Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bread

I did it! I finally baked two loaves of bread from scratch - meaning, with my own two hands, no bread machine, not even an electric mixer - and it turned out to be "real" bread. I haven't been complaining about my bread woes lately, but believe me, I've been frustrated. I got a bee in my bonnet about making bread from scratch and have tried many recipes, all to no avail. Either my yeast was dead (or I killed it with too hot water - I'm learning the real definition of "lukewarm" now) or I added too much flour, or (my personal favorite excuse) the recipes were wrong. But for whatever reason, my breads have been tasty but heavy. (Is bread supposed to weigh five pounds?)

But when my Farmgirl friend, Aunt Jenny, decided to share her recipe for regular old honey whole wheat bread, I knew it would be the one. I love how she wrote out the recipe too; very intuitive. You have to pay attention to the bread, not the recipe. After buying a couple of loaves at the Co-op or market recently, by way of taking a break from the bread-making madness, I decided to get my hands all floured up and try again.

It worked! The above photo is just after the first rise and just before I punched it down (what an awesome thing to do! punching bread!) and as you can see, I was very giddy about it. Why else would someone photograph their risen bread dough? I proceeded to shape the loaves, wait for the second rise and bake them and was thrilled beyond measure when the bread came out looking like bakery bread. I don't have a photo of the finished product because it's not lasting long around here. (And I cut Jenny's recipe in half to start, just so I wouldn't be wasting a lot of ingredients like my previous attempts.)

I had consulted a few bread-making books from the library for help and am still pouring over them in eager anticipation of the many different kinds of breads I can make (I can't wait to try bagels). But I was most pleased with the advice from local newspaper columnist, Kim Ode, in her book "Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club" regarding kneading:

"...And try to use as little flour as possible. Patience in those first few sticky minutes [of kneading] will be rewarded as the dough firms up."

Kneading had been nearly impossible on my previous attempts so I was frustrated when this one started out sticky too, but I just kept repeating Kim's words and the dream of the firm dough came true. "It worked!" was all I kept exclaiming in the kitchen. So you can imagine how tickled I was to see that it actually rose too...
Happy baking!

3 comments:

sprite said...

Yum! If I bring the jam, may I stop by for a slice?

Jess said...

Congratulations on getting the bread mojo going! There's nothing quite like homemade bread, made by your own two hands and nothing else. Love it.

I had a bread epiphany last week, mine involved the purchase of new, lively yeast and having a much slacker dough than I would've normally done. I make mine in the stand mixer, but that's mostly a mess-containment strategy for my tiny amount of counter space.

Kim Ode said...

I'm so happy that my advice found some willing ears - and hands. Baking bread has made me a much more patient person, and put me back in touch with my intuition. Good point! Now here's another tip as we move into the sticky humid Minnesota summers: Once you mix your dough and achieve the famous "shaggy mass," plop it onto a floured portion of your counter, cover it with an upsidedown bowl and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. Technically, this is called autolyse, but I refer to this as the "call your mother" moment. This lets your flour absorb all the water and your gluten relax a bit. The result is a less sticky, more supple dough (you'll be amazed) that makes it far less necessary to add much additional flour as you knead.
My mom's Oatmeal Bread is another good one, and Pat Roberts' Finnish Cardamom Bread won the sweepstakes ribbon at our last Bread Club meeting. Karen Vogl's Swedish Rye also is superb.
Knead on!
Kim Ode