Wednesday, October 03, 2007

the girls do it better than the boys

Bread, that is. Some lonely like cook wandered into our kitchen a couple days ago to use the big mixer, and I'm not sure what he did (or didn't do, more appropriately), but all of a sudden he was shoved aside and my boss was coddling his bread dough.

There was no salt, for one. So while she explained to him about the importance of salt, what salt's role is in dough, she finessed the right amounts of water and flour. He left. He didn't come back for a while, so she continued, taking the dough out of the mixer, kneading it into a bowl, whispering sweet nothings into its yeasty lil ear. One of the sous chefs came by and was like We're Supposed To Get It Like A Windowpane, Huh? That's What You're Doing?
Short answer, yeah.

As I was hastening to get my second pot of goodness on the stove, I saw how the sous chef was shaping the bread. I stopped. I've got about nine months of day to day bread experience-rolls, focaccia, cornbread, crackers, light wheat, potato bread, biscuits, pizza dough-on my resume. And he was treating the bread like he was a kid playing bouncy ball by himself and he had all day to shape those out-in-the-air lil rounds as if they weren't gonna get crusty. I planted myself next to the prep table, picked up a round of dough. Spun it in one hand, feeling the contours of the dough ride up against my fingers and tighten. Like A Baby's Bottom, my old boss used to say. It's a body memory.
Like This, I said. Feel This. Now Feel Yours. His were flabby. We loved this dough into existence for him and I was not gonna let him do the next step without giving him something to aim for. I barely had time for a mini explanation before my arms were overloaded with dairy and I was back to work.

There's this chiboust I've been making every day at the new job. Ostensibly it begins as a pastry cream, but all the body memories of pastry cream are stripped form it and the project's turned inside out. Yolks and flours, flavorings are whisked into hot milk and the entire thing is cooked on the stove, on extremely low heat.

But mostly it's being whisked like you're Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman is after you. Did You Break A Sweat? my boss asked the first time I made it. Well You're Not Whisking Hard Enough.

if you can talk you're not whisking hard enough
if you breath in-out you're not whisking hard enough
if you can think you're not whisking hard enough
if your muscles aren't straining burning, if your hands aren't calloused
you're not doing it right

One of the guys said if he had to make this every day he'd hate his job but I just shook my head and bent over my task. Each time I come to it I notice something new. Each fresh batch is a chance to whisk it better, to see how it reacts each time some level of starch or dairy is cooked out and the mixture thickens. To take it less seriously is to risk ruining it. I was trying to explain to a friend while biking home last night why it needed this level of care. That's Crazy was all he said. I've got boys shirking at the thought of whisking something with all your might for the better part of half an hour, but you know? You figure out what the purpose of movement is, what it really means to whisk something, what you bring to the kitchen and what kind of compromiser you are.

Each time you try to do it with all your heart.

Oh, and per the bread: there is no jest here. It's the sort of thing where if someone told you that you'd be in a kitchen where talented chefs were doing amazing things, and coaxing every molecule of yeast into its full potential, and everyone around you would be all flushed and happy and you couldn't wait to get to work every day, you'd laugh because you wouldn't think it could ever be true that you oculd be handed such gifts.

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