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...