#119: Baking Pampushky with a Master
Long days of baking Pampushky with a master for fundraiser dinners for Ukraine
It was an epic bake-a-thon. Over two days thirty-seven loaves of Pampushky (Ukrainian garlic bread) were baked for two Ukraine fundraiser dinners held on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at a restaurant in my town. When asked if I would help I immediately said yes. I would be baking along with Olia, who had fled her city of Lutsk in February with her husband and now live with their daughter Mariia and her family about 15 miles from me. The recipe we would be making would be from Mamushka by Olia Hercules (no relation to the Olia with whom I baked).
I practiced the recipe from the book three times before the date we would meet to begin baking, and thought I had it down. Well, I did have the recipe from Mamushka down, but it became clear, early on in the baking process with Olia, that what we would be doing was very different from the recipe I was given. Olia bakes by feel so this meant all bets were off in the measuring, proofing, and baking categories.
Our biggest challenge was language and although Olia understands English well, communicating in English to me was not as easy. There were lots of smiles, shrugs of shoulders, pointing, head shaking, and nodding. The night before we were to bake, Olia and her daughter Mariia came over and we started the sponges for the bread. At this point we were following the recipe directions, but as I didn’t have room for all the bowls to proof overnight in my fridge we agreed that the back room of my home was cool enough and that it would be ok to place them there. Three hours after my new friends left, I went to check on the sponge progress and was blown away to find they were about to spill out of the bowls! I sent a text with photos to Mariia who, after conferring with her mom, told me to stir them down, which I had already started to do, and then move them outside for the night. I made as much room as possible in the fridge getting four bowls with 1 recipe x 2 in each bowl on two shelves. The two largest bowls, one with 4 recipes and one with 3 recipes, were set outside. The fridge had slowed proofing down, but if I had my wits about me, I might have put 2 + 2 together to realize that setting crockery bowls outside on a windy 34F night was not the smartest idea as the next day it took forever to get the little yeasty-beasties to wake-up even when setting them on the hearth near the wood stove. Those bowls really hold on to cold temps!
The recipe called for just one raise period but Olia’s face and words, in whatever language we were communicating, said otherwise. There was raise after raise in the bowl, flour, and oil (not specified in the original recipe) were added in unmeasured amounts, resulting in doughs of different weights that then would be formed into equal size buns and placed into pans to raise again. Everything had to be ready for pick up at 4pm but it was now 1:30 and there was nothing in the oven. GP’s woeful eyes were saying are we ever going to get outside for even one walk today.
We soldiered on for the cause and somehow made our first deadline. After all 16 baked breads were out the door and loaded up, Olia told me that we could probably start a bit later the next morning…about which I had my doubts, but she was in charge.
It was after dark when GP and I got out for a walk just as the moon was rising to the northeast.
I had already asked my dear friend Cindy, a very experienced bread maker, if she might be able to join us for Day Two and as we would be starting later, I figured GP and I could get out for a first walk but just as we were to head out, I received a text from Mariia.
Good morning, Kate. Mom is asking if you could make sponges this morning before we come so that it can be ready to make? She thinks to use the smaller metal bowls and two portions in each. We'll see you around 9am.
Yes, I can do that. See you then.
Two didn’t feel to me to be enough but who am I to question the master. I got the sponges going and placed them to proof in the fridge. When Olia arrived and saw the amount made, she said, “not enough.” Cindy showed up a few minutes later and, after quick introductions, we immediately set to work making more sponges and finding our rhythm in the kitchen.
Olia and Cindy added flour and oil to sponges, kneaded, and after another raise formed the buns which would set for a final raise. My job was to keep one step ahead of everyone, monitoring raises, oiling pans, gently moving bowls and pans with doughs from one place to the other, and stoking the wood stove to keep an optimum temp in our “bread bakery.” This time we finished 21 loaves, more than we needed, by 2:30PM and GP got a walk in the midst of all of it, too!
If asked to do this again for another fundraiser, we all agreed that we made a great team. Olia gave me the title of “Commander” although I told her that the title should rightfully go to her.
One final note, I don’t have a written recipe for Olia’s Pampushky, but I’m pretty sure I could make it without one. Baking, passed from one hand to the next, is a gift.
Here are a few photos from our days together.
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