Successes and failures

Holy cow. Has it been that long? I think a week disappeared on me somewhere. I missed the blog, I missed some other kind-of-important things, and I’m tired. I keep falling asleep, nodding off when helping wee guy down for his nap, feeling drowsy when reading to him, just sitting too long… And then I’m awake until 2 with no desire to sleep. I think it’s a summer thing. I’m not too fond of hot bright weather. I feel hot and sticky and petulant.

But! I have been baking and doing other things of a rather homesteady nature that make me happy. I know, hot weather and baking don’t really go together, but since I have taken to baking our bread it’s kind of a necessity. I have two kinds of bread to make: a variation on brown bread from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book and a super-easy “not real bread” bread. I sense your confusion.

The former is bread that I am trying to perfect. I was enraptured many years ago by the book Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott, in which Rose’s uncle (and new guardian) Alec requires that she learn to bake a good loaf of brown bread from Aunt Plenty. I have it in me that knowing how to make good bread is a testament to femininity, more so than certain curves, and right up there with other signs of intellect and common sense. So I keep trying. And whenever we need bread and the “real” bread hasn’t yet worked out quite right, I make the super-easy “not real bread” bread.

Okay, so it is bread. It has yeast and flour and it rises and you can make almond-butter-and-jam sandwiches with it. But because it is called “Easy Bread” and because you don’t really knead it I don’t consider it “real bread.” It’s what real bread would be if it dreamed of being quick bread. It does take about 2-2 1/2 hours to make, so it isn’t pop & go, but still. No kneading? Not real bread.

However, it does take quite well to variations. It began with 3 cups of white flour, 3 cups of whole wheat, plus a little honey, a little oil, some salt, and yeast and water. Well, we can’t have all that white flour going on. Just not my thing. So I substituted in 1/2 cup of wheat germ. This was yummy, but I don’t often have wheat germ on hand. So then it was 1/2 cup of oats, ground up in my little mini chopper thing. Worked beautifully.

Then I had to add nuts. I am a nut person, and all my breads will have nuts if I can help it–I like breads with Stuff, breads with Texture. White bread is not only a big Zero in the nutrition department but as far as I’m concerned, it’s boring. Give me Stuff in there–nuts, maybe also raisins or other dried fruits or seeds. So, nuts. I put in about a cup, chopped, and I upped the oats to 1 cup (substituting this for one cup of the white flour). Ah, yes. These are all changes that were made one per baking, so this is over a period of weeks that they were made. Then I added a little kneading, just a little, during the pre- and post-rising period, and it took well to this. That was last week, and I decided that this made a perfectly tasty everyday loaf (if small–this recipe makes two 8×4 loaves).

Until today, when hubris came before a fall. I substituted another cup of white flour with millet flour and added 1/2 cup of flax seeds. The loaves, which normally take about 45 minutes to bake, took TWO HOURS. Seriously. (We did have a very humid morning.) I finally just took them out of the oven, set them on the cooling rack, and left the house. One loaf actually cracked lengthwise, leaving the bottom half and top attached until I tried to slice it this afternoon, when it came away in my hand.

You put so much work into something and then, meh. To be fair, the bread is tasty enough, with a kind of tea-loaf texture (very tender) that is very strange combined with its tough, overbaked crust. That tenderness comes from the millet, which also gives it an odd powdery feel, even to the moist cakey bread. So frustrating, to have hours of work go bleh! We’ll probably eat it over the next few days and on Monday I’ll try the brown bread again. Or maybe I’ll try the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book‘s whole-wheat challah tomorrow. Hmm.

In other baking news, I made sprouted bricks! I attempted (using the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book recipe, naturally) to make bread using only sprouted wheat instead of flour. I sprouted the hard winter wheat in a glass pan in the oven over the course of two days, then ground it not-even-fine-enough in my wee chopper thingy, kneaded it with the mixer because no way am I going to do the equivalent of 30 minutes of machine kneading with my own arms, and Got Gluten. It was… spiritual. Long pearly strands like a cross between spiderweb and egg white. I baked them… for hours… and my innocent enthusiasm began to wane (just a little) when they did not bake up. The top, yes, it became a crusty top, but the rising sank and when they were done and the inside was the right texture the outside was adobe. As it cooled I swear it got heavier. I couldn’t cut the cooled bread. I was not physically able.

Ah, well. Back to the drawing board.

Oh! And I made ginger ale! Using this recipe. I halved the recipe so I could make it in a Nalgene bottle instead of having to go out and buy a #2 bottle. It was quite tasty, and I am fired up on the path of experimentation there. Hmm. I need to find some good frozen pineapple juice concentrate…

Hopefully my next posts will be shorter on words and longer on photos, as my camera has been repaired and is ready for pickup! Hurrah!


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