Monday, June 21, 2010

A bread making odessy

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A bread making odyssey

I was just visiting with my friend Patrice, and sharing with her stories of bread making at the School of hard knocks.  I thought I would share with you my bread making odyssey.

I grew up making bread.  My mom always made bread and I was her "big big" helper.  Every other weekend or so, she would make large batches of white or wheat bread and sometimes a batch or two of French bread.  My dad would slice the bread after it was cooled and we would slide it into used bread bags and tuck it into the freezer for use during the next few weeks.  It was always best, of course, when it was fresh and warm, but my mom's bread was a treat any time.  When I was growing up, she would let me "make" bread for school fund raisers and bazaars, or at least I thought I had made the bread.  It turned out, that she did all of the critical things like adjusting the temperature of the liquids and adding the correct amount of flour.  If anyone asked, she always said "Enola Gay made the bread", but now I understand...She was just being a mom. 

When I was a young mother, and intent on making bread by myself, I found out that I really knew nothing.  A friend of mine opened my eyes to wheat berries and grinding grains into flour and I set out to make the perfect loaf of bread.  First, I borrowed my friend's grain grinder and asked her what type of wheat I should buy (who knew wheat berries could take up two pages in a whole foods catalog?).  She said "whatever looks good". In my youthful ignorance, I bought 50# of soft white wheat.  My recipe called for 18 cups of wheat flour.  30 cups of flour later, with me sobbing hysterically, my husband threw away a huge, soggy mound of unrecognizable goop and I began researching wheat.  Come to find out, you can't make bread with soft white wheat - It has to be a hard wheat.  First lesson learned.

For the next six months, the Israelites had nothing on me.  I could make bricks with the best of them!  I read everything I could get hands on about bread making and especially using freshly ground wheat.  One method I tried was proofing the dough in a bowl over warm water.  My then 4 year old daughter had to have a drink, and ran water into my bread dough.  The next week, I tried the dough proofing-over-the-water trick again.  This time, she poured her milk into the sink (my bread dough - again!).  The pyramid in the back yard was growing.  Eight months into my adventures with bread, I thought I finally had it.  I folded perfect bread dough tidily into waiting bread pans, slid them into the oven, set the timer and waited.  That oh, so wonderful bread that I had spent almost a year perfecting was only 30 minutes away!  15 minutes into the baking time, I noticed a slightly acidic, perhaps burning, smell fill the air.  It couldn't be my bread - I had carefully set the oven temperature to 350 and set the timer.   The smell was not going away, so I had no choice but to check my bread.  I opened the oven and black smoked rolled in billows out of my stove.  My, by now 5 year old daughter, had bumped the oven temperature up to 500 degrees!  So much for picture perfect bread.

My dad has often said that every education comes with a price.  That was certainly the case with my bread baking education.  I do believe, however, that the price of that education has been well worth the investment.  We enjoy fresh bread at least weekly.  I have refined my technique and use it regardless of the instructions (mostly).  I have favorite recipes and many friends have added to my repertoire.  And now, the greatest of joys, I get to share my love of baking with my daughters!

In the wood cookstove...

Ready to eat!


  1. Hi Enola,
    We just started grinding our own wheat and making our own bread. For some reason the freshly milled is causing all my baked goods (yeasted and not) to get really airy in the dough stage and then rise really well and collapse in the oven. Any helpful tips? I'm feeling a bit desperate! Thanks!

    1. Oh, that can be so frustrating! The first thing that strikes me is the airy dough and the collapsing in the oven. A couple of things: First, make sure that you are using enough flour. Your dough should be elastic and smooth, not overly sticky. If you don't have enough flour, there will not be enough substance to keep your bread risen. The second thought is that perhaps you are letting it rise to long on the final rise. When you allow your dough to rise the first time, it can rise double the size, but once you put it in the pan, it can be allowed to only rise a bit. If it is left out and gets great big, it will collapse in the oven. There is just too much air!

      Keep trying! I hope these suggestions help. If you can't figure out anything else, pick up some high protein wheat at a health food store, grind that up and try it. If it turns out fine, then your wheat probably doesn't have enough gluten to produce a nice, light loaf. If that is the case, you can add extra gluten to the dough.