Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ovens? Oi Vey.

There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh bread. This past weekend, I wandered into my kitchen after skyping with my family, following the tantalizing odor of crispy crusts and perfectly golden loaves. My housemate was frowning at the cooling rack. “Our oven has done it again.” She turned to me, pointing to the rolls, which had darkened past mahogany. “And they were only in 20 minutes!”

My Oven. (What photo did you expect when I blog about ovens?)
Some people might think that cooking (or baking) from scratch is the hard part… but, I am inclined to think it’s the cooking (or the baking, in this case) that causes the most problems. Let me introduce you to The Oven.

By far the most common oven here is the gas oven, which, as its name suggests, derives its baking abilities from burning gas. It is only the very fortunate, however, who have an oven with a working lighter (much less one at all). And so, those of us in more humble circumstances rely on the simple match. What’s it like to light a PNG oven? I thought you’d never ask.

You will now join the ranks of world-class contortionists as you as you kneel on the floor (in your skirt) and simultaneously strike your match (inside the oven so it doesn’t burn out), switch on the gas (above your head), flick on the starter (down in the corner), and finally strain back into the far recesses of the oven and aim the match (now flickering hungrily at your fingers) into the burner where gas is currently emanating out in great quantities. Remember—all striking, switching, flicking, straining, and aiming require atomic-like precision. Repeat approximately 20 times (PNG matches tend to snap or disintegrate when they are struck against the matchbox). Once it catches—and it catches in a whoosh—then dart out of there before your body adds to the fuel. Congratulations! You can now start baking.

Because it is gas, regulating the temperature in the first place, even after you have made your Fahrenheit-to-Celsius-conversions is not guaranteed, so watch those muffins carefully! After all, there isn’t much you can do when your oven spikes in temperature such that your French bread welds to the bottom of the baking sheet and when you pry it off, half the coating of the now-buckled pan comes with it. (That pan no longer lives.)

This all presupposes that you have heat in the first place. It is hard to bake when the oven is stone cold. Now, in my experience, this results from one of two reasons. Either A) It just does. Especially when you turn the heat down (just slightly) while baking six pumpkin pies, and the friendly oven simply zaps any and all flame. Now you must repeat the above paragraph, and, if you are lucky and caught it soon enough, your bare arm must now traverse the lava-like oven interior. Battle scars, anyone?

Or, B) the oven runs out of gas. Then, your banana cake develops layers, just like the Grand Canyon or tree rings, telling about growth patterns… (That was the weekend we decided building a fire was easier than managing our microwave and so joined the students in their haus kuks (outdoor cooking helter).)

But, despite these trials, here I am, once again kneading another batch of dough.

After all, I love the smell of fresh bread.