The last loaves of 2013


Pumpkin cranberry loafAs my stock of bread dwindles, I’m contemplating what breads to bake this weekend, as well as what I may want to try before the New Year. I’m also pondering my baking successes and failures these past few months. Mostly successes, although a few have been “qualified” successes – edible but not optimal.

First my levain – sourdough – mix got dumped last week. It went off and really stank. Unpleasant. I suspected it was struggling for a couple of weeks, ever since I tried – and failed – to make a decent sourdough bread with it as a starter. They rose only minimally, even when left overnight, and baked into bricks with uncooked centres.

The starter didn’t respond well to feedings any more, either. A crust formed over it and I knew it was dying. Very disappointing, but we motor on.

I have to try to make a starter again, this time I will begin with pineapple juice rather than water, to ensure a lower pH (more acidity), which will discourage some of the more competitive bacteria. I had used some in my first batch, but later, not from the start.

Black & Decker bread machineSecond my bread machine. I bought one recently on sale at Canadian Tire – a Black & Decker B6000C that advertises it makes 1.5,2 and 3 pound loaves. (What ever happened to metric? Isn’t Canada supposed to use metric?)

All of the recipes in its book have volumetric measurements, and I’m using weight measurements for everything else to have greater consistency, so I didn’t try anything until I found an interesting pumpkin-cranberry bread machine loaf online. That’s when I finally unpacked it.

The machine started grumpily and hesitantly, a bit like I am some mornings after a rough, sleepless night. It didn’t want to knead the bread, and after a few dis-spirited grunts that suggested it was having a difficult time with the paddles and the dough consistency, it simply sat there. The ingredients unmixed.

After an hour of fretting and waiting while it did nothing, I reset it, roughly mixed the dough by hand, and started again. This time it worked, the paddles paddled, and the cycle completed without any problems that I could find.

The bread that resulted was – well, okay. Nothing spectacular.  Although rather yellowy-orange looking, the pumpkin flavour is very subdued, the cranberries too few to really influence the taste.* I also used buttermilk and molasses instead of water and honey, so I set myself up with this loaf right from the start. It’s edible and not bad toasted, but hardly what I expected. The texture and crust were fine so I’m eating my way through it.

I’m also unsure if the recipes in the machine’s instruction book are designed for American or Canadian flours. I’ve read comments online that recipes need to be altered when using Canadian flour in many of these recipe. Again, one of those things that requires some testing.

Whole wheat sandwich loafAt the same time as I created my first bread machine loaf, I tried to do a handmade boule using similar ingredients. I let it rise overnight, and it seemed to do fine, growing in volume.

I wanted to compare how the two different methods resulted in breads. It looked okay the next morning, sufficiently large to bake.

However, it seems I was impatient. I didn’t do a second fold/rise cycle as I should have done. Instead, I stuck it on the baking stone in a pre-heated oven – too soon. There was no significant oven spring. The result was another brick, a colourful brick, but an inedible one with uncooked centre. Patience, I remind myself rather too late, have some patience. Chalk up one more failure (no pictures of it, which is probably just as well).

One thing I have to learn is how to use a poolish with a bread machine loaf – or even if it’s possible (or poosible?).

The main reason I bought the machine was to mix dough for loaves I will bake in the oven on the stone or in a pan. I’ll try that soon. That’s where a polish might come in: added to the other ingredients for the dough cycle.

Failed sourdough loafAfter my initial fling with no-knead breads, I’ve found that light kneading and folding really helps gluten development and produces a loaf I like more – better crust and better crumb. Whether that changes with a bread machine’s action on the dough remains to be seen. Just from that single loaf, the kneading seems more exuberant than what I give it by hand. We’ll see…

The one thing I don’t know is whether the bread machine heats the pan during the first rise (I suspect so…). If it does, it may be useful and help my productivity. My house is kept rather cool (about 62F – 16.6C) – during the majority of the day, even when I’m working from home. That’s too cool for the optimal rising, so my doughs are slower to rise, and sometimes don’t reach the volume expected. The solution is either a proofing box or a bread machine. The latter works only for the first rise, though. (Can I remove the paddles, let the dough rest, then start the cycle again simply to heat the pan?)

(I sometimes put my bowls with rising dough on the stove top and turn on the oven, so the warm air from the vent helps warm the dough. A proofing box is something I’d have to build, since I can’t find one sold in Canada anywhere… and where would I put it? Our kitchen is small and counter-sand-cupboard pace already limited…)

I’ve been experimenting, too, with using buttermilk in some recipes, instead of water. It adds a slight sourdough-like tang and apparently milk makes a softer crust. So far, my loaves have been reasonably good using it. I’m not sure what else it does, or whether it helps or hinders the rising and yeast growth. More research is needed…

This weekend I want to try a coconut bread. I haven’t found any good recipes online, but my idea was to replace water in a standard recipe with coconut water, then add some unsweetened, shredded coconut to the dough. I might even add either cranberries, raisins, or perhaps some sunflower seeds. Maybe banana, too?

And then the big question: handmade or bread machine? Before I try anything, I’ll look online to see what others have done, look for recipes.

The other thing I want to try is a bread-machine whole wheat loaf, mostly to compare the results with my handmade loaves. They’ve been successful, but not risen quite as high as hoped (likely the rising temperature again).

I have some bags of Red Fife flour I’d really like to try for this, milled at K2 in Beeton. It’s an organic flour, though, without the usual commercial ingredients like amalyse, and will likely need some diastatic malt powder to encourage yeast growth. I’m not sure how much to include, yet.

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* My bad, as the illiterati are wont to say: I added the cranberries at the start, in the initial mix, rather than waiting until the machine angrily beeped that was time to “add ingredients.” Had I actually read the manual, and waited, I might have had more whole cranberries in the bread, rather than having them broken into smaller pieces by the early enthusiasm of the paddles.