The Tuamotus Diaries #25, Day 51 – July 18th 2016
One day I still need to write about all the sailing books that have influenced – and inspired me. But that’s well beyond the point of today’s post.
If there are two things in common among most of these books – other than the obvious main theme of Sailing – those would be Biscuits and Bread. All those great sailors and serious offshore cruisers made extensive use of baking and produced Biscuits and Bread as the key basic component of their cruising diet. Some of them, like Joshua Slocum, talk of it almost as a granted commodity, while others, like the Smeetons, decorate their books with whole paragraphs about the marvelous scents and flavors of these baking wonders that came out of their galleys.
The fact is, since I started off on this journey, I always aspired to make and bake bread (I confess the biscuits were relegated to a far second place). Accordingly, when I made our first main provisioning in Seattle, just before the arrival of Adriana and the kids for the first time, I loaded Pesto up with Flour and Baking Powder. The mighty bags containing an important aspect of my sailing dreams were carefully stored into the forward starboard locker, where they remained untouched for the following one and half years, becoming legitimate bricks in the process, their toughness shattering my aspirations.
Not having made bread aboard, and not even having TRIED, has always tainted my experience as a cruiser, kind of a permanent handicap that I felt.
Then we came to the Tuamotus, where provisioning is much more a matter of Chance than Choice or Resource. Among the many things we could NOT find on the few, scarcely stocked shelves of the diminutive markets here, one item trumped high and shiny: Flour ! Those blue-white plastic bags with the mystical powder inside, covered with wordings in French that I could not understand, were an irresistible provocation back to my inner-most sailing aspirations. This time it would be Bread or Bust !
I came back to Pesto, the flour bags and Baking Powder displayed purposefully on top of everything else, vindicating my credentials as a fully fledged cruiser.
And then came the day of my first attempt.
I fetched a cooking book Adriana brought onboard and rushed to the section about breads. The first instruction there was that the Yeast needs to be proofed. I opened a can of Baking Powder, mixed it with water and sugar, and awaited patiently for 10 minutes, discovering in the process that Baking Powder and Yeast are NOT the same thing.
It was Bust … without Yeast onboard, Bread was off the table – literally.
But the breeze inside the cabin was shuffling the pages of the Cooking Book and therein I glanced the magical word: Biscuits.
Of course – Sea Biscuits !!!
To my salvation the recipe for Biscuits does NOT require yeast, but baking powder instead, of which I had plenty. My cruising career was not that jeopardized afterwards.
I followed the recipe faithfully and was rewarded by the most marvelous batch of steaming and deliciously scented biscuits. Paulo and Raquel devoured them so quickly that I knew I was on the right track.
A few days later I gave it another try, this time using a few bananas that a fellow cruiser had given us as a gift. And the ensuing batch of Banana Biscuits were an even stronger success. Things were looking pretty good.
One evening, I mentioned my perils at bread making to Sylvia, sv Sangvind, and the next morning she graciously gave me a large quantity of yeast. I held the little plastic bag containing the precious powder as if it were gold. Immediately off to the galley, again following the cookbook’s recipe faithfully, I produced a pretty decent loaf of bread, filling Pesto’s cabin with the delicious scent of the stories I’d read, and reaping the highest acclaim from the crew. My cruiser/baker career was soaring by now, and I was feeling ready for a circumnavigation.
I am not traditionally a person of recipes, preferring always to prepare dishes “by ear”, and was thus getting a bit bored of following the recipes from the cookbook. Still feeling accomplished with the flawless sequence of my baking achievements, and enthused by a bag of gluten-free Coconut Flour that I found down the bilges, I thought that I was in for my finest hour in baking.
And that’s when the Revenge of the Biscuits started.
Counting on a successful outcome, I prepared a QUADRUPLE recipe, already accounting for the abnormal demand that those delicious coconut biscuits would fetch. I blended the ingredients vigorously, put them in the oven, gave them the time they needed to bake, and was off to my first and greatest frustration in Baking. The biscuits had fallen flat on the tray, almost as if they had melted. And tender they were. Irrespective of how much more cooking time I gave them, they would remain tender and tasting as if raw. The many pounds of batter ended up in the sea, and not even our faithful Remoras seemed keen on eating the grub …
A few days later I made another attempt at innovation, this time mixing Regular Wheat Flour with Gluten Free Tapioca Flour and Powdered Chocolate on a 1/3 : 1/3 :1/3 proportion. Again, the baked biscuits came out flat on the tray and tender. This time, at least, they got slightly edible after further temperature – almost like Tough Cookies – and the kids ate most of it, the Remoras agreeing to swipe away the remainder of the stash at the end.
Even though I still felt like a true cruiser – I was still baking, for God’s sake – my baking career was at stake.
Seeking salvation back at the recipes of the cooking book, I have since produced a number of batches of Regular Biscuits without a hitch, the crew constantly asking for more, and nothing remaining for the poor Remoras. And then there is the bread. Humbled by the Biscuits Fiasco, I stuck to the recipes on all attempts at bread, and the results have been consistently good. I even ventured into a Whole Wheat/ Tapioca Bread recipe another day, with a reassuring result at the end.
Pesto is now stocked with a fresh new batch of Tahitian Yeast, together with French Flour and American Baking Powder, and our galley has been consistently outputting good biscuits and bread. The kids say I “have a future” as a baker and, as accomplished as I feel from this accolade, I still prefer to liken myself to those hard-core offshore cruisers that inspired me such a long time ago.
One way or another though, the two loaves I left baking in the oven are almost ready and I need to wrap up this story now.