Yesterday was a lazy Sunday, and by “lazy” I mean I did some yoga, cooked a lot (and by “cooking” I mean “threw a bunch of stuff into the Crock-Pot”), and finally unpacked the suitcases that have been spilling all over the bedroom floor for the three weeks since we came back from Florida. It feels SO GOOD to not be stepping on my own clothes.
If you’re wondering why it took me so long to unpack, it’s mostly because I avoid it. It means admitting that the trip is over and that I can only reminisce about it… but if I keep the suitcase packed, who knows? Another adventure might crop up and then I’ll be ready. ;-D
I just finished a Netflix documentary series called “Cooked”, based on a book by the same name by Michael Pollan, who is one of those skinny intellectual guys with a wind-beaten face who you can tell also runs marathons in his spare time (I don’t actually know this about him, I can just tell). It’s a brilliant series, if a bit short, and watching it truly made me appreciate food and cooking, and think deeply about the emotional connections we have to our food.
All the episodes are named after a traditional “element”; i.e. fire, water, air, and earth. My favorite episode, “Air”, was all about bread and how air is what makes bread so irresistibly delicious and fun to eat (thanks yeast!). It’s true. Who doesn’t love a beautiful, crusty baguette, with all its airy flavor?
It turns out that bread without air in it becomes just a kind of doughy brick, which I learned the hard way when I was inspired by “Cooked” to bake my first loaves of bread!
First I went out to TJ Maxx to buy myself a cheap bread pan, which I found out later that I didn’t even need! You can just bake bread as a free-form loaf on a cookie sheet or pizza pan, and it will take on its own unique, organic shape as it bakes. Loaf pans, incidentally, are better if you’re using a batter rather than a dough.
So I came home, having bought two packets of yeast a couple of days before (I’d been looking forward to Bread Day for quite a while), and got myself ready to cook. Our new kitchen has a butt-ton of counter space compared to our old one, so I was really excited to use it!
The recipe I (sort of) followed is from Minimalist Baker, for a simple whole-grain seeded bread. I love my bread to be chock full of nuts and seeds and grains and just pure YUM… so of course I had to make it. The dough came together beautifully, looking like this in the bowl…
Looking more like a sad biscuit at this point, but it’ll come together!
I deviated a small bit from the recipe Minimalist Baker provided: I used all whole wheat flour, rather than half whole wheat and half Hodgson Mill pastry flour (I will use that next time, though!). I did throw in some Hodgson Mill stovetop porridge for texture, which I love but I think it made it harder for the bread to rise. In there also: honey and steel cut oats. Mmmmmm.
I ended up making two loaves: one with four mashed-up bananas which were dubiously brown, but which were sweet as all getout and integrated nicely into the dough. Out of the two, the banana loaf is actually my favorite!
Here’s what they looked like coming out of the oven…
Beautiful, right? The banana loaf is on the left and the regular loaf is on the right. And yes, I did make a cooling rack out of part of my boyfriend’s old dorm shelving unit and an empty orange crate. I think that’s the best innovation of this whole project. 🙂
So one thing I noticed right out of the gate is that both loaves were HEAVY. Like, each one felt like a brick. That made me really scared to cut into them, because what if they solidified into two solid cement blocks that I would feel obligated to eat?
Turns out, they kind of did.
Inside, both loaves were super dense, with virtually no holes at all. According to ImaginAcres, it’s probably because I murdered all my yeast way back at the beginning of the process. The recipe says to use warm water (like bathwater) and instead, I used…. well, really really hot water. So all of my yeast had their proteins denatured and they went to a watery grave.
Regardless, I sliced some to have with our dinner, which was a chicken, carrot, and potato soup with tarragon, bay leaf, and turmeric (and it was delicious). Funnily enough, my boyfriend John loved the bread, but it was far too dense for me.
Was I disappointed? Sure. But not only is bread really cheap to make, it’s also a fun learning process. Now I know how to avoid killing my yeast, and to make sure I knead my dough enough (which I did NOT do… I have very little patience and so really skimped on the kneading). I even read that you should set a timer or watch TV while you knead, because it’s far better to over-knead your bread rather than under-knead it!
So, knead-less to say (hehee), I need more practice. But I’m excited for the practice, because few things are more satisfying than getting your hands all doughy, and then smelling that delicious bread baking afterwards.
Who knows, maybe I’ll make Sundays the official Bread Day of the week.