Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Broke Oven Baking

We cook a lot in the winter.

Yesterday I baked a batch of oatmeal cookies to take to chess club and then started a batch of bread, using more white flour than usual. I divided the bread dough in half and made three pizzas with one half. We ate those for dinner, and I made the rest into two loaves of bread.

When the bread had risen, I turned on the oven, set the timer and went to read Anna a bedtime story. I came back downstairs expecting a hot oven and baked bread. What I found was a stone-cold oven and mile-high loaves in danger of imminent collapse.

Ours is a gas oven, with the ceramic igniter instead of a pilot light. While this design makes it impossible to fill up the house with gas and blow up the house, you just can't light it if the igniter won't cooperate. I tried this, that, and the other thing, but I could not light that oven.

Fortunately, I had spent an ovenless winter in my youth. That is when I learned to bake English muffins.

English muffins risiing on a boardFirst, I scrounged the recycling bin for a large soup can to use as a muffin cutter. Then, I turned the dough out of the pans and rolled it out again to ½ inch thick. I cut muffin rounds out with the soup can and left them to rise on the board, which I had sprinkled with cornmeal. More cornmeal sprinkled on top of the rounds would help keep the dough from sticking.
English muffins on the griddleI baked the muffins on top of the stove, on a griddle over low heat. We have a long griddle that stretches over two burners, but I have baked English muffins four at a time on a 10 in cast iron frypan. I let them rise again about 30 minutes, but the griddle was heating slowly for the last 10 minutes. The muffins cooked about 10 minutes on each side.
I set a few pan lids over them as they baked, to help keep the heat in. Even the castiron griddle had a few hot spots, so I moved them around a little as I checked to see if the bottom sides had browned yet.
Baking the other sideThey need to be turned with a pancake turner once, and only once, so the first side needs to brown before they are turned. Some of them rose and looked a little round, so I gave them one quick mash with the pancake turner to straighten the sides out to a right angle.

It may seem hard to believe that bread could bake on top of the stove. It works well for English muffins because we typically split and toast them, giving the inside a chance to cook a little more. It is a handy way to save the day when the oven fails you.

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