I've started baking bread from scratch. I like the idea of developing some kind of practical skill (I have so few), and it's certainly more engaging than a bread machine. I figured I'd start with something relatively simple and perhaps at some point useful--prosphora, which is the bread that's used for Orthodox divine liturgy. One advantage is that by nature it contains no ingredients that could not be consumed while fasting. Another is that the composition is very simple--flour, salt, yeast, and water. I figure if I can get that right, I'll be off to a good start. I had to cut down the recipe from the Holy Cross Web site, since I don't need five loaves at a time. The first attempt seemed bland and a bit too crusty. On the second, I made a few minor adjustments (doubled the salt, covered the bowl completely while rising, cut down the baking time), and it came out just about right.
Now that I've met some success with that basic recipe, I figured I'd move on to artos, the bread used in the artoklasia service, for various celebratory occasions. I guess some of the inspiration came from my name day, which is this week. Again, there's a recipe online for five loaves, so I cut it down accordingly to try just one for starters. The outcome was rather different.
Both times I used the prosphora recipe, it came out just about the right consistency without any trouble. I used a spoon for the initial mixing, but I got the sense that I could have used my hands just as well. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong time to test that theory. In this case, the dough was far too wet to work with. Of course, by the time I realized that, my hands were rather engulfed in the stuff. I managed to scrape enough off one hand, so I could scoop some more flour into the bowl. There was some improvement, though it remained very sticky. I decided to put flour down on the table and try kneading it, and just see what happened. I was hoping it was good enough that adding little bits of flour as I went would do the trick. But it stuck to the table and my hands so badly that about all I could do was drag it around in sticky streams.
I finally decided to give up on this attempt. Just cleaning up was a rather big job. After quite a bit of scraping I managed to get a wad back in the bowl. It took a few minutes to wash the rest off of my hands, then I used a plastic spatula to scrape the rest off of the table. I wasn't sure how to dispose of it. I knew I didn't want it just washing down the drain, and I wasn't sure what it would do just sitting in the trash. So I wrapped it in plastic wrap before throwing it away. More scrubbing got the table clean, and eventually the dishes. I didn't feel like starting again tonight, but I do plan to make another attempt. I'll just have to start with more flour and be more careful about assessing the consistency before I get my hands or the table involved.
I think part of the problem is I didn't know what kind of consistency to expect. I figured it would probably be stickier with oil and sugar in the dough, but whatever I had just seemed unworkable. Better luck next time.