Thursday, July 26, 2018

Schmaltz Bread! Or, Czech-ing out baking ideas

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye present the culmination of the chicken hacking we have so extensively dissertated on! By now, we had the (surprisingly well-carved) meat pieces, a big pot of stock, and... this.
The Pinterest-driven fad of using Mason jars for everything from chandeliers to birdhouses has at least made them get a lot cheaper to purchase.

Indeed, we now have a lot of chicken fat. We also have too many Jewish friends to throw said chicken fat away in good conscience, but that leaves us wondering: what the heck do you do with a quart of chicken fat? We've cut up more chickens than we could ever use fat from, and as the second jar threatened to overflow from the various additions of fat, we had to do something with it (besides making an awful lot of garlic bread).

Now, a lot of Jewish cookbooks swear that chicken fat will make chopped liver into something inexplicably delicious. But we at A Book of Cookrye, try as we might to like liver (it was barely over a dollar per pound!), have officially given up on finding any recipe that makes it edible (except the Russian liver pods, but those involved hiding the liver under a crapton of butter, sour cream, and mushrooms). And so, with no chopped liver in my future, we had no use for this ever-increasing supply of schmaltz. Then we read a note in a Czech cookbook that chicken fat instead of butter/shortening/lard will make the absolute best bread ever. Well, we had a lot of chicken fat in the fridge, a packet of yeast only one week away from expiring, and a housewarming party to go to, so we decided this was the perfect time to foist bread upon friends!
Schmaltz Rolls
½ c schmaltz
1¼ c milk
½ c sugar
2 envelopes yeast
4-6 c flour
½ c sugar
2 tsp salt
2 eggs

Heat the milk and schmaltz until melted. You can do it on the stove stirring constantly, but microwaving it will be a lot easier and you won't be trying to keep the milk from burning in the pot. Cool to 120°-130°.
Mix 1½ c flour, the sugar, the salt, and the yeast. Add the milk and shortening, mix thoroughly. Add the egg and beat well. Then add the remaining flour-the dough should be sticky and barely firm enough to knead. In fact, it may just feel like you're stretching goop in your hands more than kneading dough. But keep going until it's smooth and elastic.
Knead until smooth, it should be about 3 minutes. Then let it rise until doubled in size, then punch the dough down.
Roll the dough into small balls and place on a greased baking sheet.
Let them rise, then bake at 325° until nicely browned on top.

SPJST 100th Anniversary Cookbook, 1997

This is one of my favorite yeast bread recipes, so much so that we have featured twice (see here and here). Whenever trying a weird experiment, I like to start with a recipe I've done before and liked, that way I know that whatever goes wrong (no matter how disastrous) is not the recipe's fault. So let's skip to the really fun part of today's recipe!

Looks like we've paused the recipe for an ice cream break, doesn't it? Well, would it look just as delectable if it went into the microwave?

Don't blame me for turning the cute little bowl of fluffy stuff into a bowl of melted grease. It's the recipes fault. Speaking of, isn't the chicken fat supposed to go into a big batter-y mess of flour?

Now, the recipe says the dough will be sticky. And they are not lying. Prepare to get floury yeasty chicken goop all over your hands.

Oh wait. That's the picture I'd go with if I was pretending this is the easiest thing ever and that anyone could totally whip up this recipe in five minutes or less. But since we at A Book of Cookrye value honesty in the kitchen (most of the time), here's reality.

Believe it or not, the dough is supposed to look like this.

Now we get to the surprisingly tricky part: separating off pieces of the dough to make into rolls. You'd think it was easy enough, but this dough does not want to break. It may have saved time to roll it out into a sheet and cut it.

But eventually, we had a pan of balls. I'd like to pretend that I just happened to make enough bread dough to cover one baking sheet exactly, but in reality I kept pinching off one dough ball, adding to another, and otherwise reportioning things until all the little rolls were evenly sized. Or at least nearly evenly sized.

Oddly enough, a lot of them split into layers as they baked. I have no idea what happened there, but if you like to make little sandwiches out of the stuff on your plate or to put butter in the middle of the rolls, this recipe might be for you.

Now, have you ever smelled something that whacked you hard with a memory? Not something that makes you quietly think "That smells familiar..." but something that makes your mind jolt with memories you didn't know still existed in there? Well, this smells exactly like the yeast rolls you get at the fried chicken shack by your house (at least in the US, no one is far from fried chicken). Like, when I came back into the kitchen to check on the progress in the oven, I expected to see the brightly-colored, slightly uncomfortable hard plastic seats everywhere and to get a film of airborne grease on my face.

As for the taste- well, if you like to order yeast rolls from your friendly local purveyer of fried chicken, this recipe is most definitely for you. These taste amazing. And somehow, using schmaltz instead of butter made the inside of these rolls almost impossibly soft. This is something we at A Book of Cookrye will most definitely be doing again. As a postscript, just like the rolls we get from our nearby chicken fryers, the bag we used to take these to a friend's house had little translucent spots on it.

As one of my friends said when tasting these: "Bread is not good for you, but it's good for the heart."

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