Mark, Charlie, and I love La Brea Bakery brand crusty sourdough bread. But, at $4.19 a loaf, it’s a little pricey, especially since we’re fully capable of eating two loaves a week. It’s occurred to me that if I could bake bread that was just as good as the crusty sourdough, we’d save a nice amount of money at the grocery store. But, since it takes quite a bit of effort to make bread, and baking basically intimidates me, it hasn’t been very high on my money-saving priority list.
However, the other day I was visiting a preschool to see if it might be someplace we’d like to send Charlie this fall. I had a long conversation with the teacher about her program. She happened to mention that, once a week, she bakes bread with the children. Let me repeat that for those of you who might not fully understand: this teacher bakes bread with 10 preschool-aged children; by herself, she bakes 10 loaves of bread, one with each child, in three hours. Well…throwdown! This woman may as well have challenged me to arm wrestle. If she can bake 10 loaves of bread with 10 children in one morning, surely, surely I could make one loaf of bread and do it with my child. I squealed out of the parking lot and went straight to the grocery store.
My goals were:
- I would bake bread that was so delicious we’d never want to buy another loaf.
- My bread would also be healthier than our beloved crusty sourdough.
- Charlie would help me make the bread.
- It would be a wonderful bonding experience for the two of us.
In retrospect, these goals may have been a bit lofty. For one thing, though I make banana bread, I’m actually a pretty awful baker. Cakes baffle me, pies are out of the question, and cookies, well, let’s just say that I lack consistency. The second problem that I failed to foresee is my son’s temperament. Charlie is an enthusiastic lover of life. Charlie creates fun for himself where there otherwise may be none. Charlie lives by his own rules. Yes, indeed, the idea that Charlie would make bread the way I wanted to make bread was, to put it mildly, a bit unrealistic.
I combed the Internet for a recipe that looked reasonable for beginners and settled on one from Taste of Home. In fact, here’s a great tip I learned from my neighbor: the Taste of Home website lets you search for a recipe of whatever dish you want to make (in my case, whole wheat bread), and then sort the list of returned recipes by “contest winning” recipes. So cool. You can pretty much bet that if the recipe won a contest, it’s pretty good. Although, now that I think about it, I’m not sure the website details which contest the recipe won. Hmm, I guess that could make a difference….
Anyhow, this is the recipe I chose. Go ahead, click on the link and look at the photo and accompanying description.
So you saw it. The photo looks good, right? Really good. And, did you catch the little description next to the photo that the person submitting the recipe is 12 years old? I wonder if she went to that preschool.
Anyway, fast forward to the part where you’re supposed to put the dough on a lightly floured surface and start kneading. That’s where Charlie got interested. My dream involved Charlie kneading the bread with me. Charlie’s dream was more along the lines of poking the dough once or twice and throwing flour around the kitchen. A lot of flour. I’m pretty sure there’s flour under the refrigerator that will be waiting for me next time I’m brave enough to clean the coils. But, in the end, we did it. We kneaded until it was a “stiff dough” and put it to rise in a greased bowl.
After over an hour, the dough had maybe risen a tiny amount, but it certainly came nowhere close to doubling in size like the recipe described. Uh oh. But, what could I do at that point? I followed the next step and put the dough into a greased loaf pan for 30 minutes to rise some more. Well, you probably can guess that it didn’t rise. I put it in the oven anyway and hoped for the best. This is what I got:
OK, I’m kidding. This is what I got:
Maybe one of my mistakes was attempting to halve the recipe. The recipe makes two loaves and I only have one large size loaf pan. So, I carefully only put in half the amount of yeast called for in the recipe. Could that have been the problem? All you bread makers out there, help me know what I did wrong. And, do you have any tried and true bread recipes that are suitable for a very inexperienced and somewhat frightened bread maker who, apparently, has the skill level of someone younger than 12?
So, I concede. Round one definitely goes to the preschool teacher. But, I totally could have taken her in an arm wrestle.