Breadmaking: An Ongoing Journey
Since quarantine everybody and their mother has been in the kitchen creating all kinds of wonderful goodies, one of which being, bread.
Who doesn’t love bread? You walk into a bakery and the smell of fresh bread is truly intoxicating. I wish that I could wear it as a fragrance; it’s that warm and inviting.
Bath & Body Works once had a candle called French Baguette and you can bet your bottom dollar that that’s a candle I paid money for. I lit it every single day until it ran out, which unfortunately wasn’t that long thereafter. Unfortunately, that candle has since been discontinued, so I have two options: bakery-hop and take in the splendour that is the smell of fresh bread, or make my own and not look like a total oddball in public. I chose the latter, naturally.
I am no stranger to making bread, though. A couple of years ago I saw a food blogger make gorgeous artisanal bread in a Le Creuset dutch oven and was completely entranced. It was so simple, so easy, so effortless...perfectly Parisian. I was sold.
So, I went into my pantry and gathered all the ingredients: flour, sea salt, dry yeast and water. A no-knead recipe, making bread seemed so straightforward that a blindfolded monkey could do it. Sadly, I was wrong. For whatever reason (I’m sure now it had everything to do with inactivated or old yeast), my bread didn’t rise and it came out dense and hard as a rock.
I tried again twice after that, even playing with different flour (wheat and then spelt), but each time my loaf bared resemblance to a giant hockey puck. I gave up and imagined that making bread would always be a pipe dream.
Flash forward to present day. Amidst the Covid-19 quarantine, everyone has become their own baker. Both the highly skilled chef and novice home cook have been pumping out beautiful, pillowy, fresh bread. Needless to say, I was inspired once again.
Unfortunately, this first endeavour also went awry. I used all the right ingredient amounts, was careful not to over-mix (no kneading was necessary), and let it rise for a minimum of 3 hours. But, my dough never rose and although after baking the crust was a gorgeous golden brown, the inside crumb was incredibly dense and lacked any elasticity. Straight to the trash :(
Though I followed the instructions quite carefully, something was definitely wrong. I took to my followers on Instagram to ask if they had any idea what happened.
Though I was met with some goofy remarks that “everything had gone wrong” (thank you, close friends lol), some did provide interesting insight.
One suggested the type of flour may be the issue. Was I using bread flour or just plain ole’ all-purpose? I mulled this over a bit, but most “easy” bread recipes call for all-purpose, white or even whole wheat. My flour was probably alright.
Another suggested kneading. Had I kneaded it well enough or long enough? Again, the recipes I consulted didn’t require any kneading, but kneading does help to incorporate extra air into the dough. I decided I’d knead my next dough a little before leaving it to rise.
What most advised, however, was that my failed bread was probably the result of yeast that was either not activated or had gone stale. I should also note that I had to use fresh yeast, not the traditional dried yeast packet as all grocer’s have sold out recently. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen fresh yeast but it looks and feels sort of like grey clay. That said, I knew my yeast was fresh as we had just gotten it from our local bakery a couple days before. However, something definitely was off, because when I tried to activate my yeast in water, there were no bubbles or fizzing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Nothing.
I decided to do some research. Did someone say, bread scientist? Though most recipes say to use fresh and dry yeast interchangeably, this isn’t necessarily true. Dry yeast is often more potent than fresh, which may account for why you can dissolve it in a higher volume of liquid and still hear and see that frothy fizzing.
What I ended up doing was activating my yeast (2 teaspoons) in a much smaller portion of water (1/4 cup) with a bit of sugar (1 teaspoon). Then came the critical part, waiting for a reaction. After about 10 minutes the yeast came to life and finally I realized that my breadmaking disasters had truly always been a matter of inactivated yeast. You gotta let that stuff wake up a bit!
Anyways, I held my breath and mixed in my activated yeast blend with the required flour, salt, and water—note also that I added probably a 1/2 cup more in this second trial than what I had the day before.
After mixing it together with a wooden spoon, I floured my countertop and did a little bit of kneading, probably only for a minute or two. Then I put the dough back in a bowl, covered with cling wrap, and let it sit on the counter for three hours.
Imagine my surprise when after half an hour, the dough had already risen to astronomical levels in respect to what I had seen the day before! After patiently waiting for a few hours, it was time to bake. I opted to try baking the bread in two ways as I had enough dough: in the dutch oven and on a sheet pan.
For the dutch oven, I heated the Le Creuset pot in the oven for a half hour and then dropped in a rounded loaf. I baked it for twenty minutes covered and then five uncovered, but I think I want to play with that a little more and maybe add an extra five minutes uncovered for maximum golden crispiness.
For the sheet pan bread, I formed a longer baguette-style loaf and baked for twenty minutes. Again, maybe I'd keep it in for an extra five minutes.
Overall, this second batch of bread turned out pretty good. I have Sally’s recipe in conjunction with Nagi’s to thank for that! It rose, which was my main point of concern, so that was pretty cool! The texture was soft and airy and the crumb was quite comparable to a loaf of bread you’d buy at a bakery. There were some airy pockets, but nothing too crazy.
As for taste, it was pretty on point. I might add another teaspoon of salt, but that’s just a matter of preference. You probably won’t need that extra salt if you’re dressing up your bread slice with other good stuff...maybe it’s time that I make some butter again?!
Anyways, this is my story. This is my frankenbread. It’s definitely a work-in-progress but I’m excited now to keep playing with it and maybe even venture into new breadmaking territory. Hot cross buns, perhaps? Be sure to follow my Instagram for all my latest breadmaking adventures!
. . .
Have you ever made bread? I wanna hear about your breadmaking experiences below!