about 16 inches (40/41 cm) and about 7 inches (18 cm) wide, the long side perpendicular to your body. Crumble a quarter of the feta about an inch (2 cms) evenly over the dough, leaving about an inches (2 cms) feta-free along the lower edge closest to your body from end to end and about 4 inches (10 cm) along the top (the feta should be concentrated in a long line from end to end). Brush egg wash lighly all around the exposed edges and roll up the dough around the feta starting with the side closest to you and rolling up; you should end up with a long thin log. Starting at one end, lightly but firmly roll the length of dough into itself, forming a round spiral, tucking the end underneath. Gently lift the spiral and place it one the prepared baking sheet or baking dish.
Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough. Brush each spiral with the egg wash, both the tops and sides, and dust with sesame seeds. Cover the baking sheet loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top is a nice golden brown and the rolls are well puffed.
Allow to cool a bit or come to room temperature before serving.