Housemaid's knee, tennis elbow... but kneader's knee?
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
A few years ago, my interest in home baking intensified.
The country was teetering on the brink of the great British bakery obsession: cupcakes were still sometimes small enough to eat two, and persistently consisted of more cake than icing.
The words crème pat had never been uttered colloquially, and no-one knew how to pronounce 'macaron' - or had any idea that the humble and charmingly comfortable coconut macaroon of childhood was destined to be so prettily and pastelly usurped.
My friend - superb home baker and proficient in all manner of sweet and savoury delicacies - most generously bestowed upon me a bread machine of which she no longer had need (sorry), together with recipes perfected by her father for white and wholemeal loaves.
The machine was a revelation, and ridiculously easy to use: the only requirements were assembling the ingredients in the internal loaf pan, selecting the setting and switching on the power.
The ensuing process filled the house with a soothing low hum as the machine pulsed to mix the ingredients, followed by the vibrating growl of the kneading stage, and then - gloriously - the unmistakable fragrance of warm bread baking.
It was with a thrill comparable to that experienced by old-time alchemists, I'll warrant, that I lifted the lid to discover a perfectly crusted loaf each time the breadmaker was employed.
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Outstanding results for such effortless enterprise - and popular with the family, to boot.
In the midst of Lockdown 3, when the children were directed to return to school, I realised I would once again be obliged to serve up a nourishing family breakfast.
The leisurely pre-work meals I partook in solitude while they slumbered would be consigned to the past; it was time to step up and accept the breakfast baton.
Pre-Covid, we had been in the habit of enjoying a different breakfast menu each weekday - nothing elaborate, I should clarify, lest you should be picturing a table groaning with exotic and fancy fayre.
In order to sweeten the back-to-school pill, I judged it wise to re-establish the same practice, and when I asked the children concerned to make one menu choice each, homemade bread made the cut.
Predictably, the first day rolled around before I knew - and had properly prepared for - it.
The evening beforehand, I hastily scoured the cupboards for the ingredients and located some questionable yeast and an ancient pack of bread flour. I was in business!
Sadly, it had been so long since my last dough-dallying that I immediately messed up the quantities needed.
Thinking 750g flour was required for a 750g loaf - I know, my light was shining only dimly - I errantly proceeded to add inadequate amounts of remaining ingredients before realising my mistake.
I hastily rectified matters with additional quantities - involving a half packet of yeast - irritating - and all seemed to be going swimmingly until my food mixer started groaning rather alarmingly and, fearing I had overloaded it, I removed the dough to knead by hand.
Its first proving didn't yield a spectacular rise, nor did the second, but the aroma from the oven as it baked was mouth-watering and the loaves - I divided the mixture in a 2:1 ratio - were reassuringly tasty, if somewhat rustic in appearance.
Overall, I was satisfied enough to include bread in the weekly breakfast ritual.
Recently, while working a piece of dough to the strains of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb - highly recommended for the way the song's tempo lends itself perfectly to the rhythms of kneading - I became uncomfortably conscious of a pain in my knee that seemed to be exacerbated by the natural motion of kneading.
I have heard of housemaid's knee, tennis elbow, taxi driver's knee, printer's elbow - actually, that may be a local pub... but kneader's knee? It seemed flippantly indulgent. I adjusted my stance as Pink Floyd segued into The Verve. Disappointingly, Bittersweet Symphony was a failure, rhythmically speaking - not conducive at all to the undulations of bread manipulation - but at least my knee had stopped complaining.
I can't imagine that either of these two great bands had anticipated their musical offerings would be judged on rhythmic suitability in a kneading context, but I like to think they would be moved to approve. Somehow I think they'd understand it's all about the dough...