Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Rising to the Occasion: Baking Bread
No doubt about about it: I've been avoiding using the oven. The summer weather and my faulty central AC have kept me from making bread. It's hot outside and when it gets warm in the house, the AC runs and it sounds like Niagara Falls from all the water running out of it in the vent void. I've been trying to keep cool while still turning the AC up to 84 degrees. Running the oven.....well, that just doesn't seem practical. But if I haven't got Bread, I'm in big trouble. It's a major protein source for me and it's the basis for many meals.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, the bread recipe I use is the one my mother used, and she adapted it from a recipe she found in the newspaper back in the 1940's. It is the only bread we ever had at home because we did not buy bread. Mother made bread every week--four huge loaves. The original recipe made (if I recall properly) a full dozen. Using the same recipe but smaller (to my mind, more sensible) loaf pans, I make six.
Six loaves. They fill the oven completely. Four loaves side by side across the front of the rack and two loaves end to end at the back. The pans just barely fit.
Six loaves. Five pounds of flour. A quart of milk. Half a pound of butter. And a few other things (.....sorry but I'm not giving away the recipe for My Mother's Very Best Bread because it just feels kinda personal). The dough weighs in at a hefty nine pounds, and it takes work to knead.
I have been missing Bread this past couple of weeks, so yesterday I bought milk. When you've got the ingredients, you've gotta get baking, right? So I went out to the kitchen this morning and got everything ready.....and discovered that, in fact, I did Not have everything. I was missing the most important thing: yeast. I dug around in my little spice cabinet where I always keep several packets of yeast. The only thing there was a half a packet that I opened at least six months ago. Going to the store was not an option (no money, car nearly out of gas). Disaster.
But wait! When I all-but-emptied the chest freezer during my several months of Zero Food Budget, I found a ziplock bag of old yeast packets that I had bought on clearance (10 cents each!) at the Dented Can Store but had forgotten all about. I didn't have the heart to throw them away, so they were still there. But they couldn't be good, could they? I mean, the yeast wasn't just old, it was OLD. Expired in 2008. Doom, right?
No choice. The only point in my favor was that the yeast has been in the freezer for nine years. So I decided to proof a couple of packets of the OLD yeast, and I added that open half-used packet just to give it a chance. Then I waited. The yeast was slow but it was, amazingly, still active. I proofed one more packet and added it, just to be sure. This was do-or-die time here. But the bread dough rose magnificently.
A friend had suggested that I try leaving the bread to rise on the screen porch since it's all hot and humid outside, and that worked like a treat. The dough rose to the full height of my very large 13-quart mixing bowl. And the dough stayed active through knocking down and resting and finally being shaped into good-sized loaves that each weighed about 2 ounces more than usual. (Yes, I weigh my dough--I may never be able to make pretty loaves but they can certainly be even in size so that they bake properly.)
I wondered whether the bread might taste too yeasty, given that I nearly doubled the amount, but I need not have worried because it's just fine. The bread is beautiful. I've been happily munching away at a couple of slices as I type.
Bread. I feel better already.
Life is good.