In which I bake barm cakes with the help of my giant forearm flexor muscles.

I tend to bake in the middle of doing many other things because I am a modern woman who excels at multitasking five activities in an average manner instead of exceling by focusing on one thing at a time. I live the American dream!

Yesterday, I planned to make Paul Hollywood’s barm cakes, the recipe for which is as follows:

Barm Cakes

Makes 12-13, preparation: 3.5 hours

Ingredients

  • 500 grams strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting

  • 10 grams sale

  • 10 grams fast action yeast

  • 40 grams caster sugar

  • 40 grams unsalted butter, softened

  • 320 ml cool water

Method

Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side and the yeast to the other. Add the butter and three-quarters of the water, and turn the mixture round with a wooden spoon or your fingers.

Continue to add water a little at a time until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more--you want dough that is soft but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl, folding the edges into the middle. Keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes, working through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft and smooth skin.

When it feels smooth and silky, put into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place until at least doubled in size—at least 1 hour, but it’s fine to leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.

Once the dough has risen, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface. Fold it inwards repeatedly until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth.

Divide the dough into 12 or 13 pieces weighing around 70g each. Shape each one into a smooth ball by placing a cage formed by your hand and the table and moving your hand around in a circular motion, rotating the ball rapidly. The shape comes with practice!

Put the rolls onto a heavily floured surface and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile prepare your baking trays—you will need at least three-by lining them with baking parchment or silicone paper.

Once rested, roll out the dough balls, using a floured rolling pin, until they are twice the size of the original diameter. Lift onto the prepared baking trays, spacing them apart to allow room for spreading, and sprinkle with flour.

Put each tray inside a large clean plastic bag and leave to prove for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 210 degress C (410 degrees F).

When the rolls are nicely risen, light and airy, bake them for around 10 minutes only. Leave them to cool a little on the baking trays. Once cooled, store in a lidded container, to keep them soft.

Yesterday was a BIG catch-up day for me regarding all things not work-related. I needed to get on the treadmill for five miles, go to the gym, bake, and finally, for the love of god, write my blog post about the challah bread. I’m not necessarily, how you say, a dedicated athlete (I do not have the heart of a champion), but I’m supposed to be training for a possible half-marathon in Nashville on April 30. I’ve (mostly) trained up for it before but have never actually done it, so I’d like to give myself the opportunity to complete it should I so choose. I can’t do that without training because I’m told that the race organizers frown upon people taking lunch breaks and getting massages in the middle of the race. Have they never heard of carb-loading and shin splint prevention? Bunch of dedicated, athletic weirdos.

Lest you think I’m excellent at exercise, let me clarify one very important point—I walk the miles. I walk fast, but I walk. In fact, I walk faster on my own than I do on the treadmill when training as the result of decades and thousands of miles of dog walking—only two dogs that entire time, by the way. I walked those two dogs so much for so many years that, for a loooooooong time (and sometimes still), my right arm didn’t swing back and forth when I walked without a dog because it’s my leash-holding arm. I had to remind myself to purposely swing my arm back and forth while walking, like I was a not-bright member of the undead, awkwardly pretending to walk like a live human.

ANYWHO, before getting on the treadmill, I mixed the dough and kneaded it, using the mixer for both tasks, as per usual. It takes me, like, an hour to get ready to get on the treadmill in my own home, for some reason, so the dough rose for almost two hours before I was off the treadmill again and ready to knock the air out of it. It was plenty ready—note the poofiness.

I'm not quite sure all of the bread dough I make ends up shaped like a human heart.

I don't really know if all of the air bubbles means I left it for too long, even though I had another hour and 15 minutes I could have left it to rise, according to the recipe. It was a fun dough to knock the air out of, though, and shaping it was surprisingly easy. I did not follow Paul's directions for shaping the dough pieces into balls, however, mainly because, respectfully, I have no idea what the hell he's talking about. So I did my regular shaping bit.

After shaping, the balls are to be left on a "heavily floured" surface to rest for 30 minutes. While they were resting, I ate a snack to prep for the going-to-the-gym-while-the-dough-balls-proof step. Then I had some fun. Rolling the balls out was fun. Popping dough air bubbles is a lot like popping bubble wrap, and it is awesome.

Is that air bubble not the BEST? Here's a close-up for you:

I didn't have the time to spare to truly relish the air bubble popping experience, unfortunately, so I quickly rolled out all 13 balls and put them on the baking sheets to proof while we were gone.

I covered them very loosely with cling wrap and then put the two trays in the oven to protect them from the jaws of Big Mike in our absence. Big Mike can't stay outside when we leave the house because he takes running starts from across the yard, jumps into the back door, and smashes it open, much like a rabid but very oddly cheerful grizzly bear. If you're not us, it's very impressive.

Here's Big Mike, looking innocent but being the worst:

While at the gym, I made the unfortunate discovery that, after two and a half months of consistent, regular, and challenging strength training, my arms, even though they feel completely different to the touch, look almost exactly the same as they did before strength training. My arms are generally the last place I gain weight, so they weren't really my problem area before we started going to the gym--but I was kind of hoping for some noticeable definition. I mean, I am not without some vanity; I'm just a human being. We want to see progress when we work at something. I ask you, does that make me a monster?

But wait! What is that in the mirror? Some women obtain beautiful biceps or triceps from strength training, or their upper arms, in general, are beautiful. I, on the other hand, apparently obtain bulging forearm flexor muscles, which are second only to the diaphragm as muscles no one else can see or care about, and they also can't do anything cool, like give me the hiccups.

So I had a terrible workout that felt exhausting and annoying (happy Saturday, everybody!) and then went back home again, after making a quick pit stop at Dairy Queen (once again, it's called carb-loading . . . everybody really needs to read up on exercise), to check on the barm cakes.

They were ready--and the boy was ready for warm, buttery yeast rolls (as we all should be)--so I stuck them in the oven. And kept them in the oven. And kept them in the oven. They were only supposed to bake for 10 minutes at the most, but they were not brown at all at the end of 10 minutes. I finally took them out between 12 and 13 minutes because the recipe was REALLY specific about not baking them for longer than 10 minutes. They still weren't very brown, but they were done inside, which is what really matters.

And, not to brag, but they were AMAZING! If there's anything prettier than a freshly-baked, puffy yeast roll, I don't know what it would be.

They were lovely on the inside, as well:

I'm quite sure Mr. Hollywood would want them to be quite a bit darker, but, you know, I have to follow the recipe. I'm just a human being, doing her best.

I must tell you that these barm cakes are a HUGE HIT with the family. They could be used very easily as hamburger buns, and my husband has used them twice now for egg and cheese sandwiches. I will be making them again soon. (Carb-loading, people.)


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