My latest culinary experiment was inspired by an innocuous sentence on page 15 of my copy of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust: “Then he walked into the farm kitchen, and kissed his mother on the cheek, and helped himself to a cottage loaf and a large pat of fresh-churned butter.” No, I didn’t churn butter. I live in the midst of a city (Atlanta) and have no access to a cow, even if I did want to churn butter. Which I don’t. I tried it once (churning) at a pioneer reenactment farm, and it was both hard work and unsatisfying. But I digress. What inspired me in that very ordinary phrase above was the ‘cottage loaf’ part. I drink tea when literary characters drink tea…I suppose I really shouldn’t have been surprised that it seems to work along the same lines for food. Because all of a sudden, at 1:30am, I thought, “I would LOVE some fresh-baked bread. I wonder how long that takes to make?” And promptly got online and looked up this recipe. So I set all the ingredients out, mixed and kneaded as directed, and left the dough to rise for a bit while I surfed online.
My dough didn’t rise. It didn’t even TRY. Well, I don’t know that really, but the YEAST in the dough certainly didn’t try. I had two loaves worth of dud French bread dough. I’ve had faulty yeast before, so it’s not like this was a completely new situation, but when you invest 5+ cups of flour in a recipe, it’s nice if it turns out. I didn’t want to throw out all of that work, so I got online again and Google searched “What do I do if the dough doesn’t rise?” Not kidding. And the pages that answered the question had all sorts of helpful suggestions along the lines of ‘add more yeast’ (which I didn’t have handy and it was the middle of the night for heavens’ sake!) and ‘make focaccia!’ (which requires herbs, ditto on earlier problem of the not having them on hand and middle of the night scenario). BUT! Someone had also posted photos of using the dough for pizza. With suggestions for oven heat and time. I was saved!
Then I looked in my fridge.
It didn’t seem at all promising after that. I pottered around a bit, thinking, looking in the fridge again (for inspiration?), and checked my pantry. Well, I had spaghetti sauce in a jar, so that would work. And I had some grated Monterey Jack cheese, which while not mozzarella, would substitute in a pinch. So it was just down to toppings. No olives. No cooked meats. No peppers randomly sitting around. Really, my fridge runs to yogurt, applesauce, ginger ale, cheese, and lemons these days. None of which exactly scream, “Put me on a pizza, you fool!” But wait, what is this? Eureka (if you don’t know what that means, get snapping on your gold rush history)! I discovered half of a red onion and one of those little garlic condiment things they put in delivery pizza boxes. Pure gold, that stuff. So I spread some dud dough out flat (maybe ¼ inch thick), mixed the spaghetti sauce with garlic stuff and applied it over dough, and then added chopped red onion and cheese. Put in 400˚F oven for 15-20 minutes, and voilà! Pizza. Not what I intended when I embarked on this baking adventure, but tasty nonetheless. And I estimate that the bread/pizza dough will make at least three, if not four, personal sized pizzas. Now I just have to think of other imaginative/unusual topping ideas!
Lesson learned: don't start reading a Neil Gaiman book in the middle of the night. Or any book that mentions food at all. Ha!