How do you celebrate failure? Do you examine your inner self, well hidden under a poised smile? Do you shatter like tempered glass crumbling into dull-edged pieces? Do you try, try again?
A year has passed since the events of last January and I’m baking bread. Symbolic as it may be, I have failed.
I lost my baking mojo this week. It started with a slight problem — the desire to bake sweet-smelling goodies with ingredients that are difficult to find or must be ordered. After finding a recipe that could be conveniently conquered, I remembered that my special baking tools like my baking stone were still packed in boxes upon boxes of brown cardboard, waiting to be enjoyed in their new Egyptian home. Finally settling on using my hands and a whisk, I got to work. Simple enough, right?
I might be overly finicky about the way my dough molds itself around the soft weight of my fingers. It might bother me slightly that dough takes longer to rise in the cold draft this Cairene winter brings. On baking days, I might also fume at my temporary oven’s inefficiency to uniformly color my bread rolls a golden tan. Cushiony, toothsome and significantly scorched as it was, my bread was not as puffy and wonderful as I imagined it would be. It left me with an apple-sized lump in my throat and my high expectations sinking like the soft center in a deflating soufflé.
It was time to get used to getting used to Egypt again. I would have to experiment with the different kinds of flour to find my baking balance. Patience would have to be learned in a winter so far removed from the humid tropics I learned to cook in. New techniques and ingredients would have to be adopted to build on my successes.
Reformatting my mind, I realize that I am not alone. Throughout the past year, I have watched Egyptians stand up against the patterned words and actions of those that try to steer their fate in a dismal direction. I have seen an uprising that refuses to fail, undeterred by the hateful negativity surrounding it. I have learned to try, try again.
Just as in politics, cooking can be learned and often takes many trial runs before you start putting together a well constituted meal. If your dough doesn’t rise because of the weather, place a radiator underneath a heatproof counter-top and let the warmth do its job. Use bowls instead of cookie cutters and your hands instead of mixers. Learn about the different kinds of flour on the market. Find solutions to your mishaps and misery. Master what you don’t know. Grow.
Soft Bread Rolls
1 cup of warm milk
¼ cup of castor sugar
2½ teaspoons of dry active yeast
1 teaspoon of salt
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons of cold water
60 grams of unsalted butter, softened
3 to 3 ½ cups of bread flour
A handful of sesame/ Nigella seeds, optional
Coarse sea salt, optional
In a large bowl, mix together the milk, sugar, salt and yeast until it comes together and the sugar and salt dissolves. Cut your butter into chunks and add it to your mixture along with 1 beaten egg. Whisk to combine then add 1 cup of flour. Stir quickly to fully incorporate the flour with the mixture.
By now, your butter should be part of the mixture and no lumps should remain. Begin to add the remaining flour slowly, a ¼ cup at a time, until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. By now, you’ll need to get rid of your whisk and knead the dough using your hands. Continue to add small amounts of flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. Knead for around 5 minutes. The dough should be light, soft and smooth.
Move the dough to the center of a lightly greased mixing bowl. Cover with cling film and allow it to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size. This should take around 2 hours. Punch down the dough and reshape it into a ball. Leave it to rise again for another hour until it has again doubled in volume.
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Start separating your dough into equal sizes and shape the rolls according to your preference — round rolls are the easiest. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and place the rolls on it to rise a third time until they puff up slightly.
In a small bowl, beat together 1 egg with 2 teaspoons of cold water. Brush the rolls with the egg wash and leave plain or sprinkle with coarse sea salt and the seeds of your choice. Bake for 13-15 minutes. The rolls should come out golden on top.
Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes on the baking sheet before serving. They can be immediately frozen or stored in an airtight container.