Successful Sharp Knife Test

Battle of the Sharp Knives

Battle of the Sharp Knives

 

Content Note: people of a nervous disposition should read no further, discussion of blood and body horror below.

For years, I’ve lived without owning any sharp knives. Or, if they once were sharp, that memory has long since been lost in time. Maybe they were sharp when I first bought them, along with the sharpening tool that I’ve never learnt to use properly. I’m thinking I’m not the only one with the not-quite-blunt kitchen knives. They get used everyday, but even cutting a tomato is a double-skills job – first prick the skin with the tip of the knife to break it then cut with the length of the knife, otherwise it’s a bit of a mess.

I never realised how much strength was needed in my cutting activities until I discovered ceramic knives. My mum has one and it was a revelation when I first tried it. Ceramic knives are the Daddy. They are also easy to maintain, you don’t ever need to sharpen them and they come with a cover. The only downside is that they can’t be used on really hard surfaces like glass or marble because the shock might cause them to break.

The main point of them though, is that they are flippin’ sharp. They cut through tomatoes like butter. They cut through broccoli like butter. They cut through human flesh like butter. I speak from experience, as it was my flesh they cut through like butter yesterday afternoon. It was an ugly scene.

The culprit

The culprit

Within minutes (after attempting to stem the blood flow with toilet paper and calling a couple of people), I was doing what comes most naturally to most of us in 2014, making an appeal on Facebook along the lines of ‘my brain has stopped working, what do I do next?’ and within minutes was receiving a fluttering of offers of help from wonderful friends. Seriously, it was amazing.

It also reminded me that I really should have a vague plan for this sort of thing. After the initial shock of ‘OMG my thumb is falling off’ came the ‘idontknowifineedtogotoa&edoineedtogotoa&eandifyesWHATDOIDOWITHTHEKIDS?’ – through this, it has to be said, I wasn’t panicking at all. I could tell it wasn’t life or death and so the kids had no clue for at least 30 minutes that anything was amiss. That is, until a friend came over with her collection of first aid kits and we took the toilet paper off. Poor Little Girl definitely laughed nervously at that point. Despite my reassurance and smiles, she definitely spotted that something was wrong. Like a bit of skin flapping, something like that. Damn.

Badgerman came home at this point and after a bit of faffing about deciding what to do with kids and dinner time and all the bleeding, I did eventually make it to A&E where I waited for a couple of hours feeling dizzy and ravenous, but in good spirits and with the engrossing companionship of A Dance With Dragons (Part 1).

Turns out, it might have looked like I was going to have to live with a chunk of thumb missing and it wasn’t even deep enough to need stitches. So now, I’ve got to keep the finger away from water for the next five days, which means I can’t do any washing up or bath time with the kids, or cleaning of my own hair. What fun that’s going to be!

thumb cut

the surviving hero

 

One thing I can guarantee: these are good knives. They know their business and they take no prisoners. Other advice I may offer: it’s good to have a plan; and be careful with knives. They cut and make you bleed, and then you end up with no dinner.

Inside a Franglish Pantry: Attempting to make a ‘brioche vendéenne’

Inside a franglish pantry

I’ve wanted to learn how to make brioche for ages but like most people I’ve assumed it was completely out of my reach as a standard amateur home baker (i.e. not suitable for The Great British Bake-Off in a million years). I’ve also fallen for a special kind of brioche called a ‘gâche’, which is traditionally made in Vendée and perfumed with orange flower water or rum. We bought one from a French supermarket during one of our annual summer trips and never looked back. It’s like a normal brioche but tastier. It is made with an enriched dough that contains crème fraîche so it’s not recommended if you’re on a diet but it is so delicious and rich you don’t need much anyway. And again, unattainable outside of France, or so I thought, until one day early in our marriage I decided to try and make one to treat Badgerman using an internet recipe.

So far, the three separate attempts I have made over the last five years have proven that my capacity for making idiotic moves in the kitchen knows no bounds. It is sheer luck that we have been able to eat any of the resulting scraps, but despite their awkwardness, they have been out of this world delicious. Before we get to the recipe, here are some

Lessons You Can Learn From My Kitchen Nightmares

1. Remove all hand jewelry and have friends and family within earshot: during my first attempt, my hands got stuck in the batter so strongly I could not move them at all and could lift the entire bowl above my head by the sheer glutinous power of the dough. I had to shout at Badgerman to come un-stick me and I nearly lost my lovely new rings in the process. He thought it was hilarious of course.

2. Beware to follow the EXACT measurements, especially for the liquids: my second attempt last week resulted in a wet lumpy mess that would not settle into a proper dough no matter how long I worked on it. It is possible that the yeast was not fresh enough but in any case, just don’t think about adding that second spoon of rum for luck (I know, I know… greedy). I had to add at least 200 grams more flour to get it to a manageable consistency and that made the dough lumpy and very dense. The final product did taste and smell delicious but because of its density it was really only three-quarters cooked, so you would occasionally chew on a bit and go ‘mmm, dough’. Not my finest moment.

3. Allow enough time to rest the dough and don’t forget you put it in the oven to prove if you’re going to cook dinner in it half-way through: today was my third time lucky, apart from the fact that I forgot I had put the dough in the cold oven to rise and turned it on to cook dinner. I only realised once the oven was hot. Since I am not going to taste the brioche tonight, only time (AND MY CROWD OF BIRTHDAY GUESTS TOMORROW) will tell.

One Final Word Before We Get On: they say baking bread and making brioche is time-consuming. I used to believe that too. It turns out it is not true. The actual time spent working on the brioche is about 25 minutes. What takes time is the proving (i.e. resting the dough). For this you need to allow at least 6 hours, so do it last thing on a Friday night to eat it freshly baked in the morning.

The recipe I used is provided to you in the original French by Sandra on her blog Le Pétrin. Below is the translation, and good luck.

Ingredients

  • 550g plain flour
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche (not heaped)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt
  • 110g sugar (I used golden granulated)
  • 110g butter, cut in small cubes
  • Flavourings: 1 tablespoon dark rum + 1 tablespoon orange flower water + 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 25g fast acting dry yeast (I used Allinson’s Easy Bake Yeast)

Stage One

All the ingredients should be at room temperature before you start the process.

Mix the yeast in with the milk, add the eggs, crème fraîche and salt then add the flour. Mix well with your hands then start to knead. The dough should be fairly dry and flaky, this is normal.
Add the sugar by letting it fall lightly over the dough (like rain). This will make the dough lighter and give it a better texture. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, add the butter cut in small cubes and knead until the dough is no longer sticking, at least 10-15 mins (once in a while, check that the dough stays fresh and stop kneading if it is warm).

Add the flavourings and continue to knead for about 5 mins until your dough is elastic, doesn’t stick and is soft and smooth. (I’ll be honest, I’ve not once managed to do this yet; it’s always a bit lumpy and I have to add flour to get it to un-stick – still tastes good though, but I am slowly getting there. One day!)
Make into a ball and put it in a bowl, cover in cling film and leave to rest for 6 hours at room temperature.

Stage Two

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and separate into 3 parts of approximately 330 grams each. Shape them into slight oval shapes and put them onto baking trays covered in baking paper.
Paint with sugared eggwash (1 egg and a little bit of sugar mixed together). Leave to rest at room temperature for 3 hours or until the dough triples in size (depends on how warm it is, basically, if it’s a hot summer day, or you’ve got the heating on at full whack, you might only need half the time).

raw gache vendeenne

Stage Three

Paint with more eggwash, make a slight cut at the top lengthwise and put in a preheated oven at 180°C for approximately 20-25 minutes, covering with foil half-way through.

Gache Vendeenne

If this doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t know what will.

**UPDATE AFTER TASTING**: I can officially confirm that the third attempt was another disaster. It tasted fine but was overcooked and did not rise properly so it was dry, crumbly and more like a sweet bread than a brioche. I was just too impatient and should have let the dough rest more than it did (and also not turn the oven on during proving). So until next time, with fresh yeast and the full 9 hours rest for the dough …

How my roar turned into a whimper

A quick post from me today; it is half-term and having my teacher husband home has disrupted my life in a good way but it means I haven’t had much time to sit down and write – well, that is what I tell myself anyway. I could more truthfully perhaps blame my Kindle: I have been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and I am completely addicted. Still, in between this and that of not doing very much at all, my inner feminist has managed to suffer a severe blow to her self-belief as a good old ‘I too can kill the beast’ woman.

I am quite the unapologetic carnivore; having grown up in France, I have been used to eating such things as rabbits without ever feeling any of the ‘poor little bunnies’ stigma that seems to affect most British people I have come across. I honestly believe that if it came to it and that I had to hunt and kill my own food to survive, I would do it and I would be OK with it. But what is all well and good in theory is, well, just theoretical after all, as I now know.

It all came to a head yesterday when I went to the kitchen to cook the fish I’d bought at the supermarket. We quite often buy whole fish in our house, particularly rainbow trout as it comes much cheaper than salmon fillets and tastes great. It’s an easy dish; bang the whole thing in the oven on a bed of tomatoes and capers with a bit of white wine and lemon and you have yourself a tasty lunch in 20 minutes. Yesterday I went to prepare lunch and realised to my horror that the fish was not gutted. It felt Very Wrong in my hands. Usually, I don’t even have to ask, the fishmonger either asks if you want it done or the fish is already prepared. We have bought a lot of fish over the years and it is the first time it wasn’t gutted. But I braced myself and thought ‘that’s OK, I can do this, it’s only guts and gore’. So I tried, oh my goodness people, I really tried. But I’d never gutted a fish before and my knife was not very sharp. The whole thing was disgusting, very fishy and gooey and I made only a small cut and all this stuff came out and oh my god I am not cut out for this and I think I feel a bit ill and HUSBAAAAND! I don’t think I can do this! Waaaaaiilll!

So there. I failed. I didn’t gut the fish. Badgerman tried and later told me I shouldn’t come to the kitchen as it was ‘not a pretty sight’ and we should probably eat something else for lunch. It’s not like I even had to kill the fish; the job was already half done! I felt a bit sorry for myself after that, strangely sad and ashamed that I let myself down by being afraid of a bit of smelly sea life.

And still somehow at the back of my mind I think that if my survival depended on it, I would kill the beast. I would, through gritted teeth, gut the fish. But maybe first, I should sharpen my knife and take a few practical lessons with Bear Grills.

An image of a rainbow trout derived from the p...

The Beast that bested me (Image via Wikipedia)