Three years ago I could not make bread. No matter what I did, my bread always turned out like stones. No matter what I did, the end product was so dense it was completely inedible. Stones of the apocalypse is what I called them. I was convinced it was my physical chemistry at one point. What it was, was me simply not understanding bread. My mother alway bought bread. Unless it was a holiday, then she wouldn’t let me help make bread. She would push me out of the kitchen.
I had no idea how the dough was supposed to feel, how it was to smell, how it is supposed to sound. I did not understand flour absorption or humidity levels. I had to learn all this stuff on my own. Well, I had some help from the internet, but it is crucial to be able to ask the right questions when doing research.
For the past three years, I have been working on knowing how to make bread. Last month I started a Mother, and she is just beautiful. In doing research on yeast, I learned that packaged yeast and wild yeast (Mother) are not interchangeable. LIke so many other ingredients, these two can not really substitute one another.
I wanted to make sandwich bread today, I am still working on learning this one. Sandwich bread needs to be soft and squishy, and easy put sticky stuff on. The crust should be soft in texture and tender to pressure. Of course a lovely rich orangey brown color. To get all of these qualities in a loaf, it is kind of important to use dry active, or packaged yeast. I love a challenge too, so getting this right would be awesome!
I grab the jar out of my refrigerator, open it; ONE teaspoon! I have half as much yeast as I need.
Shucks! Now what? I follow through with my original plan of making sandwich bread. I go ahead and activate what is left in the jar. I didn’t have high hopes that it would do much. After 15 minutes in tepid water, not only is it not enough, but it isn’t as active as it needs to be. I follow through though, and decide to put a half a cup of Mother in the dough to 3 cups of flour.
In the past I would have mixed this in a stand mixer. Leave the mess and hassle to the mixer. Not today. I use the special wooden spoon I have dedicated to Mother. No more Kool-aide for this spoon. I knew that I was going to need more water than what I used to activate the dry yeast, so I put a half a teaspoon of salt in a cup of tepid water and keep mixing.
I used to think that at this point add more flour. I no longer add more flour. I let the dough be floppy and loose. Instead of kneading this on the countertop, I keep the sticky dough in the bowl. I greased my hands up with coconut oil, flour is not necessary to keep your hands dough free. Kneading the dough in the mixing bowl seems to give me more control over the dough. Scoop and fold, then turn the bowl a quarter turn. I did this 8 times. Then covered it with cling film and put it on the seed mat.
Patience is the hardest thing to learn. I had to wait an hour and half. Well, okay, I sat and played video games long enough to almost forget about the dough. I did not expect much considering I was using mostly wild yeast, and it is much slower to rise than packaged yeast. Holy cow! I was shocked to see, it had tripled in size.
To get those really cool looking artsy fartsy loafs, they use a floured cloth. Muslin or linen. I sacrificed a new bandana for bread today. After I poked down the dough, I floured up a new bandana and lined my proofing basket with it. It looked really cute, I should have taken a picture, it would have lasted longer. I still did not have a lot of hope for this bread. I wasn’t following the rules on yeast. That was my main concern. I followed through, I scooped up the gooey dough with oily hands and tried forming it into a ball. It was so blobbly. It looked like bread colored flubber, practically pouring into the lined basket.
I put a towel on the seed mat, put the proofing basket onto the towel and covered the basket with my largest stainless steel bowl, which also got covered with towels. I promptly went back to gaming for an hour. It’s easy to forget bread dough rising when I am nearly level 75 on my undead warlock. I get to a safe spot and go check the dough to find that the blob lived, it was huge! 4 times the size it was before the first rise.
It stuck to the floured bandana pretty badly as I turned it out into the tall stock pot, and I thought I lost my rise. I followed through anyway. I got it into a steamy oven and let it bake for 45 minutes. I cooked it in a tall oven safe stock pot with straight sides. Using a tall stock pot in a steamy oven keeps the moisture levels higher in the bread itself. Making a taller bread.
When I figured it was done, I pulled it out and dumped the loaf onto a cooling rack. I then thumped the bottom, it wasn’t cooked! I had to put it back in a cooler oven on a cookie sheet for another ten minutes. This would get me thrown off any cooking competition!
The end product turned out to be some of the best sandwich bread I have ever tasted. Super soft crust, firm enough crumb to withstand peanut butter, soft and squishy enough to be comforting to the mouth. Soo good. I no longer make bricks, I can make soft fluffy loaves. I have come a long way with my bread game.