Breaking Bread

I rounded out January’s month of bread baking by taking a crack at a honey wheat loaf, and at potato bread.  Technically it was February 2 when I made the potato bread and I should have moved on to the next chapter, but I’d been looking forward to this particular recipe and I’d gotten busy.  Oh well.

The honey wheat loaf went smoothly in terms of prep and came out quite tasty.  Having learned to clarify the vague descriptions by checking other recipes ahead of time was a big help, and so I knew exactly what I was looking for to get the dough right.  I was looking for this:

Why, hello there.  That’s some nicely developed gluten you have.

I was particularly pleased that this dough turned out because when I made this, it was while horrifically sleep-deprived and a bit jet-lagged from dashing out to the East coast and flirting with regular business hours.  This meant that when it came time to add bread flour, I grabbed the flour I wasn’t thinking and threw in the regular all purpose flour we keep on the counter.  Bread flour has a higher protein content, thus better gluten, thus better bread.  “Oh noes!” declared zombie me when I realized what I had done.  “Verily, I hath ruined this mighty loaf.”  So getting the dough nicely stretchy and smooth was a big relief.  There was still danger, though.  I might have horrifically bungled the texture, leaving myself with a dense, heavy, unappealing lump of “Mornings are evil and this is why.”

The two loaves rose okay.  I bagged one and tossed it into the freezer since, despite their enthusiasm when I proposed this project, my roommates have not been good about consumption of the baked goodies.  Then I tossed the loaf in the oven and…

Sloppy egg wash technique aside, I call that a success.  And it was tasty, too.  So was the other one, when tossed it into the oven for an “Oh god, too busy, need baked goods!” emergency a few weeks later.  I like having fresh bread waiting for me in the freezer.

Then, for the last of the January bread recipes, I tried my hand at potato bread.  This was the first recipe to use the sponge technique, where you make a starter dough with the bulk of your yeast and let that rise before you get into the serious dough making.  I’d played with yeast breads several times before this project, but never one using a sponge, so this was new and exciting territory.

More exciting than you would expect.

That was the sponge before it started rising.  It filled slightly less than half the bowl.  I briefly considered using a bigger bowl before starting the sponge, then opted against it because no way would the sponge need more space than this.  I mean, come on, that plus the rest of the dough were going to fit into the bowl of my KitchenAid when kneading time came.

I swear, every time I turned my back on that sponge, it grew more.  At first I was impressed.  Then I was worried.

“Sylvie!”

“Yeah?”

“I think the sponge is breathing.  It’s definitely pulsing.  Is sponge meant to breathe?”

“Have you created sentient bread in the kitchen?”

“…I’m sorry.”

Valiantly, I beat back the mutating sponge creature.  I weighed it down with flour and other ingredients.  Then I consigned it to the care and handling of the great champion of dough and batter, the unstoppable motor of kneading, whipping and paddling, the stand mixer.

“Is it meant to whine like that?” Sylvie asked.

“It doesn’t normally.  But I think it’s engaging in an epic battle with the zombie potato bread.”

“Is it losing?”

“It can’t lose.  It’s a KitchenAid.  It has a lifetime warranty.  Also, every time the bread nudges it towards the edge of the counter, I’m there to lend an assist and push it back.  We’re unstoppable.”

For all values of unstoppable that don't involve gravity

Sylvie beckoned me from the kitchen to look at something.  I don’t remember what but it probably involved either yarn or kittens.  It was a plot by the zombie bread, though, because no sooner was I away than this.  Bam!  The mixer was floored.

“Are you breaking the kitchen?” Sylvie asked.

“I…I think the zombie bread just won.  How can the zombies win?”

Unwilling to back down, I applied all that tactical knowledge you learn when you read manifestos written by morally questionable General-types like Sun Tzu and Machiavelli.  I divided that dough.  And then I conquered it.

It's not abusive. The bread gets better after you punch it.

There are no pictures of the baked loaf.  I went straight to eating it to keep the zombies from spreading because people were over and needed sustenance.  Two of the loaves got tossed into the freezer, so I’ll show you final product photos when those get pulled out and baked.

Until then, remember this important takeaway lesson: Do not turn your back on the sentient bread.

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