Monday, April 12, 2010

Bread: The rise and fall of a baker

One thing that I actually can do, and do relatively well, is bake bread. My bread baking repertoire is limited, consisting mainly of various white and wheat loaf breads; the kind of bread good for sandwiches, toast, and Nutella (mmmm).

The most challenging thing about baking bread is the waiting. Sure, you have to keep things in proportion, and make sure that nothing gets too hot (or else it will kill the yeast), but most bread recipes now take all of that into consideration, and you can use ready-packaged yeast, so even the rising is more assured.

I was reading a book a few months ago, and this particular section was set in pre-Revolutionary War America (pre- by a year or two), and the wife commented that they were having flat bread for dinner because the bread didn't rise. The words all made sense to me. I know what unrisen bread is. I know proofing/letting bread rise takes time. I know that you can kill the yeast, so the bread won't rise, but was a little baffled at the why and how behind this comment (nevermind the time travel or modern people living in the mid- to late- 1700s, I was hung up on the bread baking). Then, somewhere in the text, another seemingly throwaway line about leaving dough out/vats of beer out to collect wild yeast flipped my mental light switch to the "on" position. I'm so used to my little packets of yeast, or even seeing those jars that I didn't even think about what wall would be involved in making a yeast bread then.

So, I suppose I should remedy my "the hardest thing" statement to reference working with yeast.

Especially since I think I committed my first mass murder of yeast last week. I was working with a wheat recipe, with which I have had past and recent success, where you heat oil (or butter, in my case), water, and honey to warm before adding it to some of the flour, mixed with dry milk, salt, and yeast. I think I let the honeyed water heat up too much. Instead of just letting it be warm enough, I had to try to perfect, and ended up with too warm. Result: dead yeast, dough that never doubled in bulk, and dense loaves.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if I remembered the salt - that could have affected the rising, too.

I also kneaded a lot more than I usually do.

I ended up with these loaves that were about half to three-fourths as high as they should have been, and that didn't quite fill the entire breadth of the pan. Also, after the proofing, I took the smallest loaf, and divided it up and made into rolls. The rolls were an interesting experiment, and provided a very filling breakfast for the next day

I haven't really done sweet breads, quick breads, salt-rising, or sourdough breads. Have you?

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