First, you’ll want some yeast. Well. Maybe you won’t. Yeast is hard to come by these days. Everyone’s stressed, everyone’s baking, the stores are low on bread.
Right, let’s back up.
First you’ll want some stress. A pandemic will do. If you can’t find a handy pandemic, settle for a tight deadline, a kid in trouble, a call from a distant love where you can’t do anything but listen. The idea is to feel so completely helpless that only making something with your hands will fix you.
Maybe there’s no yeast in the house. Maybe you’re afraid to go to the store, or your store is out, or you’re supporting striking workers. That’s ok. Go to the cabinet and get out the bread book you found at the thrift, the one that matches your mom’s (the edition is important: the new one doesn’t have the Finnish braid).
Collect the dry ingredients: 4 cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt. A tablespoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of baking soda. This, plus the egg, will be leavening. Put the dry ingredients in a bowl. Try not to think about how many cups of flour four is. Try not to calculate how many are left.
You can add a quarter-cup of sugar, an eighth-teaspoon cardamom or coriander. I’ve been making this recipe for thirty years and I never have. But you might. If you have that.
Add 1/4 cup of butter or margarine. Cut it in with a pastry blender or forks or knives. Or, fuck it, just melt it and stir it in. The bread won’t care. It’s 4 tablespoons if you’re using a big tub or if you already made ghee in an attempt to make all your butter shelf-stable.
Now beat an egg and 1 3/4 cups of buttermilk together. You won’t have buttermilk. It’s a specialty ingredient. But that’s ok: use the milk that went bad a week ago, that you haven’t thrown out because you’re ashamed. You’re ashamed of having bought something you can’t use when money is about to be beyond tight, or of not having used something up when you asked for it. It’s okay. You’re doing the best you can. Use your sour milk here. This recipe was meant for that. It’s a poverty recipe, elevated by Sunset Magazine into something hippie-proud, but you know the truth now. If your milk is still good, good for you! Throw a splash of vinegar in there, it’ll go sour and start to curdle.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until they form a biscuitish dough. Biscuitish, by the way, is a Tolkien word, used to describe cram, the waybread of the Lakemen. You’re making a sort of cram now, in fact. But it’s not hard, it’s not inedible.
Find your pie pans. They might be at the bottom of the drawer. A 9″ cast iron works too. Or the lid to a Pyrex set. Something nine inchesish. Inchesish is not a Tolkien word.
Divide the dough in half, and form each half into a ball by tucking the top under and under and under until the top is smooth and the bottom is puckered and pinchy. Grease the pans or the whatever-you-found. Pat the dough out into the form of the pan. It’s going to be a couple inches thick.
If you’re especially stressed you can skip the ball. Form the dough into ropes. Braid them. Figure out how to get the braid into the pan. You can start with a sort of pound-sign thing. You can start with a round braid. You can descend into a spiral along with your dough. But don’t. Just get the dough in the pan. You’re going to be all right. For today, at least. You’ll be fed.
Bake in a moderately hot oven (375/190) for 35 to 40 minutes.
It’s okay if you cut one loaf in wedges and the other in slices. It’s okay to eat them with butter. It’s okay to toast them or not. It’s okay to take the whole loaf to bed with you if that’s what you need.
You deserve nourishment. Food isn’t a value judgment.
But I found a two-pound bag of yeast on Amazon the other day, if you need it, when the strike is over.