I took last Friday off. It was my first day off since…uhm…Actually, on reflection I failed to take New Year’s day off, so it was my first day off this year. It was kind of glorious. I only sent four emails for work!
I confess, there were so many things I’d planned to do just as soon as I had a day off that I was a little overwhelmed with everything I had to do. So I did what I always do when I’m working from home and staring down a time management disaster: I made bread.
The great thing about making bread is that there are lots of steps with lots of time in between the steps. Baking bread naturally compartmentalizes your day into discrete chunks full of deadlines, so it’s just a matter of dropping the right tasks into the right slots and you get things done. So while I wait for the yeast to proof, I switch around the dishes in the dishwasher and wipe down the counters. Kitchen cleaned!
Mmm, proofed yeast. I’m glad I took photos of this, because I know the problems that crept up later were not a yeast fail – that is happy, growing yeast you see right there. What you see there is a portion of the water, mixed with all of the yeast and sugar. The sugar isn’t there to make the bread sweet but to feed the yeast. Bacteria, they are hungry little beasties.
Then the rest of the wet ingredients go in. More water, oil, and some salt. You definitely don’t want to put in the salt before your yeast gets going – yeast is all about the sweet tooth and isn’t so much into savory.
The next step is where I’m pretty sure things went wrong. I was using the recipe from Beard on Bread for pita bread, and it called for 5-6 cups of flour, with you adding five at this stage and then as much of the sixth cup as required to get a dough you can handle. After four cups, the dough seemed pretty ready to me, but I went ahead and tossed in a fifth cup anyway.
And this was where I had my first clue that things were not as they should be. I adore my stand mixer because when it’s time to knead things I can set the timer then walk away and clear out my inboxes while it does all my work for me. This recipe said ten minutes, but I bounced up to check it a few times. Then I left it keep going past the ten minute mark.
Good bread dough gets stretchy and elastic. This dough didn’t. If I’d been thinking I’d have added some water or milk to see if I could get it to behave correctly. I wasn’t. Instead, I bulled right on to let it rise for a couple hours. (Split between reading and watching American Horror Story. Creepy nuns FTW!)
More proof that the problem wasn’t the yeast – this dough was not shy about rising. Here’s where it occurred to me that the problem was that the dough was much too dry and I should add some more liquid, but after the first rise is rather a bit too late for that, so it was either toss the whole project and pretend nothing happened, or push on to see what happened. The week before, when by Friday I’d logged something like a million work hours and dealt with my refrigerator trying to flood my kitchen, that dough would have hit the trash can so hard I’d have gotten a basketball scholarship. I was feeling pretty tolerant and adventurous so I decided to go with it.
Do you know what part of the problem with dough that has too much flour in it is? It’s tough and unforgiving. This was the dough after I punched it down and left it do its resting. (This recipe has a lot of 30 minute rest periods. The last time I made it I skipped most of them and the recipe turned out great. I’m not ready to take that as a lesson learned yet)
I’m not well known for being good at portioning things evenly, or artfully doing much of anything, but these balls of dough are particularly ineffective, even for me. It was the best I could do, though, given what I was working with.
And, uhm, aren’t those pretty rolled out rounds for pita loaves?
The astute observer might here note that these loaves are neither round, nor as thin as pita loaves ought to be before going into the oven. They also represent about an hour of going at each of the balls with a rolling pin. The dough was not interested in doing anything I wanted it to do, especially not rolling out. This was the best I could do. I considered trimming them to make them rounder. Then I decided, what the hell, this is a lost cause already, let’s just see what happens.That’s what happens. Pita loaves ought to puff up and turn into poofy balls in the oven. These…well, you could tell that they knew what they were supposed to do, they just didn’t know how to do it.
Two of them got served with dinner and the rest went into the freezer for later consumption. The flavor was good, though the loaves were too stiff and lacked the pockets they need to function as pita bread. The texture was also a bit tougher and drier than I’d like, which is not at all surprising. I’m thinking the freezer loaves might get repurposed as lazy Mediterranean pizza crust or something similar. Drizzling them in olive oil and tasty things and serving wedges of them would probably work pretty well.