Friday, February 17, 2012

Bread experiments

We bought a bread machine in December 2009. I worked out how much it cost to bake a loaf of bread (about half as much as buying the bread we like best) and kept track of how much I made for awhile. Because I was still only making about half of our bread and we were also gone for about six weeks, it was nearly six months until it had paid off, but it's cool ever since then to know that with every loaf of bread I bake at home, I save about a Euro. I'd really like to get a grain mill, but so far, I haven't found whole grains that cost enough less than flour to make it even close to worth it. Maybe someday.

In the meantime, for the first year or so with the bread machine, I didn't do much experimenting. I generally used 400 grams of whole wheat flour, 100 grams of rye, and 100 grams of white flour, always used honey to sweeten it, used half milk and half water, usually added flaxseeds, and sometimes added sunflower seeds. A visitor accidentally turned off the bread machine once (by turning off the socket--the sockets here all have switches) and in an effort to save the dough, I kneaded it by hand and baked it in the oven...and discovered that it was crustier, everybody liked it better, and I could cut it into more slices. So since then, I usually just use the dough setting and do the last kneading by hand and bake it in the oven. It's too hot in the summer to do that, though, so just the bread machine!

About a year ago I discovered that between 50 and 100 grams of rye flour and the rest whole wheat was just fine, and maybe six months or so ago I stopped using milk in the bread, which is also fine. I also occasionally replaced some of the flour with oatmeal, sometimes put in barley flakes or rye flakes, and I've used barley seeds, as well, although I'd kind of forgotten about that until I found some in the freezer this morning. For the last couple of months, I've been replacing at least 100 grams of the flour with oatmeal.

Towards the end of January I tried experimenting with no sweetening at all, with no success. The bread tasted fine, but didn't rise. We don't use a lot of sugar in our family anyway, but would like to cut back more. It won't be with leaving it out of bread, though.

And now, some photos, and I'll try to remember why I took each one...

This is a failed loaf from February first. I don't remember the details, but I imagine it didn't have any honey. This might have been the loaf I got 25 slices out of, because it was so dense. (Usually I get about 14 or 15 slices out of a loaf of bread.) It tasted fine, though. Not that I remember this particular one, but there hasn't been a problem with the taste of a single loaf yet, just the shape and texture.

February 4th, dough made with the bread machine, the kneaded and shaped by hand and baked in the oven.

This one from February 5th looks basically okay, although not as high as it ought to be.

This is barley bread, which some of the children and I really like, but some of the children and my husband don't particularly care for. It's the only alternative to wheat flour that I've come up with so far, and another advantage is that it's fast, so I can make it when I've forgotten to make bread in time.

I also sometimes make biscuits (we're talking American "breakfast biscuits" here, something like scones, NOT the British word for American cookies! My poor multi-cultural children were SO confused the first time I made them...), also because they're fast, and everybody else in the family likes them. They taste too much like baking powder to me. Tortillas are great and although they take more time than biscuits or barley bread, they take less time than regular bread. I prefer them with corn flour (again, I'm speaking American here: I mean ground-up corn, the consistency of any other grain flour, kind of yellowy: NOT the British word "corn flour" which refers to what I would call "corn starch"), but have only made them that way once, because corn flour is very expensive. I've been making flour tortillas about every other week, though. It hasn't occurred to me to take photos, as it's a lot of non-stop work. Maybe I'll get one of the children to take photos sometime.

This was an experiment on February 9th. The dough on the left was made completely by hand, from the beginning, and the dough on the right in the bread machine. I really enjoy kneading the bread by hand, it's just a bit challenging to keep little fingers out of it.

These are the same two batches, shaped.

And here they are an hour and 20 minutes later, after they'd risen.

And finally, after they'd baked. I don't know if the color is different because of the placement in the oven (the one on the left, which was the one made completely by hand, was in the back), but the texture and taste were exactly the same.

On February 13th, I had my own six children and four others for the day, so I wasn't going to be able to make enough bread in the bread machine anyway and decided to make it all by hand. This is a double batch, mixed and kneaded by hand.
The difference isn't really noticeable in the photo, but this is an hour or so later, after it had risen. I kneaded it again, divided it into quarters, then one quarter (so half a loaf of bread) into eight pieces. Jacob (12) and Ryan (10) decided to play "too cool" and didn't want to make their own, but Marie (14), Jed (10), Lukas (9), Katie (6), Ethan (5), Helen (3), and Aimee (3) each made their own shape. I managed to distract Elisabeth and just added the last bit in with the rest of the dough.

Having just been given two bread pans, I made the bread in them for a change (one with the dough for a 1 kilogram loaf, one with the 9/16th of a kilogram) and put them and the children's creations in the oven to rise.

This is after they'd been rising for an hour...I suppose one can sort of see a difference. I entirely forgot to take photos after they were baked, and they were eaten up rather quickly. I'm not exactly sure why the same bread dough shaped by oneself tastes better than cut off of a loaf, but I do remember from my own childhood that it's true...

And here's a decent-looking loaf of bread from the bread machine, for a change, made today. This one has too many different things in it to determine why it worked, but it was delicious and Jacob informed me that it's the best bread he's ever had. I used, for the first time, carob syrup instead of honey, and I also opened a new packet of yeast today (and a new brand, in a 500-gram package rather than silly little 11-gram envelopes).

And I also used brand-new flour. A couple of weeks ago we finally went to a warehouse-type place that friends had been telling us about for ages and bought five kilos of what they said was whole-wheat flour. I don't know exactly what it was, but I'm not at all convinced it was whole grain, because it was so fine and much lighter in color than I'm used to, not to mention that not a single loaf of bread made with that flour rose as much as it should have. (It all tasted fine, though.) It took us about a week to use up that flour, then I used regular store flour (whole wheat, but not the best bread flour) until yesterday, when my husband went to the warehouse again. He brought home two kilograms each of rye flour, whole wheat flour, and a mixture of whole wheat, oatmeal, and seeds, all in unmarked plastic bags, for considerably less than the packaged flour in the stores. I made bread yesterday for dinner, which didn't rise properly, and I later realized that I'd used the rye flour rather than the whole wheat flour. At least I'd only used half that, and half whole wheat flour from the store package, so it wasn't completely a failure. In today's loaf I put in 100 grams of store flour and 500 of the wheat-oat-seed mixture. When the machine beeped to indicate it was time to add seeds or such, I checked the dough to see if it was mixing properly and discovered it was WAY too wet. I suddenly realized that 500 grams of a flour-oat-SEED mixture obviously wasn't 500 grams of FLOUR, but I have no idea what the proportions are! So I just poured flour in, watching it until it looked right, and left it to finish the job. And it worked...but I have no idea how much of what it has, so it would be difficult to reproduce.

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