Not only bread: challah.
Not only challah: but wheat challah.
And it tastes like heaven.
But bread? Who woulda thunk it?
See, now I have my own Mockmill (an at-home honest-to-God stone milling attachment for KitchenAid or Kenmore mixers) to play with, so I knew that eventually I would have to try something beyond using the grain for my yogurt: I was going to have to turn to – gulp! - baking bread. Let me be honest with you: that frightened me. What really worried me the most was the yeast. I had heard that you have to use exactly the right warmth of water, to begin with, so that you don’t either kill the yeast, which is alive (good Lord!) – or leave it unaffected and ruined. Then I was told by a baker friend of mine that her impressive and extensive baking efforts were made so much easier when she bought an oven that has a “proofing” setting.
“Proofing?” I asked. “What is that?”
“That’s where you let the bread rise in a temperature that doesn’t kill the yeast.”
Another opportunity to kill the yeast? Oh gawd, I’m in trouble.
So, imagine my relief when I heard that – thank you, advances in bread science – there is Instant Yeast. For all I know, it’s far healthier to use the yeast that you have to actually activate. But a girl does what she has to do. Instant yeast it is.
Now, I don’t know which bread recipes are good recipes, and which are bad. But I chose a challah recipe that included honey instead of sugar, and touted an afternoon of baking instead of an overnight extravaganza.
Armed with my Mockmill, grains, my new cooking brush, eggs and the rest of the ingredients, I buckled down to get started.
“Hmmm…I wonder how many cups of grain to cups of flour? I’ll do it cup by cup and see.” So I threw a cup of grain into the Mockmill, turned it to the super-extra-unbelievably fine setting and watched it start to grind…
…and then I watched it slow down. Uh-oh.
No! Wait! I’ll take most of it out and feed it in bit by bit! Yeah! That worked! I watched the Mockmill get super happy, and then so did I. Okay. So…8 cups of flour in this recipe???? Well, I’ll just follow the bouncing ball and see what happens. It’s the adventurer in me.
Next, the yeast. The dreaded yeast.
Oh God help me. It says the water needs to be 110 degrees. And I don’t have a thermometer.
Okay – time out to go out to the store to buy a food thermometer. Jeez – talk about dedication to the process!
It’s not until I return home and look at the recipe again that I realize I don’t need a food thermometer for the yeast, because it’s instant yeast, and just needs to be added to the flour, not the water. D’oh!
Oh well, I’m sure I’ll need a food thermometer again sometime? (uh huh, right)
So, yeast ho! That’s done and I start adding the rest of the ingredients. One cup…two cups…uh, this is getting super immovable, this concoction of yeast and eggs and honey. And I have 6 more cups of flour to go! What the…???
[head slap] The water. I forgot the water; I thought without the yeast, it was out. Nope. But okay. Never call me a quitter. Ever devoted to precision, I return to the recipe, and it says water – 110 degrees. So I whip out my new thermometer to determine the heat of the water – HA! I have a purpose for this after all! – before I realize…damn you, yeast!...that the only reason for the heat of the water (at least, the only reason I know of so far, as a non-baker), was for the yeast.
I feel like the kid in the movie Jumanji who runs out to the shed to get the axe they desperately need; finding the shed locked, he sees an axe sitting nearby and starts to hack away at the lock…before he…realizes. [head slap]
I feel a deep kinship with this kid at this particular watery moment.
Okay, okay – I tell myself – you can get by this; this is just kind of a food-based Woody Allen situation – just keep going.
Which I do.
Amazingly, I get nearly everything in except for the raisins I wanted to include, and forgot. And I work the bread, adding in the extra flour I need to make it un-sticky (who knew?!). Finally, I am both tired and satisfied enough to declare it finished, and I set it aside in a bowl with a wet towel draped over the bowl, and give it the required hour and 15 minutes to rise.
I pour myself a glass of wine and sit down. Turn on the telly.
Then I think to myself: Uh-oh, did I put enough yeast in there? (Yeast, you are devilish!!!!) Oh God, when I opened that one packet and popped it into a little tiny measuring thingy, it didn’t tell me if that measurement was the same as what the recipe required!
Oh man! If I didn’t do the right amount of yeast, I just wasted 8 CUPS OF GRAIN!!!!!
Fret, fret, fret, fret, more wine, fret, fret, fret, more wine, fret, fret, fret. Until finally:
OH HAPPY DAY! OH HAPPY DANCE! THE BREAD IS RISEN!
Oh my. It is RISEN! Amazing! I am a Yeast Goddess! I am the Warrior Breader!
I am drunk…er…I mean happy!
It’s time to punch that sucker down. Okay, that’s fun! That tactile experience totally works for me! And then it’s time to make two loaves – make TWO loaves? OHHHHH! That’s why it’s 8 cups of flour! (Lori, didn’t we talk about this with your housemate last night when we looked at recipes together? Shhh – I just forgot; it’s okay, just don’t tell anyone!)
Making “snakes” out of this stuff was not the same as using Play-Doh when I was a kid. But the result was a braid I almost considered tacking to my head. (I get bored with my short hair.)
And then it was time to put it into the oven.
Which was preheated. So I did. And I sat back down. And I let out a sigh.
And about 15 minutes later I realized two things: the recipe called for another resting period – which I had not provided – and I had not oiled the Reynolds Wrap that the breads were sitting on.
Seriously Woody Allen-esque.
Could I somehow oil the thing NOW?
I pull the oven open and look at the bread – ohmygod, it’s already looking incredible! – and I try to lift it from one end to see if I can sneak some oil under it.
Curses – foiled again! (Pun intended.) The foil comes up with it a bit, and the bread looks like it’s going to tear, and I just stop.
Rats! Think, think, think…okay, I get a total flash of brilliance and I take out a new pan (it’s not a pan, it’s flat, but because I’m such a freakin’ newbie, I don’t even know what it’s called!) and I oil it to death! Then I take out the breads on their “pan”, place the oiled pan on top of them, flip the whole contraption over, and take the Reynolds Wrap off of the bottoms of the bread. To my relief, there’s only one tiny area that takes a bit of picking to make this a beautiful-looking bread bottom.
Happy at last, I flip the breads back over onto the oiled "pan", and let them go back to baking for another 5 minutes. It’s a slightly cooled oven, I realize, but they’re already looking pretty brown!
Ohmygod, how am I going to know when they’re done? I mean, I don’t know if this oven runs overly hot, or not hot enough!
So I take a look at the breads and realize they look pretty damn perfect to me, and I take the out of the oven, rap on the bottom (like the recipe says to) to hear if it sounds “hollow” (which the recipe says it should), and to me it sounds hollow enough to Stop the Baking Madness!
... wow ...
I stand there looking at these beauties. One a braid, one a round braid. I did that. It took my entire afternoon and a lot of hilarity, but I did that.
I load them onto a tray and run upstairs to see my housemate. She is stunned. She is also extremely happy with the way the house smells! She says, “I’m going to look up how you freeze a bread and thaw it after, because we’ll never eat all of that, just the two of us!”
Within 30 minutes, I’m running back upstairs with that tray, slices of bread, butter, and honey, and we are chowing down! It’s delicious, it’s delectable, it’s delightful! Ohmygod, if Cole Porter were alive, he would write a song to these loaves!
So, here is what I have learned from my first loaves of bread:
- Even when I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, I can still make something fabulous!
- The effort is worth it.
- Yeast and I can be friends. (Especially instant yeast.)
- I’m going to be baking a lot of my holiday gifts.
- And baking with my own milled flour really does taste, and feel (to my surprise), fulfilling on levels that Wonder Bread can’t even begin to dream of.
Here, by the way, are my new “children”: