You are what you eat. And, I’d like to add, you write what you read. As the sayings go, I’ve just finished Some Luck in a two day race against a library due date, so bear with me.
My sourdough starter was banished to the fridge this week after a series of variously tough and delicious flatbread experiments (now going stale in a tupperware on my pantry shelf) and a passable first loaf of sourdough bread. Even so, as the duties of the week approached, I, true to form, was overwhelmed with a crippling desire to bake bread. But (after hours of searching sourdough focaccia techniques and recipes on the Internet) I caught myself. I reminded me there was no pressing need for bread at this moment: had I seen the freezer?! And, anyway, weren’t I more productive when I didn’t try to do all of my projects in one day?
It’s this new minimalism kick I’m on. And it was going swell, really. I had this week met my self-imposed scholarship essay draft deadline, cleaned my apartment…basically, and polished off a few hundred pages of a novel without blinking an eye. But when my boss at Internship #2 let me out early to “enjoy a brief reprieve” from the miserable weather lately and I felt the sun beat down on me and my bike (which I now realize is appallingly unnamed?!) I knew I had to bake focaccia. The focaccia. Sour Cherry and Rosemary Focaccia. Those sour cherries deserved a proper entré into the digestive tract, after all!
As fate would have it, when I swung into my apartment complex, I remembered that today my final birthday gift was supposed to arrive. Sure enough, sitting expectantly on my front stoop was a tall brown box. In the agonizing transition out- to indoors, I spoke, imaginarily, with my mother. She couldn’t have. Maybe she did? It can’t. It musn’t be. But she… I tore open the box, retrieving a seductive cello cd from the top before reaching the far more formidable contents.
If you’re there mom, you done good. A stand mixer. Nothing as extravagant as the ones I read and re-read about on KitchenAid.com, which I did in preparation for my future grown-up kitchen. No, instead a healthy black Hamilton Beach model. Just the ticket for the aspiring novice baker, a mere two-days-past-twenty.
With the mixer on the counter, the focaccia metamorphosized from Sour Cherry Vehicle to Sour Cherry Inaugural Ball. And let me tell you, kids, making bread was suddenly a much cleaner experience. In an interval true to Martha’s suggestion, the dough slurped together and sat ready for its first rise. I flipped on the cello cd and turned to the cherries.
There was a pint of ’em, fresh from the hands of my favorite Amish farm marketeur and into my own before I could even think about the pits. And, boy, the pits are the pits. Yet here, with the cello streaming from the living room and the sun streaming from the window and both probably encouraging the bread rising behind me, the pits weren’t the pits at all. One by one, I took a cherry from the steamer pot I’d washed them in (my former roommates owned the good pans).
Anxiously at first, I pressure on them with my little paring knife, easing my way in to find the pit. When I gently pulled out the first one and popped it immediately into my mouth to suck off the excess cherry flesh, I was surprised to discover that the body of the cherry remained noticeably in tact. One by one, I carved the pits delicately out of the cherries. Pausing only when I couldn’t resist eating one, raw and fresh, savoring the sweeter-than-sourness of the fruit as I de-pitted it with my tongue.
The cd finished slightly before I did, and I severed the rest of the pits in silence, relishing the pool of pink blood they left on the kitchen counter. I covered the bowl of cherries with the lid of a casserole dish to protect them from ravenous fruit flies and peeked at the dough. I could just smell the sweet not-quite-almond puff of yeast.
The bread continued rising as I headed to the gym and worked out, which is possibly what gave me the umph to hit those tuck jumps today without hardly batting an eye. By the time I got home, the bowl was full of nice puffy slop, which I massaged around the counter until it had picked up enough flour to stay a little shaped, and then I dropped it back into the bowl.
During the second rise, I cooked a luxuriously long dinner. (Including experiments with tofu, balsamic mushroom and onion stir fry, and feta and hazelnut ravioli, I mean!) I ate quickly so that my hands would be free to fold when the bread was ready.
The second knead was better, we were both more prepared. I felt delicate bubbles sigh between my finger tips as they sank into the dough. I can’t recall exactly what happened between the second and third rise. It seems like less than an hour that I swept, wiped the counters, set the dishwasher, and sat down to write this, but then bread is mesmerizing.
As I greased the pan, (read: drowned the pan in olive oil), and heated the oven, I kept glancing at the dough. Large bubbles pressed eagerly at the surface. I was giddy. It was not even 9:00 but the late night sax cd I’d queued up was inexplicably apropos. I caressed the dough slowly into 20-in round pan. The church ladies had laughed when I took it home from the garage sale as my payment for volunteering, but this dough nearly consumed it. The oil slipped happily into the narrow between the dough and the edge, and that was that.
For fifteen minutes, I tore myself away for as long as I could before wetting my fingers and pressing them against the dough edges, asking it to stretch to the lip of the pan. At 9:20, I opened the cherries, picking them up, only to drop them into the dough. It rose around them, enveloping them between bubbles. The finishing touches: A dash of olive oil. A sprinkle of rosemary. A hot stone.
I hear it now in the oven, sizzling and popping as I leave this paragraph to watch the final rise through the steamy window…
My capacity to weave this into a narrative experience for you ends here. I’m not sure it was the mixer, or the weather, or the cherries, or the magic of Martha, or me, but this is one of the best things I have made in my entire life, and I’m afraid only way to believe something this good is to taste it.
Eat your heart out.