June 11, 2012 by lytlejoc
I love homemade bread.
My mom used to make it when I was small and then my wonderful stepmom after her, and every time I would come home to the delicious scent of baking bread, I really felt like I WAS home. It completed the sensation. We would all clamor for a piece fresh from the oven and would eat it warm with butter melting into it. The gods couldn’t sit down to a finer feast than a board laid with fresh, homemade bread.
So when Auntie Linda offered us her breadmaker a few years ago, I eagerly accepted and used it faithfully for a few months until the novelty wore off. Then it sat, idly collecting dust on my counter, until I tucked it away to its new home beneath the microwave where it sits and collects dust now. It probably won’t make the trip to Nova Scotia.
That being said, I wanted to share my fondly remembered childhood experience with Toby and so I rolled up my sleeves and tried to make my own homemade bread.
Attempt #1: Classic Whole Wheat Bread.
I had all the ingredients in my cupboard. Merrily, I mixed and kneaded and rose.
Alas, I was the only one rising. The first batch turned out this way.
I blame it on the yeast. Because I blamed it on the yeast (which in truth really was pretty old), I went out and bought a fresh jar and made another batch of the same. Attempt number two turned out a little better.
A bit dense, perhaps, but it really wasn’t bad. Maybe it just called for a little more kneading. I thought that since this loaf was getting closer, I could try a different recipe.
Attempt #2: Oatmeal Brown Bread
Oatmeal Brown is one of my favorites and so armed with fresh yeast and confidence, I went hunting for a recipe. The website I stumbled upon, Cooking With Candra, is fabulous. She has really clear step-by-step instructions and even has videos on how to know if you’ve kneaded your bread enough. I diligently watched her videos and took mental notes of her techniques and tips and then set to work.
While I was pouring the molasses into the dough, I remember thinking that waiting for it to dribble, painfully slowly, onto the tablespoon was going to take longer than the rest of the process. That silly notion tempted the Fates to dole out some punishment.
I began kneading with a right good will and after the approximate allotted ten minute mark, I did the window pane test that Candra describes. No good. So I kept kneading. And kneading.
After 45 minutes of straight kneading, my forearms burning like scrawny torches, I gave up. And it still wasn’t right. Daunted, I carefully dropped it into the greased loaf pan to rise anyway.
It rose beautifully. And it would have looked perfect… if I hadn’t given in to my compulsion for an evenly rounded top and tried to move it over a little. Don’t do that. It makes your finished product look like this:
The bread itself was still dense and every slice was striped with a hearty dusting of flour. My guess on this one is that I put too much flour. The dough WAS pretty dry while I was kneading. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I remembered hearing that in a case like this, you just wet your hands and that would help loosen the dough and fix up your overzealous flouring. It helped a little bit to incorporate some of the flour, but clearly… not enough.
Attempt #3: No-Knead Bread
My final attempt was a recipe that I figured was pretty much fail-safe, considering one of the posts I found it in said it was so easy that a four year old could make it. Also, no kneading sounded pretty good to me after the oatmeal brown colored disaster. But because it takes so long to rise the first time around, you kind of have to plan ahead to get this bread made. My planning skills can sometimes be lackluster, so I didn’t get around to making this batch until about a week after the last loaf I attempted.
I started the first step with a positive attitude that even Mary Poppins would be jealous of and popped the dough into the oven to rise for the required 18 hours. The next day, I pulled the bowl full of fluffy dough out of the oven and happily dropped it into the pan.
All signs pointed to a perfect loaf of bread and I covered it with a plastic bag (since I don’t buy plastic wrap… to me, that’s just like tossing money into the garbage) and set it on the table to rise for the remaining 2 to 3 hours.
Then I forgot to put it in the oven to bake and when it had been rising for about 2 hours, I gaily tripped off for a lunch outing with my former workmates. Partway there, I remembered it with a gut-wrenching halt but quickly forgave myself. If it rose longer, I figured, it would just be lighter.
When I got home from lunch, I turned on the oven and went to grab the pan to check how it rose. I couldn’t find it on the table at first, and then I found it… under a pile of newspaper that Scott had been reading. To be fair, I didn’t warn him that it was rising there. But… gahhhhh. It did not look like it was in high spirits. I put it in the oven anyway and waited.
The house filled with the wonderful smell of baking bread and Scott was drooling, waiting for it to finish baking. When I hopefully pulled it out of the oven, it looked pretty much like the picture on Michael Smith’s website and I took heart – finally, a loaf of bread that worked! I upended the pan over the cooling rack to knock it out.
Nothing happened. I paused. And then I shook. I shook more vigorously still. Nada.
I forgot to grease the pan.
Well, it still TASTED pretty good… after we gouged it out of the pan. But I think you will agree from looking at the picture that this one was, as the kids say these days, an Epic Fail.
I am decidedly disheartened.
Perhaps I’ll give it another attempt when we’re settled in the new house with a working kitchen (so… sometime after the New Year, I guess). In the meantime, I’ll do some research and see if there are any earth-shaking tips that I can follow when I try my hand at this again. Or… there’s always the frozen, pre-made stuff at the grocery store if I really need to relive my childhood.
So, dear reader, can YOU help? If you are well-versed in the world of bread making, what is your secret?