Stuff I Learned from Baking Bread

About three days ago: I decide that I want to try another type of bread as I am feeling like the standard white bread recipe I’ve made twice is pretty flavorless.  So I visit several grocery health food grocery stores and learn that, well, rye isn’t considered healthy enough to merit shelf space.

1:00 p.m. today:  I learn that Fry’s at Tatum and Shea carries rye flour.*  As experienced in other supermarkets, it is classified as “unhealthy” flour since it’s in the normal baking section rather than with the other alternative “better eating” flours.  I also learn that this Fry’s also carries flour made from quinoa, almonds, amaranth and unbelievably, teff in case I ever want to make injera.

1:40 p.m. or so: I learn that rye bread can allegedly be made without kneading.  At least Google says so.  We will see how it plays out.  I would say that somewhere years ago I was taught you should read a recipe all the way through before you start baking.  Obviously I was taught it but didn’t learn it very well. So I start Googling alternative recipes to see if THEY say you have to knead, and the recommendations are all over the board.

1:45 p.m.: I learn that my kitchen is really hot, when it’s 115 degrees outside. I add “yoga/gym sweat towel” to the list of things I have to have handy, when I bake in the summer.

yoga towel

1:57 p.m: This is actually my third loaf of bread in 2 months, and in between loaves 1 and 2, several friends who have more experience than I told me about putting a pan of hot water in the oven along with the bread.  So I put the water pan in the oven. Lesson learned: Cultivate friendships with people who know more than you do.

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Top: Bread. Rising. Bottom: Pan of water. My jelly roll pan is dirty so I lazily used a 13×9 Pyrex pan. Rather than wash the jelly roll pan. Pitiful.

1:57 and a half: I learn upon opening the oven how much olive oil can splatter when you use it to roast baby potatoes and beets. My defense is that when I pull stuff out of a hot oven, my glasses fog up so I can’t see the mess. Ick. Next weekend: Oven cleaning.

1:59 p.m.:  I learn that my oven light has burned out. So this is the best I can do to show you “bread rising inside oven.” If you look closely you can see olive oil drips. Ick again.

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3:00 p.m.:  I am not very good at making bread dough into a loaf. First try, it looks a little like meatloaf in the loaf pan.  I pull it out and try again, but that means there will be some corn meal (which I used to flour the pan) kinda tucked inside the rye bread. C’est la vie.  If this bread comes out OK I can I say I learned that there is grace in baking. [Editor: See 4:30 p.m. below]

3:05 p.m.  I start questioning the recipe I’m using as I now read the last line, I mean really read it, and it says, “Put bread inside oven, and shut the door.”  Inner monologue ensues:

  • Should I trust a recipe that questions whether the baker knows that you have to shut the oven door?
  • This recipe also says brush the bread with water and cornstarch cooked for 45 seconds in the microwave. I have never heard of brushing with water and corn starch on baked goods. Isn’t water, corn starch and flour the recipe for homemade Play-Do? Do I really wanna create a layer of Play-Do on top of my bread? (My inner monologue may not be accurate about Play-Do but I’m just being honest about my thoughts.) Time to consult other recipes again.
  • AllRecipes went a completely different direction with their rye bread, including eggs and milk and kneading, so that one’s off the table for comparison.
  • I hesitate. Martha Stewart has a rye bread recipe.  Do I want to go down that rabbit hole? What infernal, expensive, purchasable-only-by-mailorder-from-MarthaStewart.com advice will I find? I close one eye and click.  Martha says, brush with egg whites.  I do, in actuality, trust Martha for craft and baking advice. I’m more OK with egg whites than Play-Do goo.

I wish I could say I learned a lesson from all this.  Maybe it’s just that Google is a curse. In the olden days you’d just follow the recipe and go beat a carpet, or some other antiquated, hard-labor household chore, while the bread was rising. (How many Weight Watcher activity points would you get for carpet beating, do you think?)

4:05-ish:  iPhone timer goes off. I pull the bread out of the oven.  I do not wear my glasses so nothing fogs up and I see olive oil splatter very clearly. Ick, again.  But I soldier on and pull out the bread.

4:06 p.m.: It looks done.  Beautiful outside crust. I cut off a slice at the heel. I can see raw spots.  I don’t know if this is fixable but what the heck, I’m only in this for about $3.00 worth of flour. I put it back in the over for another 10 minutes.

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4:15 p.m.:  iPhone timer goes off. Wha…what? I oh gosh, now I know why the loaf wasn’t done. I have a timer set for 4:00 p.m. every day for a daily reminder, and when that went off, I thought it was for the bread. I pulled the bread out at least 10 minutes early.

In the old days, when you were beating carpets while your bread was in the oven, and telling time by how far the sun was from the weathervane on top of the barn, you wouldn’t have two alarms going off.  So next time use the stove timer. Or find a weather vane. And a barn. And a farm, for that matter. Lesson learned.

4:30 p.m., more or less:

  • Bread is as done as it’s gonna get, and with regard to the corn starch, it does look kinda like the loaf got pollenated by a rogue cedar tree that set up shop in my kitchen.

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  • There is grace to be had in loaf-formation (see 3:00 p.m. above).
  • It’s pretty raw inside. And kinda flat. Not raised or baked enough. Tastes mostly of caraway  when you pick out the parts that are baked, which I now realize is 99% of the flavor in light “rye” bread. It should be called “caraway bread.”

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4:45 p.m.  Last lesson for the day.  Flour is conveniently packaged so that you can get another batch of bread out of the bag, on another day.

*I visited this Fry’s on the very first day when it re-opened after a huge renovation. I walked in the door with a guy who like, me, just stood there flummoxed on where to go once you stepped inside the door. Color! Lights! Noise! Odd fruits and vegetables! Sushi bar with behatted sushi chef 30 feet from the door! The gentleman turned to the red-aproned greeter and simply said, “Can you direct me to the rides?”  Hence my suspicion that I would hit pay dirt looking for an odd type of flour.

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