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Last week I gathered various Amazon gift cards I had collected over past months and applied them to my order of a nice chef’s knife and a brand new hardcover book (I never do that, even with gift money). The knife is the sharpest I have ever used (fingers, beware) and it makes chopping veggies much less of a hassle and in fact, less of a risk—dull knives cause more accidents. The book is this one by baker Peter Reinhart. His previous bread cookbook was a huge hit, but I don’t have it, and I was encouraged to get this new one on account of reviewer comments such as “this is Reinhart lite” and that it was probably the most thoroughly tested cookbook ever. I like thoroughly tested recipes. That’s why I suffer from Cook’s Illustrated dependency. Anyway, I do have some bread baking experience but it’s not been altogether successful, and I’m no scientist in the kitchen. I don’t need pages of explanation about different bacterial strains in sourdough before making it confidently. I just want straightforward directions about how to make good, crusty bread. In the past I’ve come close, but not close enough to justify the extra planning involved in making “slow” bread rather than a quick sandwich loaf, and my results were kind of sporadic.

Once I can get some pineapple juice I will start a seed culture so that I can begin experimenting with the sourdough recipes in the book. For now I’ll concentrate on the simple instant yeast recipes, like the French bread. I have a stand mixer that handled the double batch for me, but the texture of the dough made it a dream to finish kneading (the machine or your hands knead it for 2 minutes, then you knead by hand for another minute). I didn’t have to add any extra flour and it was perfectly smooth and tacky, so I’m pretty sure this would be quite easy to knead entirely by hand. Since the recipe makes two large loaves, I went ahead and divided it into two bowls: one I will bake tomorrow after a long night in the fridge, and the other will sit for about 4 days until I want to bake again. Reinhart says the quality of the dough begins to deteriorate after that point, but it can be kept in the fridge up to a week. There were also directions for freezing the dough! I love the flexibility. I honestly had no idea yeasted dough could sit for so long without slowly overgrowing and taking over the fridge.

We’ll see how this effort at artisan breadmaking turns out. I hope that the mediocre rye bread I had to buy in a pinch last week is the last loaf of bread I purchase for a long time.

Edited next day:
more thanks go to Susan for pointing me to The Fresh Loaf forums. I made generous use of the collective expertise there today when my bread was rising slower than molasses in…February, let’s say. It was sort of a silly question but the tips that flowed in were well worth posing it. Now I know to let my baguettes rise longer when I make them later in the week, DV. :)

Here is the finished, slightly diminutive loaf. It does have good flavor, a fine crust and a delightfully chewy texture.
bread

Here are a few principles and practical suggestions taken from chapter 9 of the aforementioned Germ Proof Your Kids (Harley Rotbart, M.D., Washington, DC: ASM Press, 2008).

– There are two main factors in keeping a truly clean home: one is using the right kind of detergent (see below); the other is establishing a consistent schedule for cleaning each room of the house. The doctor recommends the following as a “reasonable regimen”: clean kitchen sinks and countertops daily; bathroom sinks, countertops, and flush handles three to four times each week; toilets, and kitchen and bathroom floors, weekly. The bedroom and playroom of a sick child should be cleaned twice a day.
– For handwashing, use regular soap— that is, the kind that works by lifting and removing dirt and germs rather than killing them—until we have more conclusive evidence that antiseptics/antibacterials are more effective. He recommends liquid rather than bar soap if possible, to avoid the obvious pitfall of picking up new germs. That said, it never occurred to me that liquid dispensers can become contaminated, too, and so require some vigilance. 1) Don’t just top off refillable dispensers. Once they are empty, the bottle and pump should be thoroughly washed. 2) Between refills— and the doctor suggests “once a week, at least”— the pump surface should be washed and disinfected.
– In lab experiments comparing cleaning and disinfecting agents, bleach is most effective against Staphylococcus aureus and gastrointestinal germs; ammonia and phenol products are less effective but they also substantially reduce bacteria counts; and such darlings of green and/or frugal housekeepers as baking soda and vinegar simply do not work for these purposes.
– Germs love moisture, and moisture is abundant in the kitchen and bathroom. Ninety percent of gastroenteritis cases caused by salmonella occur at home, probably due to the practice of transferring germs from the sink to the counter via the used dishrag. Rotavirus, the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis worldwide, can last for days or even weeks on moist surfaces in the bathroom, and beyond: think faucets, sinks, toys, and diaper-changing areas.
– It’s a good idea to keep the toothbrushes as far from the toilet as possible; at the risk of sounding indelicate, the germs propelled into the air after flushing won’t cause any problems as long as you don’t ingest them.
– Kitchen sponges should be either discarded and replaced every day or two, or sterilized. (In my experience, the sponge will have to be discarded anyway after a couple uses and subsequent soaks in a bleach solution; this seems to cause my sponges to break down rapidly. Maybe they’re just too cheap.) Or, you could microwave the sponge *while wet* for 2-4 minutes, and that will drastically reduce the germ count.
– Use kitchen rags once, or at most for one day, before laundering them. Don’t use the rags you used to wash dishes to clean the counters, and vice versa. (I have been advised elsewhere to use a bristle brush: you won’t do so much replacing of sponges, or laundering of possibly contaminated rags, and it doesn’t trap bacteria as well as sponges or rags.)
– Use hot water and/or bleach whenever possible in the laundry.

June 2017
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