14 June 2006

The best-laid good intentions gang-aft a-hell.

I haven't blogged in a while about making bread. This is a downer. In the absence of a real-life do-over opportunity, I will forgive myself.

Although I haven't written about it, I have managed to make bread every week. The mixture in the bowl in the picture is probably my favorite bread so far - it required 2 cups of milk and a 1/4 cup of butter and had the most fabulous, fluffy, buttery brioche taste you can imagine. God, it was so good. I'm scared to make it again because I'll just inhale the whole damn thing at once. (We ate two loaves in two days. I might as well glue it right onto my thighs and save myself the bother of chewing and swallowing.)

After the brioche-ish bread, I made yet another variation on basic white bread, which was fine but didn't really rock my world. I am getting pickier, too.

I am getting far better at A) making sure the yeast proofs properly and B) getting bread to rise and produce actual loaf-shaped objects, instead of misshapen "free form" loaves with tearaway bulges that would make John Merrick weep. And the bread is getting more tender, too. (I think this might also be due to that whole yeast proofing thing.) And I notice when I knead bread lately that I've developed, without realising, a semi-professional looking fold and turn action. I don't know when this happened, but it was like the day I realised I could chop vegetables very fast and efficiently: without noticing it, I had acquired a parental sort of skill. Grown-up, even.

Last weekend's bread was a wheat bread, at Dave's request. I had to seek out high-protein flour since whole wheat flour alone will produce a heavy loaf. Apparently the amount of protein in the flour is important, since it provides a robust structure that will keep the tiny yeast bubbles supported during rising and baking. Although whole wheat flour is high protein, the bran cuts through the protein structures, which means your tiny little yeast bubbles will collapse in on themselves and you will have a leaden loaf. Who knew bran was such a naughty little piece of fiber?

Chemistry aside (but more about it later! Less boring this time, I swear), the whole wheat bread was pretty good. I think I might be sort of a sucker for sweetish breads, however. But it did make a nice change from all that damned white.

And so the other revelation that came to me about making bread is this: it's really forgiving. Bread baking does not require chem-lab precision. (Also, no one is making me burn walnuts over a Bunsen burner and use the molarity to calculate the amount of energy in a shrivelled, burnt walnut.) Recipes tell you to add between half a cup and a cap of extra flour. Depending on the temperature of the room and the humidity and all that, yadda yadda yadda.

It's a little scary for the inexperienced baker - "is this enough? Is it too sticky? Is it too dry?" - well, scary for me, anyway - but now that I know what I'm doing a teensy bit, it's kind of liberating. I get to decide when to stop adding flour, because it's my damn bread and I'm the boss of it and I know best. (Sad, isn't it, when the only thing I feel power over is bread? Even the cats refuse to allow me to dominate them. Even when I ask nicely.)

The bread will even come out okay when it's 90 out and humid as hell and you're standing there over the counter pounding the bread in your underwear because it is too damn hot to wear clothes. The bread doesn't care what you're wearing (not even if my apron is super cute). It probably wouldn't care if you sweated into it, although I am not planning on testing this theory.

And if you screw it up, well, it's still probably going to come out okay. It will at least be edible.