Sunday, March 15, 2009

Looking for a few good loaves

I have a love-hate relationship with homemade bread. I love the idea of making it --fresh, tasty bread made with organic, local ingredients at a fraction of the cost of storebought. What's not to love about that? What I hate is the fact I can't make a good loaf to save my life. Or, rather, to save $3 per loaf at the store.

When I first started baking bread a few years ago, I had no idea how difficult it was to make good bread. There's so few ingredients, how hard could it be? Just mix some flour, sugar, yeast and water together in the right amounts, knead it a bit, bake it and voila - bread. Right? Wrong.

My first attempts were with a bread machine. The machine cost $40, and I figured that if I made at least twenty loaves of bread with it, I'd come out ahead of buying bread at the store. Of course, it broke after just eight loaves. I returned that machine to the store and got another one. That one broke after four loaves. I returned that one and gave up on machines altogether.

Several months passed. Then I borrowed my brother's Williams & Sonoma bread book and tried their wheat bread recipe. The picture in the book made it look sooo good. I'm a sucker for a cookbook with good pictures. The bread I baked looked good and had a nice flavor, but it was too dry. It crumbled when you squished it together in a sandwich. It made fantastic french toast, though. But since my family eats about 500 times more sandwiches than french toast in any given year, it wasn't going to work. Back to storebought.

But now I have found new hope. A friend brought a loaf of his homemade bread to a meeting I attended. It was amazingly soft and moocho good. A few days later I got the recipe, and made up a batch. Six loaves at a time, two weeks' worth of bread in one baking. Simon helped with the stirring, and the monkeys helped with the kneading and shaping. Here are our results:

Before the final rise.

After the final rise, just before baking.

Fresh from the oven.

I forgot to rotate the loaves during cooking, so some got more brown than others. But they still look great, if I do say so myself. It's hard to wait til they're done cooling before pulling out a knife and cutting off a slice. Butter melts so nicely spread over a warm slice of bread.

The bread tastes great. And so far it has passed the sandwich test - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch this afternoon. The final test will be a roast beef sandwich for my husband. I really hope it passes. There's nothing that can match the smell of fresh baked bread drifting throughout the house. I want to turn this love-hate into all love.


Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Those look great. I would also suggest the "No Knead" bread recipe first published in the NY Times. It makes an easy and awesome loaf of bread. You have to plan ahead to bake it but it is worth the trouble.
Have you tried it yet?

Jo said...

Hey Rick!
Thanks. Nope, I haven't tried that recipe yet. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the tip. How's the grape wine going?

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Just racked it yesterday. Still tastes young and I may have left it on the oak chips a tad too long.

Here is my post on the bread with links to the recipie I use.

Karen said...

Very impressive!! Hope there's some left for Easter!! Any news on Dawn's upcoming birthing???

Jo said...

Rick - Wish I know Winespeak, then I'd have a clue what 'racked' and 'young' means. But I trust that it will work out great, and that you will save a glass for me when we come and visit someday.

Does the No Knead bread work with sandwiches?

Karen - I'll probably make another batch of bread before Easter. We've already worked through one loaf in two days, so it's going fast.

No updates on Dawn. She doesn't seem any fatter to me, so I don't know. It's hard to tell with all that fur on her right now. Another two weeks til shearing, then I should have a better idea.

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

The no knead bread is so so for samiches. Good for crunchy ciobata style samiches not so much for PB&J's.

Racking means I transfered it to another vesssel and left behind the gunk on the bottom. As for young, just like stew is better after the flavors all combine so is wine. I know the terms but don't let that fool you, I am still mostly flailing wildly.

Jo said...

Flailing is the fun part!