The Learning Loaf

I make pizza dough on a fairly regular basis, but really haven’t made any other yeast breads either frequently or with great results.  A couple of weeks ago, I made what was supposed to be an Italian herb loaf with rosemary.  It tasted o.k., but was a little on the heavy side.  Basically, I think after I punched it down, I didn’t let it rise long enough the second time.  Enter “The Wooden Spoon Bread Book” by Marilyn M. Moore.  I had decided that I wasn’t satisfied with the baking sections of my other cookbooks, including a book that I have that is all about baking, but not enough about bread.  I had been thinking about making bread and getting a book to help me.  One morning not too long ago, we’d heard a segment by the artisan bread in 5 minutes a day people and I looked into that, but I really wanted to make bread in the traditional way even if that mean only making it on weekends. Without a bread machine.  Kneading by hand instead of using the food processor.  I am, however, willing to cheat by using the fancy proofing feature on our oven since it is only 62 degrees in our house right now and that doesn’t really make for happy yeast action.

After poking around on the internet for a while and reading reviews, I settled on this book and bought the cheapest “like new” used copy that I could find.  After reading the book for a while, it also occurred to me that buying some bread flour might be beneficial.  D. has also taken an interest in this project now and while I would have been comfortable making any of the basic loaves, we settled on trying out the “learning loaf” recipe.  It has a little of everything from a fun exercise watching the yeast proof in a measuring cup, to an egg yolk in the batter and no worries about wasting the egg white because it also asks for an egg wash.

We worked on the loaf together.  I put the butter, salt and sugar in a bowl and scalded the milk.  I also heated some filtered water in a glass measuring cup and added the yeast and a little more sugar.  The temperature must have been right, because we had crazy, happy, foaming yeast.  Then all of this and the egg yolk got mixed together and we started adding flour as prescribed.   Mixing (of course) with a wooden spoon until it was time to knead by hand.  D. took the directions for the kneading very literally and folded one-third of the dough back on itself, turned it and kept going.  Must be his inner chemistry student following the directions for the experiment exactly.   When I agreed the dough was smooth, we put it in the oven to rise.  It looked great when it came out and on we went with the punching down and shaping it into a loaf.  Into the prepared pan it went for another bout of rising.  If anything, our oven’s proofing feature may be a bit too efficient because at the minimum time, it had actually risen above the rim of the pan and was slightly stuck to the wax paper separating it from the damp towel.  We proceeded with the egg wash, cut a slit down the middle of the loaf and put it in the oven.

We’ve just now tasted the bread and it has a great crust and was really soft and tasty.  It will go nicely tonight with the chili that is in the slow cooker right now.    D. says we should do something a little more complex next time, but that is what rye flour, Guinness and molasses are for.  We have those things and we’ll be giving that a shot next weekend, probably to go along side a squash and peanut stew.

Apologies to my gluten intolerant reader, but I’ll probably be back to your blog some time soon to check out that gluten-free sandwich bread recipe as I widen my bread repertoire.  Another thing I’d like to make soon is cinnamon rolls.  Much as I loved the cinnamon rolls that come in a can when I was little, when they’ve been served in the last few years, I think they taste of chemicals.  New Year’s day we were at P & A’s for New Year’s Day brunch and the cinnamon rolls were fantastic.  Sure, more refined flour and sugar than I generally like to eat, but definitely a great treat to have once in a while.  I’d be way happier serving cinnamon rolls from scratch to the little nieces than the stuff out of a can, marketed by the dough boy.

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