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Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009, 06:09 pm
Joys of Homemade Bread

Fourth time's a charm when making bread!

So I'm taking this downtime to teach myself how to bake homemade yeast breads. This was all inspired by the crazy bread professor Steven Kaplan's appearance on the Conan O'Brian Show. (They keep pulling the video and posting it again, but if you run a search on google it's probably the funniest thing to ever happen on that show).

The first recipe I used was from a weblog which swore you could make a perfectly tasty and fast yeast bread in under two hours. From this I learned that there is no way to speed up good bread, and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't know what good bread tastes like. The first batch when straight to the trash, unedible.

The second batch was a wheat bread, taken straight from the back of my whole wheat King Arthur's flour bag. I didn't have the right loaf pan, and rushed it a little bit due to time constraints. The results, a bread that tasted fine but was too dense.

The third batch was French bread, and once again I rushed just a little bit. The color and crust were perfect, but the bread was simply flavorless. It still got eaten, after I made a batch of shrimp scampi and used it to soak up the yummy liquid.

These baking attempts all occurred on the same day. After that, determined to have good sliced white sandwich bread, we went to Sur la Table for loaf pans. And in the meantime, I spent most of my internet surfing reading about the 12 steps of bread baking and the effect of various ingredients on the growth rate of yeast.

I found a wonderful recipe at A Year In Bread and then modified her mixing instructions back to the traditional 12 steps. (I didn't like her kneading in the salt last, and I've also found that it is best to mix dry into wet when baking bread.) In other words, I proofed the yeast, mixed in only a portion of the flour, and let it rise in the bowl. Then I added the salt and leftover flour just before kneading and let it rise again. I also abhor canola oil, and used an unrefined safflower oil instead.

Delicious, perfect, and sliced wonderfully. Yum (picture above).

Now I'm remaking the whole wheat bread using the correct pan and armed with better knowledge about what I'm doing and the whole process in general. We've already eating all the white bread, so I'll either make more or retry the French bread. Then it's on to fun stuff, like an Avocado bread (a batard and not a quick bread) from The Pastry Chef's Son and a dill pickle bread.

My goals? Make good sliced bread for sandwiches (check). Make the perfect French bread. And then learn how to make homemade donuts and cinnamon rolls. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
lather2002: St. Anthony's Fire - epidemic caused by eating bread

St. Anthony's Fire
St. Anthony's Fire - epidemic caused by eating bread

Not in years had France seen such rain. Farmers slogged stolidly out to their fields to harvest the sodden crops, mill the grain and send it on its way. In little (pop. 4,400) Pont-Saint-Esprit, perched on a bluff along the River Rhone in southern France, the townspeople sat glumly in their bistros sipping wine, watching the swollen river slip past the medieval bridge which gives the town its name.
Then, without warning, pain and sudden death clutched Pont-Saint-Esprit. On a Saturday night three weeks ago, the town's doctors began getting calls from people complaining of heartburn, stomach cramps and fever chills. At first, they thought it was a mild epidemic of meat poisoning. But the calls kept flooding in. By Monday, 70 houses in the village had become tiny hospitals, with most of their families in bed. Then the doctors found their first clue: every one of the patients had eaten bread from the shop of Baker Roch Briand. All eight of Pont-Saint-Esprit's bakeries were ordered temporarily shut.
That night the first man died in convulsions. Later, two men who had seemed to be recovering dashed through the narrow streets shouting that enemies were after them. A small boy tried to throttle his mother. Gendarmes went from house to house, collecting pieces of the deadly bread to be sent to Marseille for analysis. Among the stricken, delirium rose: patients thrashed wildly on their beds, screaming that red flowers were blossoming from their bodies, that their heads had turned to molten lead. Pont-Saint-Esprit's hospital reported four attempts at suicide.
What was the mysterious madness? Pont-Saint-Esprit speculated that the village idiot had hexed Baker Briand's flour, that the flour had been packed in fertilizer sacks, that rats in the grain elevator had contaminated the flour. The police knew better. They had traced the flour back from Briand's bakeshop through the government-controlled flour depot to a mill near Poitiers, nearly 300 miles away.
Last week the word came back from the police laboratory:"We have identified a vegetable alkaloid having the toxic and biological characteristics of ergot, a cereal parasite." Pont-Saint-Esprit had been stricken by ergot poisoning, a medieval disease as old as its proud bridge, so old that it had almost been forgotten. Modern medicine knows about ergot, but has rarely seen it in the form of an epidemic disease.* It is a black fungus that grows on wet grain, contains chemicals that powerfully affect the blood vessels and the nervous system. Doctors often use ergot extracts to start contractions in the uterus in childbirth.
In the Middle Ages, growing uncontrolled in wet summers, ergot was no such helpful friend. The disease was called "St. Anthony's Fire," and raged periodically through Europe. Monastic chroniclers wrote of agonizing burning sensations, of feet and hands blackened like charcoal, of vomiting, convulsions and death. Whole villages were driven mad. That, in effect, was what had happened to Pont-Saint-Esprit in 1951.
By week's end, French police had found the miller who ground the ergot-laden rye and a man who acknowledged selling him the grain, charged them both with involuntary homicide. In Pont-Saint-Esprit, the toll of illness passed 200; four had died, 28 were still on the critical list. France considered itself lucky: all the contaminated grain seemed to have gone into that one bag of flour delivered to Baker Roch Briand.

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2009 05:04 am (UTC)
jadxia: Re: St. Anthony's Fire - epidemic caused by eating bread

Ergot poisoning is of importance when making rye based breads. Ergot isn't found in wheat breads. It is speculated that many tales of witchcraft were related to people being poisoned with ergot.

Tue, Jan. 27th, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
sisterstorm: Jealous!

I so want to be able to get back to major baking!

Right now, I'm exploring the possibility of sprouting/growing sprouts. Right now, broccoli sprouts are looking like the best possibility. I've heard that sprouted wheat bread is supposed to basically cure everything on the planet. I'll admit to skepticism.

Tue, Jan. 27th, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
jadxia: Re: Jealous!

Ah, the sprout phase. Went through that, I just don't like sprouts enough to keep up with it (nothing like having a ball of slimy sprouts rotting in your fridge or on your counter).

You are always welcome to pop in of course. I made a lactose-free white bread that was just as yum. The second batch of French bread was good, but still not perfect... I need people to eat all this bread; I can't even give it away fast enough.

And now I'm learning to make fruit tarts... ack dying of carbs.