Ready for another “really more a suggestion than a recipe” post? Well, ready or not, here comes such a post. I worked from home today, to allow some contractors access to not really do anything in our house. Earlier in the week I had thought vaguely of taking advantage of being at home to bake some bread today, perhaps to be served with some soup for dinner, but I’m really busy at work these days and when I looked at the clock with a mind towards starting dinner, it was 6 p.m. Ordinarily I’d tell you that any loaf of bread I’d bake will take a minimum of 18 hours from start to finish, because I always use some sort of pre-ferment or starter. But even if I were willing to lower my standards and bake a “same day” dough, starting at 6 p.m. and having bread in time for dinner would be an impossibility…right? I mean, you’re looking at at least 3 hours rising and proofing time, close to an hour baking time, and an hour to cool. (Cooling is non-negotiable, sorry. Slicing hot bread ruins it.)
Not only THAT but my scale is broken. How can I bake without a scale??? (And WHY is my scale broken?!)
There was an answer, though. I thought back to an earlier time, when I didn’t have a scale. I didn’t have my faithful mixer Hieronymus. I didn’t even have the two Kitchen Aid mixers I destroyed before Hieronymus graced me with his wonderful presence. I didn’t have a Thermapen, hand-crafted proofing baskets, multiple peels, a sourdough starter named Sally, or a Fibrament baking stone. What I had was a bread machine I hated and an incredible desire to turn myself into a bread baker, despite producing several paperweights the first few times I tried.
I was a much newer vegan, and still learning how to cook, back then and I spent a lot of time on Vegweb looking for recipes. I found a promising recipe for homemade bread: Outrageously Easy BIG Bread. Back then I think there were only about 10 comments (it looks like the old comments from before Vegweb updated their site a few years ago were removed; this was much longer ago than 2006), but they were all positive, so I gave it a go. And I was successful! I quickly began building a reputation among my friends for always having fresh homemade bread…people would regularly show up at 2 or 3 a.m. demanding some!
I’m a bread snob now. I’ve been an official tester for Peter Reinhart. People come to me for advice…and starter. I ordinarily wouldn’t deign to put more than a tablespoon of instant yeast(!) into a single batch of bread…ordinarily I’d use no instant yeast because I’m a sourdough gal all the way. But tonight, sans scale, I broke out my unused measuring cups and spoons, googled “outrageous bread”, and followed the familiar recipe…well, except for throwing all the ingredients into Hieronymus and having him knead them for a little bit for me. But if you don’t have a mixer and you want to try baking bread and you’re frustrated that EVERY recipe assumes you have a Kitchen Aid, except the famous no-knead recipe, but that takes a million hours…I’ve made the recipe as instructed, without a mixer, many times, and look where I am today!
So today’s post isn’t a recipe, at least not one of mine. It’s an encouragement to those scared of bread baking to give it a shot. And it’s a reminder to those who aren’t scared of bread baking but are snobbish like myself that sometimes you CAN make bread in two hours. Some photos to prove it:
After kneading for about two minutes. (But again, kneading is technically unnecessary.)
I let it rise for 45 minutes, then did a quick “stretch and fold”, which is a technique I’m sure I’ve documented somewhere on this site, but instead of searching for it, here is Peter Reinhart demonstrating it.
Partially because I was super busy with work and partially because I wasn’t really thinking, I returned the dough to the rising container after the stretch and fold, even though the recipe says to shape it and do the second rise on the baking tray. I was planning to make four small loaves for bread bowls and if I’d been concentrating on the bread instead of work, I’d probably have done a stretch and fold at 20-25 minutes, then let rise for another 25 minutes or so, then shaped into four rounds and let them proof for 45 minutes on the tray. But instead, I let the dough rise for another 45 minutes in the rising bucket, while pre-heating the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and realized when I was ready to bake that I hadn’t shaped them. Here’s the dough, risen quite a bit, but not shaped.
No matter. I decided I’d just hope for a lot of oven spring and merrily but roughly divided and roughly shaped my loaves.
Then I baked them for the prescribed “exactly” 23 minutes, although I’m here to tell you that REALLY baking time is going to depend on your oven. After years of experience with all kinds of breads I can tell you that 23 minutes is not enough, especially if you use all that dough for a single loaf; even my tiny loaves really should have stayed in at least 10 minutes longer. However, I was too busy to worry too much about it so when they looked fairly golden at 23 minutes, I took them out and later regretted it. There IS such a thing as paying too little attention to your bread.
Now, ESPECIALLY if you are making bread bowls like me, COOL the bread before cutting. I know it’s hard. Mark managed to time his grand entrance home from work about two minutes after I’d removed them from the oven – I had JUST sat down – and he walked through the door loudly and excitedly exclaiming, “SOMETHING SMELLS AWESOME!! I can tell SOMEONE worked from home!” To which I shouted, “DO NOT TOUCH THEM! NO TOUCHING!” It’s true I worked from home, but as I didn’t start this bread until just after 6 p.m., I could easily have made it any other day, even if I had gone into the office! Well, if I had gone into the office and left at a reasonable time instead of some stupid time like 8 p.m.
I made Creamless Asparagus Soup for the bread bowls.
Okay, so not only is this post “more a suggestion than a recipe”, it is also more a shameless excuse to post completely non-food-related photos than a recipe. First of all, we have a cardinal family that lives in our yard and I’m always delighted to see how loyal Mr and Mrs Cardinal are to each other. They’re always together. I love it! And today I caught them kissing! It’s not a super-sharp picture because it was taken through a screened window, but the cute factor made it a keeper nonetheless.
I was alerted to the presence of these little lovebirds by Torticia, who suddenly took an “OMG!” stance while looking out the window:
And guess what else it’s time for?!? BABY RACCOONS, that’s what! These sweet little babies – a family of four boys – are about 10 days old in this picture, taken on Saturday, a few days after their mother failed to claim them after they were evicted from a chimney. I’m very sorry they won’t be raised by their mother, but very grateful that the homeowner opted for a cruelty-free eviction and spared the lives of these tykes, who would have been killed by most “pest” control services. If you find animals in your chimney or home, PLEASE search for a humane eviction alternative. They almost always result in the babies being reunited with their mother, and they never result in baseless wildlife murder.
Outside at the sanctuary, we found a friendly wild and pregnant raccoon having some breakfast. Because she wasn’t afraid of us, she is definitely a rehabbed raccoon from a prior season, returning to give birth in the safety of the sanctuary grounds.
She was hamming it up for the camera! Raccoons have huge personalities. I’m so glad I chose to work with them!