Monday, March 26, 2012

Retiree Attempts Bread Baking

One of the delightful things about retirement is that you can take up new hobbies or interests.  I take the occasional camera class for improving my vacation pictures.  I'm taking piano though refusing the recitals.  This year I added caramels to my candy making adventures.  Next up,  bread baking.

For awhile I was making bread in our 15-year old bread maker (used about the same number of times as its age).  This was going well until Hubby accidently chewed up the little paddle (an important part) in the garbage disposal.  Given its age I was faced with buying a new/old one at the Goodwill, doing the bread thing totally by hand, or asking for a fancy mixer.

I went for the fancy mixer.  For Christmas I asked for a Red Kitchen Aid Mixer.  It was the kind of very specific request that I knew Hubby would appreciate.   There are many things one can do with a wonderful bright red device such as this, but truth be told, I primarily wanted it because it looks cool on the counter.  Now that I have it, the practical side of me says I must use it.   So back to bread baking.

I have had four bread baking attempts and I've yet to have a big success.   This should be easy.  Flour, water, yeast, a little salt.    Mix, ignore.  Shape, ignore.  Bake. Eat.

For my first attempt I used the Easy Rise Bread recipe.  Presumably a novice bread baker can't go wrong with this.  I don't know what happened, but this novice bread maker clearly went wrong somehow.  Maybe because I didn't check the water temperature for my yeast?  I tossed it.  It was ugly.  (I know pics would have been good here.)

I then moved on to the basic white bread recipe.  All was beautiful. I carefully measured my water temperature, mixed it up on speed 2 (no higher!), let it rise (which it actually did), rolled it out, formed some loafs, let it rise again (which it did again!) then started baking.  The recipe said start at 400 then drop the temp.  I got a little distracted and didn't drop the temperature.  In fact, I totally forgot I was baking it.  Grace came to get me at the computer to tell me that my bread looked "very" done so she took it out of the oven.  It was a little dark and crusty on the top, but didn't have the nice crumb inside.  That's what we bread makers say rather than admit it was doughy in the center.  At least this one was mostly edible.

Based on my second attempt, I figured just paying a little closer attention would result in a perfect result.  So for my third try I decided to stretch and make a pumpernickel bread using a little recipe I got from a bread book only I was missing the coffee ingredient so I substituted cocoa.  I had lots of cocoa and other recipes used cocoa.   I went through the same steps, but the bread didn't seem to want to rise quite as lovely as the last one.    But, hey, its pumpernickel!  So into the oven it went.  I carefully monitored.  When done I tapped its bottom, listening for that lovely hollow sound.  Sounded good to me, though I really don't know what a non-hollow bread sound would sound like.  The taste?   God awful.    Into the garbage.  I'm blaming the recipe, and maybe my adjustments,  for this mess.

I decided at this point I needed help so I went to a Kitchen Window bread class.  The teacher was like a magician.  I believe she could have made bread blindfolded with one arm tied behind her back.   I asked lots of questions.  I touched dough.  I watched her spray water into the oven to give the bread a nice crust.  I watched as she shaped the dough into rolls and loaves and braids and pretzels.   I was once again inspired.  This is easy!  I can do this!  Just need to buy a scale to measure all my ingredients by ounce instead of cup.  Besides there's this lovely Red one that will look really cool on my counter.

So on my next attempt I measured all my ingredients with my handy new red scale.  Then I forgot to check the water temperature again, but hey it was warm, so probably it was fine.  Mixed everything together using my newfound knowledge of machine kneading.  Did you know you can't over knead when using a mixer?  That's good to know.  Then I set it aside to rise.  Oops, I forgot the salt.  Quick google on that said, in no particular order, a) too late to add now, you are screwed, b) just add lots of salted butter, it will be fine and c) salt is needed for the rise, d) feed it to the birds.    Needless to say, I approached the loaf shaping with some dismay.    The dough felt good.  Not too dry.  Nice stretch.  I attempted a round loaf.    How did she do that again?   Heck, it's sort of round.  Good enough.   Into the oven.    Watched the time.    Not very dark on top, but I avoided the egg wash due to my vegan daughter.  And I didn't have a cool water spray to make steam in the oven, so maybe a little light on top is okay.  Took it out.  Tapped it.  Sounded hollow.  First slice?  A little doughy again.  Taste?  Needs salt.   Garbage?  Maybe.

But I'm not giving up.  Already planning my next attempt.  First I have to go buy a little bottle for spraying water.  You just can't develop a new passion without all the right equipment.

Maybe I can find a little Red water bottle.

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