Bread is a moody bitch

Bread and I don’t get along. It’s not just the diabetes. It sincerely hates me.

I love bread. No. Let me correct myself: I love eating bread. Probably because I can’t have it. Bread and peppered olive oil is my favorite thing ever. I mistakenly thought I would love making it too. I don’t. Mostly because out of the 500 times I’ve tried to make it, I’ve had about 5 good loaves. No. I’m not joking.

My obsession with making bread started with a bread machine I bought at a thrift store about ten years ago. It was 5 bucks and it seemed like such a cool idea. I even bought a bread machine cookbook with it. Yet, I couldn’t get consistently good loaves. I followed the recipe exactly. I even busted out the thermometer to check the temperature of the water. Nope. Still crappy loaves.

About every ten loaves it’d throw me a good one. Just enough to keep my hopes up. Eventually I got pissed and gave it away.

A few years later I ran into my kitchen aid. Boy do I love my kitchen aid. One of the main reasons I got it: the dough hook! Hey! I could do this! It was the machine making crappy bread not me! Yeah. Right.

Consistently crappy loaves still. I tried every recipe known to man. Same thing. Maybe one or two good loaves.

To make matters much worse, Mr Super, former pastry chef turned truck driver who also happens to live here, decided to give it a try on one of his days home. I watched him. He didn’t even follow the recipe exactly! He was throwing pinches here and handfuls there, not even measuring. I gasped at this blaspheme. I giggled cruelly to myself: couldn’t wait until his bread came out all nasty so I could say I told you so and feel better about myself.

But it didn’t. It came out perfect. Boy was I pissed. So. I did what any green with envy aspiring bread artist would do. I made him do it again. And again. One more time. Perfect golden loaves each time. The bastard.

Next I made him supervise me. I made him tell me what to do, just like he’d done it. Door stop bread.

I made him write down the recipe so I could try it when he wasn’t home. Same thing. Crap bread.

He swore to me that bread just didn’t like some people. That his mother couldn’t make bread to save her life but his step dad, who didn’t do much cooking, could bake bread like a pro. The goofy trucker he is he insisted that I don’t talk nice enough to the ingredients while I’m doing it. That he whistles tunes and is all happy while he’s measuring and so is his step dad. So I tried that.

No. I’m not kidding. I really did try it.

I stood in my kitchen forcing a smile and appealing to the yeast. “I just want to be able to make bread for my family, you see” I appealed to the evil flour.

Yet another doorstop.

At this point he claimed that the yeast, which was a living thing after all, could sense my insincerity. That was it. I’d had enough. If I needed bread, I’d just buy it. I don’t expect you to understand how hard that was for me. I don’t just “buy” anything. If I can make it, I make it, and I like doing it too. Bread was quickly becoming my nemesis.

So my dough hook sat lonely in a drawer for another couple years.

I tried my hand a few times at making bread kneading with my own hands. Nope. Still messed up every load in some way. Didn’t rise. Too doughy. Too dry. Too heavy. I added flour, I added water, I added more yeast. I bought all new ingredients. Nothing. Yet Mr. Super would do it and out comes perfect bread even when we worked side by side out of the same damn cookbook.

Maybe there was something to this yeast not liking certain people thing.

I repeated this cycle yet again with another bread machine I found at a garage sale. It was a super fancy one that could make rice and jam and everything. I made rice and jam like once. I made bread.  Loaf after loaf with yet again only a few good loaves. Yet Mr. Super’s came out perfect.

So I eventually gave that one away too. Stupid machine.

I tried again the old fashioned way. I tried sour dough rye. The instructions read to me like Greek but I have it my best shot. The starter was great. The bread itself sucked. Was blood awful in fact. It smelled like socks and beer and it didn’t rise.

I tried the kitchen aid again and back to the old fashioned way again. Nothing was improving my odds no matter how fresh my ingredients, how perfect the recipes, how adjusted my techniques. And all I kept hearing was maybe yeast just didn’t like me. I thought I was beaten. I was pretty sure I was. I had accepted it for the most part: I suck at making bread.

Then I, completely by happenstance, came across a machine called the Zojirushi Home Bakery. It’s a bread machine. It’s THEE bread machine. This puppy was like $300 and I had convinced myself, as desperate people will do, that this was going to solve all my problems. It made jam, it made cake, it made meatloaf for the love of God. And most importantly it made bread.

The Home Bakery

I fancied myself not a fool this time. Perhaps it was my bread  machines all along, and not me! Mind you I completely ignored the fact that Mr. Super seemed to be able to make perfect bread in the same bread machines that gave me crap.

Smug and self assured, I researched it like crazy. It always got good reviews. There were a few peppered here and there about how the blades needed replaced too often, but nothing about door stop or non risen bread. This was the one for me. So I bought it. And I used it. I used to make cake. Make jam. But I was afraid to use it to make bread. Until one day I got the balls to do it just using the manual’s recipe. By God, it came out great.

Alright, alright. I talked myself down. Maybe it was just a fluke. So I made another loaf. It was good. By the time I got to my fifth loaf, it had once again descended into bread hell. Door stops, unrisen, too doughy. But I was get MORE good loaves than I had before, that’s progess.

That’s where I am at right now. More and more good loaves. Just like anything else I learned I had to improvise but not mess with the recipe TOO much. Some of the really funky breads I tried didn’t come out but then I didn’t really expect them to. Just for reference: Cheesy Jalapneno Cajun Bread…not so good.

So here I am, still making bread. I learned what dough should look like. It should bounce around the maker, nice and elastic, once it’s on it’s second knead. Too dry or too doughy and it won’t rise. More important, peaking constantly at the bread by opening the top isn’t a good idea. It really does affect it. This machine has a preheat cycle, so I don’t have to worry AS much about the temperature of the water. I still make sure it’s luke warm though. As far as wheat bread goes, I don’t know. I’m the wrong person to ask. Not a single loaf of wheat bread I’ve ever made has come out. Go figure.

I recently ran out of bread flour. I bought a 25 lb bag of it awhile back and used that up trying to figure out how to make the perfect loaf. So now I’m stuck with white flour only. I don’t tend to USE a lot of flour unless I’m baking, which I do mostly around the holidays, so I don’t opt for the super expensive stuff. But I’d heard all bread flour is is regular flour with gluten. About a year back I found Gluten on clearance at the grocery store, super cheap too. I bought a bunch of it thinking it would help my bread making adventures. Note to self: Adding TOO much gluten makes the bread rise too much and then it falls. Just like yeast. I’ve had that happen a million and one times.

Yesterday we were out of bread for lunches, so off I went to make some more. I altered the recipe from the manual a bit.

1 1/3 cups of water

4 1/4 cups white flour

4 TB Sugar

2 TB dry milk

2 tsp salt

2 1/2 TB butter

3 tsp active dry yeast

3 TB gluten

Don’t just throw everything together, there is actually a method to this madness. Whereas most recipes call for bread flour, like I said, this one is altered by the addition of gluten AND an extra teaspoon of yeast. If you’ve got bread flour, skip the gluten and reduce the yeast by a teaspoon.

Dual Paddles Baby

Ok, now you can’t just go all willy nilly and throw the stuff in there. Because it won’t work. It really won’t I’ve tried it. You have to add the liquid first. Make sure it’s roughly room temperature, maybe a little warmer. Too hot and it’ll kill the yeast. Too cold and it won’t rise. Don’t let the liquid ever come in contact with the yeast when you put the stuff together. Why, I dunno. But it does make a difference.

Then add your flour. Kind of sprinkle it around the machine so it’s even. It’s worth noting here that if you have more than one paddle on your machine make sure they are both facing the same way or you’ll get lopsided bread.

Now you add your dry stuff, save the yeast. The dry milk, the salt, the sugar, the gluten. It’s important to sprinkle these ingredients around the sides of the pan so that they don’t come in contact with the yeast prematurely, especially the salt.

Now add the butter. Chop it up into little bits and pepper it around the sides.

Now comes the yeast. I like to make a little well in the middle of the flour, kind of like you do when you are making pasta, and put the yeast in there. Set it on a regular crust cycle (depending on your taste) for white bread.

Make a well to put the yeast in

You are done. Now you hold your breath and pray. Now you decide to leave the house because you can’t stand waiting 3 hours to find out if you are a total failure.

I peaked. It was looking a little lumpy, but it was only the first knead so I held out hope.

It might look lumpy at first

One holiday shopping trip later and my bread is done.

And it actually came out good. This time. It was a LITTLE more crusty than I’d like, but hell I’ll take it.

The bread cooling. It didn't suck! Yay!

Thank God this machine makes loaves that look somewhat normal instead of those weird vertical loaves

I put the crust setting on medium and I wish I would have done light. But I was afraid to do that, what if it didn’t cook? When I’ve toasted up home made bread before it gets MUCH harder than regular store bought bread so make sure if you are gonna toast it, you use a lighter dough cycle, that seems to help. Or if it IS too hard when it’s toasted, make milk toast. Again, not something I can normally eat (BUT DEAR GOD I LOVE IT), but it’s so damn good, and something that you really can’t do with store bought bread. Just toast up your home made bread, put it in a bowl, cover with milk and butter, and microwave that bad boy until the butter is melted. Then eat it. It’s like a soupy, yummy, milky, buttery bowl of goodness. (Made myself go into a carb fit overe here).

Storing home made bread is a bitch too. Let me save you a bunch of heartbreak by giving you these pointers. There’s nothing worse than getting a great loaf that goes crusty and moldy in 2 days:

Don’t bother with fancy bread holder tupperware nonsense. Yes, this is me, the kitchen gadget QUEEN telling you this. Don’t waste your money. No matter how many vent holes it has, it’ll either mold or go hard.

You can wrap it in foil and leave it on the counter but keep in mind it’s really annoying to wrap and unwrap. Ditto on plastic wrap.

Don’t put it in the fridge, it’ll dry out.

Don’t put it in the freezer, same thing.

Linen bread bags are ok I guess, but they are usually too small and kind of a pain to get the bread in and out of.

Just as an FYI, I’ve never successfully frozen unbaked bread dough no matter what I do to it. It doesn’t rise once it’s out of the freezer. If I could pull this off I SO would.

THE BEST method I’ve found to keep home made bread fresh, soft, and anti moldy for the longest time is putting it in a grocery bag. Just a regular old plastic grocery bag on the counter. Simple, effective, and free. It works perfectly. All my years of buying this and that and trying to invent a bread holder and it was staring me in the face the whole time. So simple. Damnit.

Also, don’t slice it before you use it. Slice as you go. Otherwise the bread is stale. Mind you, slice thinner than you think. We have a tendency to slice REALLY big slices when it’s not needed.

Speaking of slicing, I have a gadget for that. On my second bread machine garage sale purchase they had this. A wooden fold up bread slicer. Just put your knife in the grooves and perfect slices. Cut the bread when it’s cooled down a bit, otherwise you run the risk of it deflating. And use a serrated long knife. They work the best.

Fold Up Bread Slicing Guide

Here it is open

Only problem is, for me anyway, once you do this long enough you don’t need the guide to slice any more. You just do it naturally. I don’t know why I kept this thing. It is cool though.

Free Hand Slicing

If you followed this recipe and your bread came out screwed, please don’t blame the recipe. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame the machine. It’s fate. It’s God. It’s bread, the cruel bitch. She’s moody. Just try again. And again. Eventually, you’ll probably get it. Maybe you won’t. Maybe bread really IS one of those thing some people can do and others can’t, but you never know until you try. God knows I’ve been trying. I suspect I’m NOT a person bread likes, but maybe I can play pretend with it.

And if you don’t have the patience to keep trying, then start buying stock in wonderbread, grab your machine, go to your driveway and drop kick your machine before you drive over it. No one will blame you.

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