There’s been a lot of yeast dough in my life lately. First there were Fasnet’s cakes, then I made donuts. Ok. So there were two instances of yeast dough in my life. But two yeast doughs within weeks of each other is more yeast dough than usually makes an appearance.
There’s something incredibly soothing about yeast dough. It takes time. And I think we spend far too little time taking time. What I mean is, I read this book called Momo, by Michael Ende (yes, yes, the very same Neverending Story mastermind) when I was living in New York, spending a lot of time regularly hyperventilating about how there wasn’t enough time.
Momo is a book about time and how humans construct it cleverly disguised as a children’s story. The sweeper tells Momo, “it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you.”
I read that and I thought, Oh my God. Momo knows my life.
There’s this moment in the book where the grey men, bankers of time, visit each of the townspeople and convince them to put their spare time in a savings account. And when the people wonder how to save time, the grey men tell them, you know how to save time – spend 15 minutes less on each haircut you give or don’t drive all the way to the nursing home to eat with your mother –
I read that and I thought, My life is full of grey men.
I began to see them everywhere – they’d been invisible before, but now I felt them tapping against my elbow as I angrily stormed along the subway platform when I missed my train. I smelled the acrid smoke from their perpetually burning cigars as I stressed myself around a sales floor. I felt their cold hands on my chest as I started ten different projects without being able to sit still and finish any one. They whispered, Save time, save time, save time.
Like the people in the town, it seemed as though the more time I saved, the less I seemed to have.
I started kneading around this time. Rolling into dough required time. Although I had begun to cease thinking about time as a rule. Kneading dough is like breathing with your fingers. Your body slows to the tempo of your hands, and your breaths slow your beating heart. The dough demands you.
We ate a lot of bread those months. A lot of pizza and pasta and naan. I don’t know if it was the dough that cured me. The dough or the Momo or the yoga I started doing around then as well. But all three things taught me pliability and presence. That you must be where you are and yet flexible enough to change where you thought you’d be.
Every time I knead dough now, I think of that time, then, when I couldn’t let time be, but tried to mold it – the one thing you shouldn’t try to shape. Yes, time is fluid – but we don’t shape time by trying to control it. Time shifts when we are fully present in it. “Calendars and clocks exist to measure time, but that signifies little because we all know that an hour can seem as eternity or pass in a flash, according to how we spend it.”
Fasnet’s Cakes (Sweet Yeast Dough)
I’m sorry for the lack of specifics. But you should know me well enough by now to know that I’m not good at that sort of thing. This recipe was scrawled on a piece of paper by my aunt, who had gotten the recipe from another aunt, and who probably changed things around as she made the dough. So here goes.
500 g flour
20 g fresh yeast
¼ L milk
80-100 g butter
50-80 g sugar
pinch of salt
Make a well in the center of the flour, pour in half the milk, the yeast, and a bit of sugar, and stir into a rough dough. Cover with a towel and let rise for half an hour. Add the rest of the ingredients and knead into a smooth dough. Place in a clean bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Your dough is now ready to use – to make the Fasnet’s cakes I talked about in my last post, briefly knead the dough again and roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cut into diamonds and fry in a pan of hot oil (about 1 inch deep – you can test for “hotness” by sticking a wooden spoon into the oil – if the oil bubbles, it’s hot enough), about 25 seconds per side. This is a highly subjective number – you might need far less or more, depending on the thickness of your dough. Rule of thumb – when it starts turning brown, flip it – it will brown more as it cools. To make donuts, check out this recipe: hot pink donuts (the one I used…), and to find a less vague recipe for yeast dough: search the internet.