As part of my goals for the year, one of the things I want to get good at is making bread. I’ll settle at the start for being at least competent enough that it is edible and looks like bread, seems like a good first goal. In prep for my goal, I’ve read some sections from a book we have on bread and bread machines, and the reading led me to a question.
Should I go for the basic, hard-core method, learn to do it all by hand, get good at the process first, and then simplify with the help of a bread machine later? Or start with a bread machine, have some success, produce some viable doughs and things, and then progress to the hand-kneaded versions and larger options? I consulted my bread guru, and he basically saw nothing wrong with starting with a bread machine, or at least he didn’t shun me for suggesting it, so I’m going with that method.
Our first attempt was not very successful, as you can see from the photo below. It just didn’t rise, and the inside was dense and still very doughy. Not a mark for the win column. Totally inedible and easily discarded.
I turned to our bread guru, and I should clarify that John is not just an amateur who makes bread, he used to own the Newfoundland Bakery making 300-500 loaves a day. He still runs a large bread sale for our United Way campaign at work where a bunch of people get together and make bread, apple pies, other types of loaves, etc. It’s an all-day affair with dozens and dozens of each type of product made and sold to support the United Way. Huge production. And he even gives workshops apparently, which was news to me. He was featured on CBC in November and you can listen to his broadcast. He also suggested a video which shows the same technique:
So a true bread guru and a great resource to interrogate. I wasn’t sure what went wrong, so I sent him the photo and asked him about lots of possible options…I used a “rapid” bread machine recipe, but that isn’t usually a problem; maybe my yeast was too old, but I bought it just before Xmas and stored in a plastic bag in a drawer, which was fine; I used two different types of bread flour, but probably not a problem since lots of recipes call for that (although doing it by hand would have shown me the dough wasn’t right as it went); and I didn’t have sunflower oil and used canola, but no issue there.
Which left two more likely culprits. Basically it looked like the bread didn’t rise, i.e. the yeast didn’t activate, and there are two things that will literally kill yeast — hot water or salt. I had used what I thought was merely luke-warm water, but I confess I didn’t check it after I filled the basin, could have heated up coming out of the tap. Equally, the recipe had called for placing the salt in the side of the machine, and the yeast in the centre, but when it started to mix, it could have kicked some salt over near the yeast and killed it. Hard to say.
I had used a recipe from a book on bread and bread machines, but I also have a recipe book that came with the bread machine. While I had checked on the order for adding ingredients (some machines want the yeast first and others want it last), I hadn’t actually used the recipe from that book. Should have been fine, but for attempt #2, we went to the regular recipe book. Again, we chose a rapid rise option, partly as the “trial and error” learning method for learning your new technique suggests only changing one item each time. Standard scientific methodology applied to bread-making, nothing earth-shattering there, but I did stick to the recipe.
This one called for adding the salt to the water before you put in the flour on top, and then adding the yeast, which would place the yeast as far as possible away from the salt. Sounded promising if that was the problem, and I made sure the water was the right temp this time. Jacob helped again, and I think he likes the idea, although I’m not totally convinced he understands the link between making it and enjoying fresh results for any of our cooking. He likes it but I haven’t seen a wow reaction out the other side yet.
As an aside, Jacob liked looking in the machine when it first started, and he said, “It’s alive, it’s alive!”. Which was perfectly timed, and quite funny, but here’s the thing — how does he know that line? He has no idea who Dr. Frankenstein is, or the reference, but he executed the line perfectly. I love his sense of humour.
As the dough was mixing, it looked a LOT more like dough which was extremely promising. And the immediate result looked dang near perfect, or at least what I was expecting it to look like.
Once we got it out on the cooling rack, I confess it looked a little smaller than I was expecting. Not much, maybe 20% or so. We let it cool, and then sliced it to try it out.
Not quite so perfect. It was a 1000 percent better than the previous attempt, but it was still fairly dense and a bit doughy at the bottom. Inconsistent across the surface of the cut. I also didn’t do what I was supposed to do and turn it on its die to cut it, but hopefully I’ll survive that oops. Quite edible, quite tasty…we made it Friday night, it’s all gone now (Sunday). Almost a perfect-sized loaf for us. But still not quite “right”.
I read through the manual that came with the bread machine and at first I thought I might have found the problem. In the manual, there is a trouble-shooting guide. One of the options is “loaf does not rise enough”, and it suggests adding more water, using less salt, adding more yeast, using fresher flour, etc. However, farther over, there’s an option that says “loaf core texture heavy and dense” which was one of those near-eureka moments, where you say, “Yes! That’s the problem!”. Run down the list, and it says use less flour, or more yeast, but then there is a special section where it says “used fresh yeast (wrong type). Umm, wait a minute. How many types of yeast are there?
Basically there are four types, and I can eliminate “brewer’s yeast” as I knew I didn’t have that one.
The first is dry yeast — it looks like pellets. Okay, that sounds like what I used. It was called “active dry yeast”, but still, dry yeast.
The second is instant or easy-bake yeast — it looks like a powder. Okay, I definitely didn’t use that.
The third is fresh yeast, which sounded like my problem. Until I saw a picture of it that looks like a beige eraser. Definitely not what I used.
Whew, I think my yeast was fine. I don’t know if there is “dry yeast” and “active dry yeast”, but I have discovered there is something sold called “bread machine yeast”, and I’m going to give that a go for the next round. With a bit of extra yeast in the recipe to help it rise a bit more. Not a lot, it says increase by a 1/4 tsp. It’s possible I’m not being precise enough in my dry measurements, but we’ll see.
Once I have a recipe that is working, I’m going to “lock it in” for a few other recipes. The bread machine has an option to just “make the dough”, and then you do the rest with it by hand, and I’m looking forward to doing that for buns. I confess bread-making has been more of an abstract desire, whereas making buns is more what my father used to do, so a double-impetus to get to that stage. Baby steps though, and it’s improving.