I don't make good bread. There's always something that eludes me. Usually I end up with good flavor but a heavy, dense texture. And since bread is a fairly staple food, I'm making it a project to learn to make it well.
I found a recipe here - http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/blog/baking-recipes/basic-bread-recipe/ - for a totally basic bread recipe, the sort that tells you how to make good bread (http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/bread_making.htm), and doesn't promise that if you add this or that magical ingredient your bread will transform from dull and lifeless to fluffy and flavorful. Flour, water, yeast, salt, and a little sugar for the yeast to eat - this is how bread has been made for millenia, and this is how I want to learn to make it. Fluff can be added later, and this same website even tells you how to do it, here: http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/bread_making_ingredients.htm.
I apologize for making you copy and paste web addresses. I'm too sleepy to add hyperlinks, however, because of how long this darn bread took.
So I weighed my ingredients instead of scooping them into cups, which struck me as something I might have been able to figure out myself if I had thought about it for three seconds, since flour can be very light or very dense depending on how you scoop it, or if you're fancy, sift it. I don't sift my flour; this may be part of my problem. However, this time I weighed the flour, with a coffee filter inside a colander (which together weighed 4.2 oz, and I passed high school science lab so I remember how to take that into consideration). I was intrigued by the "window pane test" criteria for kneeding, and I kneeded the dough easily 3 times as long as I ever have before. I can see the point in it, too; up till now I've considered myself done pretty much as soon as the ingredients have completely integrated, and I still thought I was kneeding forever, but this time I really felt the smooth texture of the dough when it was kneeded enough.
Have I mentioned that this bread took forever to make? It rose for a good solid 2 hours before a poke to the side wouldn't make it bounce back. Ridiculous. It was on top of the fridge, but that obviously wasn't warm enough. Henceforth I will either let it rise overnight on the kitchen table, which is cooler, or try the trick of putting it in the oven with the light on. The good thing is, I hear that the longer it rises the better the flavor, and this bread did have a rich, almost-tangy flavor.
The instructions said to press all the gases out of the dough, and I pressed it down more enthusiastically than I have before. Maybe that was my problem. Maybe I shouldn't have taken the directions at face value like that. In the future, we shall see.
The first picture I have is of the shaping process. I was remiss. In the future I will take pictures the whole way through so better cooks than I can tell me exactly where I go wrong. Be that as it may, here it is shaped and ready to rise again:
The second rising took at least an hour, which is about right according to the instructions, but good grief! I was starting to wonder if we were ever going to have bread tonight! I admit, I may have baked it before a finger indentation didn't
quite spring back anymore, but I don't think that was my main problem.
I put a dish with ice cubes (six of them, to be exact) on the bottom rack of the oven to give it the crispy crust that my handy-dandy recipe talked about, and let it bake...and bake...and bake. It SAID it was supposed to get golden brown. You can see the picture yourself. If there was any BROWN in that crust, then I must be very misinformed about my skin color as well. MAYBE some golden. Maybe. But it looks pretty much in desperate need of a tan. I finally took it out because my husband decided it had been in quite long enough, and he was right. It certainly sounded hollow when tapped, and the crust kind of resembled those Mensa rolls that you could chip a tooth on by the time Friday came around, you remember? But no golden brown.
Annnnnnnd...it tastes great, but the texture is, predictably, heavy and dense. After reading this website here - http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/1708/how-do-you-make-light-and-fluffy-bread - I think I may have a) added too much flour while kneeding it the first time, or b) punched it down too enthusiastically. Sigh. Well, here's to another try! It's supposed to be easier using bread flour than whole wheat, and I WILL master the easy recipe before I start substituting other stuff. I may half the recipe, though. Otherwise I'll be buying bread flour every two days and feeding most of the bread I make to the dogs. Is it possible for two people to eat this much bread and not get fat? I guess we'll find out...