Adventures in Bread Making

I’ve recently become obsessed with making bread, especially bread that my youngest son will consume with as much enthusiasm as he scarfs down (blech) Wonder Breadâ„¢. Little did I know that I didn’t know squat about making yeast bread.

Oh, I’ve been making biscuits, corn bread, muffins and other quick breads successfully for years, but yeast bread? That is a different animal, so to speak, all together. (It doesn’t help that The Young One is notoriously picky; when asked what he’d like for dinner, he invariably gives one of two answers: Parmesan-baked chicken wings or Pad Thai. Neither of which can be whipped together on your run-of-the-mill weeknight.)

Now, I am an avid collector of cook books, and recently added three books by Rose Levy Beranbaum: The Cake Bible, the Pie and Pastry Bible and the Bread Bible. Mrs. Beranbaum is an absolutely incredible baker and her methods are exacting, precise and scientific. This poses a bit of a challenge for me, since if there are three things I am NOT it is exacting, precise and scientific. She gives three methods of measuring out her ingredients – by volume (cups and teaspoons and what-have-you), by weight in ounces and by weight in tenths of grams. She’s quite clear that she prefers the latter method, and it’s the method I tried when first beginning to make her recipes since I am the proud owner of a dandy banana holder Salter electric food scale.

It drove me, well, bananas. And I fell back to using good old volume for measuring out my ingredients (have you ever tried to weigh an egg down to the tenth of a gram?). However, one of the reasons Mrs. Beranbaum recommends weighing her ingredients by tenths of grams is because if the proportions of liquid, flour, sugar and yeast are not precise, kneaded properly and proofed for the exactly right amount of time, you’re going to end up with either a loaf-shaped brick or a very tasty, fluffy, loaf-shaped letter U.

Trust me on this. You have no idea how many U-shaped sandwiches we’ve eaten around here.

Before you all start leaving comments, yes I own a bread machine. It’s old, it’s missing it’s directions, it was inexpensive when we bought it nearly 10 years ago, and it’s been collecting dust for 9 1/2 years. It’s also the biggest producer of loaf-shaped bricks and loaf-shaped letter U’s, so it is now back in the garage collecting dust. I mix the dough in my KitchenAid stand mixer, knead it by hand and let it rise in a buttered bowl on the counter. And after weeks and weeks of experimentation, I am FINALLY producing loaves of bread that actually look – and taste – like loaves of bread. Even The Young One will eat it. Well, most of it.

White Bread

White Bread to rival the Wonder stuff. All is right with the world.

Cheddar Bread

Cheddar Bread. The Young One’s favorite. It makes one mean ham sammich.

There are still loaves I slave over make on a regular basis that he won’t eat, but it doesn’t matter because my Beloved and Darling Daughter suck them down so quickly that if your hands are anywhere in the vicinity of the loaf you’re likely to lose your fingers.

Raisin Bread

Raisin Bread. This one still needs work, but I’m getting the swirl thing down.

It’s not just yeast breads he’s pretty picky about. While he’s fond of cornbread as a rule, this morning I departed from the usual biscuits, muffins or toast and made a recipe I found in the Joy of Cooking’s All About Breakfast and Brunch – Custard Topped Spoon Bread. It just sounded yummy, y’know? And it was too, even if it didn’t come out looking just like the picture in the book. I’m not sure where I went wrong, but it ended up being “Custard Straight Down the Middle Spoon Bread.”

Spoon Bread

Spoon Bread?

He would barely touch it. I don’t know what he’s going to say when it makes a reappearance on the dinner table tonight. WE liked it.

And not only is my bread making improving, so is my photography. Hot dog.