Prepare to boldly go where no French bread has gone before.
Tonight, I decided to take what is commonly described as a “foolproof” recipe and see if I could screw it up using the transporter, a bit of Wil Riker’s DNA, and some random food coloring. The end result isn’t quite something Captain Picard would snack on while drinking a hot cup of Earl Grey, but I think with a little enterprising practice, this could become a solid addition to my doughy repertoire.
3 cups warm water
1 ½ tbsp yeast
1 ½ tbsp kosher salt
6 ½ cups bread flour
Black food coloring (or Nutella)
Don’t panic over those quantities. You’re supposed to get four loaves out of this recipe. Don’t panic about that, either. One of the joys of a traditional pain d’epi is that you can store the dough in the refrigerator for the better part of a week. Every night, just grab a fistfull, shape it into a wheat stalk, and bake fresh bread with almost no hassle.
Being a hardcore geek, I looked at those blissfully easy wheat stalks and thought, gosh, if I added a bunch of unnecessary hassle, they could almost look like Starfleet insignia. If you squint properly, I was right.
Start off by dumping the yeast and water into the bowl of a stand mixer and giving it a good stir. Set a timer for 10 minutes and go find something else to entertain you. I recommend pulling up a Google Image search of Starfleet insignia. Alternately, wander to your bathroom and stare at the box of Redshirt Colonge you bought to wear at conventions.
When ten minutes are up, sprinkle your salt over the yeasty water then top it all off with your bread flour. Attach the dough hook of honor to your clan’s stand mixer of culinary might and pretend you’re watching a bat’leth slowly churn enemy guts. Or, you know, set it to the easygoing speed of 2 for about 5 minutes, occasionally scraping the sides.
This dough will be a little on the sticky side compared to most breads. Resist the urge to add extra flour to toughen it up. Much like Odo, the liquidity gives it the power to transform.
Cover the dough with a dishcloth and let it rise for about 2 ½ hours. If all goes well, it will puff up to epic proportions before sagging inwards and naturally deflating itself. If you get impatient (and your dough has more than doubled in size) go ahead and poke the middle. You don’t need to punch it into submission. Just urge it gently downwards.
Cover the dough with some plastic wrap and pop it in your fridge. It should be good in there for the next four days.
Whenever you want to make a loaf (like, say, right now) pull out a hunk about the size of a grapefruit. Turn it into a ball by tugging all four corners to a point in the middle. Spread some flour over a nice, wide surface and gently tug that ball into a long baguette shape. Let the dough rest on your floured surface for about half an hour.
To make life easier, this is a good time to transfer the dough to a baking sheet. If you wait until later, you’ll stretch and break it in odd places. Trust me on this.
So your innocent baguette is now resting on a baking stone or well greased cookie sheet. Here’s the point where things go horribly wrong, at least, from the dough’s point of view. It was expecting to turn into a beautiful French work of art shaped like the very grains that make up flour itself. Instead, you’re about to get creative with your scissors.
Instead of cutting into the top of the loaf, you want to use your kitchen shears to cut it sideways, at a 45 degree angle. You’re making triangles. Snip, fold a triangle over, then snip a triangular shape on the opposite side, and fold it in the opposite direction. Keep snipping and folding until you’re out of dough.
Now look at the base of your dough triangles. Find the center of the bottom. Move a finger’s width to the right and cut a small snip into the dough. You can gently tug it to create the points of your Starfleet insignia. Repeat the process with all of your triangles. Once you’re done, complete the shape by using the scissors to cut a shallow, elongated star shaped cross into the top of your dough.
Paint the interior of the shallow star. I tried mixing blue and red food coloring in the vain hope I’d create black. I was wrong. You should either use black food coloring or softened Nutella. Whatever you choose, fill in the star shaped cross so it’ll be a nice dark shade against your yellow rolls. If you’re really clever, you’ll dust the rolls in cornmeal so they’ll be a nice, regulation Starfleet yellow. The cornmeal also gives your bread a nice crunch.
Bake the Star Trek Insignia loaf at 450F for 22 – 25 minutes. You should end up with a wonderfully crunchy crust and a light, airy interior.
Remember, you should have enough dough in the fridge for three more loaves, so you can have fresh Starfleet rolls for dinner most nights this week. With practice, I know mine will look more like the real thing. I can pretend I’m a Cardassian or Klingon warrior feasting on the bones of my fallen enemies while decorating my table with the uniform badges I ripped from their bleeding corpses.
If you’re a little more Next Generation than Deep Space Nine, you can always try dying the bread to match standard uniform colors. If you decide to add blue, yellow, or red, do it at the very beginning, when you’re just dealing with water and yeast. That’s the only way to get uniform color into your bread. If you try to add food coloring any time after you add the flour, you’ll end up with the “after” photo in a “worst transporter accidents” engineer training manual.
The next time you’re trying to come up with a cheap, easy dish for a geek potluck, just remember: make it dough.
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