There was this really strange period in the early stages of quarantine where everyone was baking bread. The demand for yeast was so high that supermarkets cited a mass shortage. Flour, sugar, and other baking ingredients flew off the shelves as everyone panicked at the idea of being unable to safely leave their homes for indeterminate periods of time. While I do not like to think of myself as a prepper or a doomsday conspiracy theorist, I definitely saw the value in knowing how to make my own food staples at home from scratch. Besides, for those of you who have known me in my adult life, you are well aware that baking is one of my FAVORITE activities. Sure, writing was my first love, but giving someone a carefully crafted pastry and watching them delight in my hard work never gets old. I had three notable successes in quarantine baking: bread, pizza crust, and apple brown betty. I decided to start with bread.
As luck would have it, I happened to have a couple of yeast packets in my house from the 2019 holiday season. A passion for baking is shared by my husband, and he had quite a lot of fun making all matter of goodies between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My newsfeed was flooded with recipes for homemade bread, and I wanted to join the fun. I knew I had yeast and some whole wheat flour that I wanted to use, so I considered giving it a go. How difficult could it be? As I pored over methods, I saw that proofing was highly suggested. (TL;DR proofing is giving your active yeast a chance to do its thing. It feeds on your raw ingredients and makes your dough expand. It takes time where you have to let your dough sit while you go off and do something else.) When I discovered a recipe that required zero proofing, my interest piqued. This baker claimed that one could make bread in a slow cooker without proofing beforehand. The hell was this sorcery? Could it be true? Would it be edible? I opted to take the plunge and find out.
A lovely brown crust, a soft and fluffy middle, and a taste that was mild enough not to overpower other toppings made this a winner. However, it did NOT keep well and was quickly reclaimed by nature after a few days of being kept on my counter in airtight Pyrex. I have opted not to make this again until I know that it will be eaten within one to two days. I get the feeling that if we are still in this awful timeline by the time Thanksgiving is upon us, I will bring this baby back.
Eventually, the great yeast shortage of 2020 subsided. Once I had procured a jar of active dry yeast, I decided to up the ante. Pizza is hands down one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s hard to screw up bread, sauce and cheese. It occurred to me to take a stab at making my own dough. Unfortunately, a lot of pizza dough recipes assume that you are both in possession of a standing mixer and have procured a dough attachment. Since I do not own a standing mixer, I opted to BE the standing mixer. It’s a messy job and can aggravate repetitive motion injuries, but it gets the job done. Also, when you’ve had a particularly stressful day, sinking your hands into pizza dough is therapeutic. I found this recipe that was simple and permitted the omission of a hefty kitchen appliance.
What I learned about making pizza crust myself is that it is a labor of love and requires a good bit of preparation beforehand since the dough HAS to proof. I also discovered that making the dough into a nice round circle is not nearly as easy as it appears. Many of my early pizzas were more ovoid than circular, but still yummy. To be truthful, the first pizza or two was not photographable as it resembled an amoeba that I remember seeing in my high school biology textbook. Not sure about you guys, but amoebae are not appetizing to me.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Is it delicious and worth it to make pizza dough from scratch? Absolutely. Would I continue doing this in the future? Definitely. I even bought a special pizza pan for future pies, and I am so glad I did. Maybe one day, I’ll splurge and get myself a pizza stone. (Might need to get that standing mixer while I’m at it.)
I have a major sweet tooth as well, and I have used quarantine to remake some old standbys like brownies, cookies, and pumpkin scones. My introduction to a new dessert came from none other than Peggy Hill on King of the Hill. In a few episodes, the Hills mention Peggy’s apple brown betty dessert. I had never heard of it, and after finding this vintage recipe, I had to make it myself. I don’t have shortening on hand, so I substituted butter. Still, it is absolutely delicious and pairs well with vanilla ice cream. Having made it twice, I can also confess that it disappears in my house within twenty-four hours. Super weird how that happens, eh?
I’m still up in the air as to what I will post about next Sunday, but I’m confident that I’ll think of something. See you next Sunday!