Sunday, February 10, 2013


It is finally spring in Delhi. The winter was long and cold, but not quite as miserable as I had expected. I suppose that goes to show that if you keep your expectations low enough, you can always be pleasantly surprised. We haven't quite cast off our sweaters yet, and Panda still longingly eyes my bed every night. But there's sunshine, and very little fog, and even flowers blooming in the garden.

I noticed a spray of poppies this morning, blooming wildly under a tree. I sniffed at them hopefully but I don't think they were opium poppies. Panda tried to eat one (he's rather jealous of anything that distracts my attention from him) and now, an hour later, he only seems as giddy as usual.

The warmer weather has me stirring from my winter hibernation and I've been venturing more and more into the kitchen lately. I find I'm going through a phase when I'm bored of baking sweets. With K gone off to the US, there's no one here to eat them. But then I'm fickle and the next post here might just be of chocolate cupcakes with cloudy frosting. Today though, I'm here to announce that I baked bread! And it was soft and crusty with an impeccable hole structure! And yes, I think that warrants a few exclamation points. You see, every few months, I decide to master bread making, only to retire, beaten, after making a rock-like loaf that even the dog turns his nose up at (and he regularly goes through the garbage pail. He thinks I don't know).

Recently though, I cracked the code for the perfect dough, and it was a revelation. You see, flour has these proteins in it called glutens, that when wet, swell, and when kneaded, form long elastic chains. The yeast in the dough breathes and it's like they're blowing bubbles into the dough. Because the gluten is in these long chains, the bubbles stretch the dough like in bubblegum, and don't burst. Then, when you bake the bread, you dry the water out, but the bubble holds, giving it that elusive airy structure. Silly that I was, I bashed on with my bread making without understanding this, and would keep adding flour to my dough willy nilly, to make it easier to knead. What I didn't realise was that by doing so I wasn't allowing sufficient water for the glutens to expand, so they wouldn't form long chains, and so when the yeast breathed, the bubbles would quickly collapse. Hence: dense, brick-like bread.

So then I tried hydrating the crap out of my dough and suddenly the stuff was expanding and bubbling like a witch's cauldron. I couldn't resist lifting the tea towel it was resting under every half-hour to see how much it had risen, and each time it was a little more. When it finally baked up it was light and crusty, albeit decidedly homely in appearance. Then I waited impatiently till it cooled, sliced and toasted it, and served it rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes and basil.