I suppose in a year and a bit of bread making, and a lot of playing fast-and-loose with recipes, it was inevitable that not everything is going to work out quite the way you think it should. There was the (delicious) wheatberry bread where I broke a filling cracking down on a kernel, and the bread that never rose, and ended up as tasty, solid, twice baked-bagel chips. But most of them have been pretty wonderful, bringing the challenge of how not to eat a whole loaf of bread at a single sitting.
The basic non-recipe comprises 6-7 cups of flour (usually a mix of white, brown and something vaguely exotic), 3 (ish) cups of water, a tablespoon each of salt and fat, two teaspoons of dried yeast, a quarter cup of honey (or other sweetener) and a cup or two of Other Stuff, which could be nuts, or grains, or oat flakes, plus maybe a spoonful of cumin or coriander to make things a little bit more interesting. My recent favorite used spelt flour for a third of the flour and walnuts for the extra. It was very lovely.
But today’s adventure had me wondering if I should actually start measuring things again, and reminded me that using up “the rest of that flour” might not be a particularly smart way of following a recipe. The idea was to do a 2:2:2 ratio of stoneground whole wheat bread flour, stoneground white bread flour and spelt flour, and maybe up the flour just a little because I wanted my two loaves to be a little bit larger than they were last time. For extras I chose some leftover pumpkin seeds, a couple of spoons of lightly ground flax seeds and half a cup of hemp hearts, which the internet tells me are a protein-rich superfood. I added about a teaspoon of cumin too, just because I like the taste.
Then I discovered a baggie of a couple of cups of red fife flour in the freezer, so I decided to use that instead of the spelt even though it was freezer cold. And I was so close to finishing the wholewheat flour, that I just kept pouring that in after my two cups were full. Total flour? Seven cups, perhaps. Maybe a bit more. I didn’t measure it, and I didn’t weigh it, and I just threw in something over 3 cups of water and hoped for the best.
This dough was sloppier than anything I’ve ever worked with — it practically walked off the countertop while I was reaching over for the coconut oil. It stuck to my hands, my clothes and anything that came anywhere near it. And the extra (white) flour I added in an attempt to make it slightly less sticky was fresh from the freezer too, so it chilled the dough some more and probably slowed the kneading/rising process. After twenty nervous minutes and a lot of extra ice cold flour I had a dough that I could almost handle, so I kept going until it felt good and elastic before putting it to one side to let the yeast do its stuff.
It rose, threatening to spill over the bowl.
I squished it down and transfered it to tins and let it rise again, and baked it for about 55 minutes, first at 425F and then down to 350F.
And to my deepest surprise, it’s a really, really nice bread, with a good crust, a healthy chew and a lovely taste. And of course, having no idea what I actually did, there’s no way I am going to be able to make it exactly the same again.
- Those cookbook writers know what they are talking about when they say it’s better for a dough to be too wet than too dry
- A stand mixer would be really nice for a dough this wet
- You do need to knead bread to develop the gluten, and even sloppy doughs might (might) turn into something you can use
- Experimentation is often very scary. But it sometimes works
- You may never be able to recreate a newly invented recipe, which is actually rather sad