Bread problems, practically A to Z
As a girl growing up on the farm, we made our bread. By "we" I mean, me and my three rotten brothers and bratty sister. When I left home and got married I decided "Never again!" but I'm all grown up now at almost-50 and have decided "No more store bread."
You would think that 15 or so years of baking bread twice weekly back then would have made me able to do this, but I can't seem to get anywhere.
First I tried the "Bread machine", with boxed mixes, which were more expensive than store-bread anyway; then I tried the recipes in the booklet that came with the machine. The results were horrible so I decided to go back to "real" bread. Unfortunately, the results are still horrible.
Here's the recipe I use, from the goo-spattered card of my youth:
5 to 6 cups of flour, with not more than 1/3 of flour being "whole" or "cracked" wheat
2 cups warm water and milk; if milk is fresh allow to cool from pastuerising
1 Tablespoon of fat, either butter or shortening (my card lists a brand-name shortening that we've all heard of)
1 Tablespoon of sweetening, either honey or white sugar
1 & 1/2 Teaspoons of yeast
1 Teaspoon of salt
Instructions: Put half the flour and the salt in a bowl and mix. Mix milk and water, check to be sure it's no higher than 110F on a candy stick (thermometer). Add in fat, and stir gently to start melting or softening. When temp is 110, add sweetening and mix. When sweetening is well stirred, add yeast. Stir gently. Set aside till the top bubbles like a glass of soda pop. If it doesn't make bubbles, throw it out and make biscuits because no bubbles means dead yeast bugs.
Once yeast mixture is bubbly, pour into bowl of flour. Mix, adding flour, until dough is stretchy and smooth. Wash the bowl and dry it, butter it lightly, put the dough into the bowl and turn a little to coat. Lay a clean towel over the bowl and go away for 45 minutes to an hour. After 45 minutes to 1 hour, punch dough down. Leave it alone for 10 minutes while buttering enough pans. Divide dough in 2 and put in pans, tucking sides under. Set aside for 30 minutes to 45 minutes with the towel on top. Make up the oven. After 30 minutes check oven; temperature should be 375F but not higher than 400F. Bake loaves in middle of of oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour till tapping sounds hollow.
That is word for word, except the explanation about the shortening, and the translation of "candy stick", the recipe I used as a girl, twice a week, every week, winter or summer, and it WORKED. Now, all I get is a disgusting mess that's pale regardless of oven temp or type of pan, is heavy on the inside, even tho tapping gives the "hollow" sound. Additionally, although the first rise is perfect, the second one doesn't seem to be, because the marks from my fingers for shaping the bread into the pans, remain in the finished loaves, and they don't appear to rise much in that last 45 minutes, nor do they rise at all in the oven; the loaves are no bigger finished than the dough was going in. I can't even really describe the texture of the bread -- it's as if you took the heaviest bread you can imagine, and misted it with the plant sprayer. The bread TASTES fine -- it's just unusable for anything but chicken food.
I am wondering if the problem is lack of practise, bad memory, and -- don't laugh -- modern conveniences. After I gave up on the bread machine, I used the above recipe, except:
1) I warm the water to add to the milk, in the microwave
2) I put the flour-salt mix in the Kitchenaid
3) Once the yeast liquid looks like "soda pop", I turn on the Kitchenaid and as it stirs with the dough hook, I gently poor in the yeast liquid
4) As the KA mixes the liquid into the flour, I turn it off from time to time and add more flour till I get a dough ball
5) Once I have the dough ball, I knead that as usual, on a floured board, pushing and folding until it's smooth and pretty on the outside
6) I cover the bowl with a paper towel or plastic wrap now instead of a "tea towel"
7) I let it rise on the counter, regardless of season, because while I have a gas oven, it's the kind with no pilot light. Temperature isn't a problem; it's rarely cooler than 70 degrees anywhere in my house, thanks to modern heating and cooling, and the kitchen is NEVER cold (tho sometimes I sure wish it was)
8) I use, as mentioned above, a gas oven with a very precise digital display so I set it for exactly 380F, no more guesswork with a woodstove.
I did not have these issues with the bread as a girl. It's only since my grand expedition into bread making as an adult, that this occurs. While Missouri can be quite humid, particularly in the lake region, I am not living that far from where I grew up, so I don't think weather and temperature can be the explanation behind the horrible mess I get. The trouble seems to come in sometime between "punch it down" and "baking", as I said above, it doesn't seem to rise right for the second period, and the marks of my fingers are CLEARLY visible on the loaves.
I've wondered if I'm under-kneading, or by the same token, OVER-kneading, since my hands and arms may not remember "how long" anymore, and maybe I don't judge texture or smoothness of dough very well anymore.
I've made sure to use new, active yeast -- NOT bread-machine yeast -- and I've always kept my jar of yeast in the door of the frige, although I am aware yeast can be frozen. I use what I sure hope is fresh flour from the local market, and I have even gone to the local Wal-Mart and bought a bag of flour, assuming that since it's higher turnover, I'd be sure to get "fresher" flour. Milk comes from my own cow, just as it always did when I was a girl, and I generally use butter, again, just as I did when growing up, as the "fat" in the recipe. I use ordinary iodized sea-salt, again... Just as I did when I was little.
So if ANYONE can figure out what in the sam-hill is going wrong, I would surely appreciate it. I ain't proud, as granny used to say, and I'll take advice from ANYONE at this point!