Great Expectations: hearty rolls and stew

I love food and I love to read. As a result, the first week [or the third week...] of each month, I'll combine these two interests in a post about food from literature. I'll mostly be sticking with books from classic literature, so you're likely to know the storylines anyway, but just in case you don't: warning: there may be spoilers ahead.


This time of year, everyone pays attention to Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, which, despite all the corny movies and TV specials based on it, is a good story. But for my "food in literature" post this month, I want to talk about another of his famous works: Great Expectations.
A lot of people read this book in high school or at least college, but I somehow avoided ever having to read Dickens in an academic setting, so in reading this book, which everyone else implied was long and heavy, I found a pleasant surprise. It's long, and it's a dreary story, but the characters are very much alive and interesting, and the grime and gloom of Dicken's Victorian England is positively palpable. Few of the characters are really likeable, but you want to give them the benefit of a doubt; it is their environment that makes them who they are.

And what an environment! The settings in Great Expectations could be characters on their own. We visit and revisit the graveyard, the swampy Kent marshes, Miss Havisham's ruined mansion, the dingy London apartment, the ominous lawyer's office--they build up around the characters and the reader like a tall wall. Dickens's Victorian England is gray, depressing, and oppressive. But there are respites! There are some good people, and in this book, the good people are accompanied by good places--and good food. I always invoke food in literature as a depiction of comfort and emotional (as well as physical) nourishment; Great Expectations seems to do the same. Joe, the Pockets, and Wemmick are some of the most likeable characters in the book, and the homes of these people are the few sources of warmth and light that Great Expectations offers. And with all of these people, Pip eats food.

There is a fair amount of alcohol, and some tea, but we do not see many of the characters' meals. Because food does not appear often in the book, when it does appear, it is obvious that it has an important role. Early in Pip's life, we see that the abused little boy takes a great deal of comfort in eating bread with Joe, his sister's kind husband. At the uncomfortable Christmas dinner, Joe gives Pip extra gravy to try to make up for the boy's treatment. When Pip comes into money, one of the first things he does in London is eat with Herbert Pocket--buttered chicken and parsley, strawberries for dessert. And when he meets Wemmick, a trusty advisor and friend, Wemmick invites him back to his eccentric but endearing house for a homegrown meal.

As I said a couple weeks ago, I was originally going to recreate a vegan version of a Pork Pie. But then I read what pork pies are; ground-up season pork surrounded by pork-flavored gelatin in a pie shell. I thought about grinding up and seasoning tofu, making an agar-tofu-jelly, and baking that, but it still doesn't sound appetizing. More revolting than comforting. I realized, though, that Pip never ate the Pork Pie; it was not a source of comfort to him. The bread that he and Joe share early in the book and the simple meal of stewed vegetables that they pull from Wemmick's garden are not only more appetizing, but much easier to veganize.
Wemmick's stew isn't vegan--he adds fish--but my Autumn Root Stew is actually probably pretty close to the recipe Dickens had in mind. This time I added a cup or so of chickpeas for protein.

Pull-apart rolls are fond memories from my childhood, and this reminded me of Pip's fond moments eating bread with Joe. I like to add some whole wheat flour (not whole wheat pastry flour!) for extra heartiness, but you can do all white flour if you prefer. You'll probably end up using a little less water, though. If you want to replace MORE of the white four with whole wheat flour, add a couple Tbsps of gluten flour to make it stick together and rise better, and you may need more water.
Hearty Pull-Apart Rolls
Makes 12 rolls

3 tsps active dry yeast (you can also use a packet, but that's less yeast, so give it a little more rising time)
1 tsp sugar
1 Cup warm (not hot) water
2 Tbsp oilve oil, divided
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup whole wheat flour
Vegan margarine, to top (optional)

Mix the yeast and sugar in the bottom of a large bowl. Add about half the water. Give this about 5 minutes to sit. Meanwhile, gather your other ingredients.

Add the rest of the water, the salt and 1 Tbsp oil. Stir to combine. Add the flour a cup or so at a time. After the 2nd time, you probably won't be able to stir much anymore, so use your hands. Once it's all fairly combined, turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface, and knead for 5-10 minutes, sprinkling extra flour over the top if it's too sticky. The key to really nice, light bread is to keep the dough as wet as possible, so ideally you want it a little sticky, but not if that makes it too tough to work with. Roll the dough into a large ball.

Use the remaining 1 Tbsp oil to grease the sides of a large bowl. Put the ball of dough in the bowl, turning to coat it with the oil. Set a dish cloth over the top of the bowl, and leave in a warm place (our kitchen is cold, so sometimes I preheat my oven briefly, then set the bowl on top) for at least two hours.

After two hours (or more), punch down the dough and remove from the bowl. Lightly oil a pie plate. Divide the dough into twelve equal parts. (I find this is easiest to do by dividing it in half. Take one of the halves; divide that in half. Then divide each of those smaller halves into three. Voila, twelfths!) Roll the twelfths into balls, and space them fairly equally in the pie plate. They won't touch; that's okay. Cover again with the dishcloth, leave to rise for at least another hour. Preheat the oven to 375.

Depending on how warm your kitchen is, after an hour the rolls might be touching. If not, don't worry; they rise more in the oven. Remove the dishcloth, then bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes. You'll know they're done because tops will be golden brown and will sound hollow if you tap on them.

Remove the rolls from the oven, and rub a tablespoon or two of butter over the tops of the rolls. It pools in the valleys between rolls--yum. Allow to cool for a couple minutes before pulling them apart (or bringing the pie plate to the table for others to pull apart).

These are best warm, but they're also good for breakfast the morning after, dipped in agave (or maple syrup) and cinnamon.

I've been wanting to do an "edible gift guide" post all December, but unfortunately, the people for whom I'll be making said edible gifts read my blog, so I've had to wait. This weekend I'll finally give people their presents, so expect an "edible gift guide" after that. And Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!


Végébon said... Best Blogger Tips

Your bread is gorgeous :).