This summer I decided that I would learn to make bread. I think I have become enamoured with the idea of being fairly self-sufficient- in the sense of baking my own bread, making my own cereals, whipping up fresh and delicious nutritious meals for myself. I want the health benefits and money saving benefits of it. I want to know that I can take care of myself. Alas, the reality is that I am actually a little hopeless in the kitchen. It’s not something I want to admit, as it clashes so much with my images of what I want to be, but as much as I enjoy pottering around in the kitchen the results don’t always match the pictures, to put it in the kindest way. I have improved over the years. My desire to be a good cook and baker is something I’ve been struggling towards for years and as embarrassing as that is, at least where I am now is much better than when I first started- I can manage a few basic dishes and I am an adequate baker of biscuits and cakes, but I still have many limitations.I think I perhaps became comfortable in those limitations, and it only now I’ve given up dairy that I’ve begun to play around a bit, trying to become even better. (Not being able to rely on cheese kinda forces one into this position…)

It’s really not as easy as it looks, though.

To focus on the bread.

I began yesterday morning with a recipe pulled from the Internet and a lot of optimism. I followed the instructions and formed my dough seemingly as it should be, then set my little ball of dough in a greased bowl, all wrapped up and warmed up by the dishwasher running beneath. Five hours later and my little ball of dough had not risen at all. Worried, I began to frantically google and was forced to accept the truth about my bread- I had killed my yeast. I’d not only put them in too-hot water to begin  with, but left them hungry with no sugar to feed on. Reading through forum posts and recipes with their comments I realised that I’d probably not even kneaded it right. Annoyed, fed up, I threw the dough on a greased pan and shoved it in the oven just to see what would happen. The results were a lump of heavy, dense, gooey ‘bread’ that…actually tasted very nice.  My optimism was restored- all I needed to do was keep my yeast alive and everything would be OK. With the help of my frantic searches earlier I rewrote the recipe- adding in sugar at the beginning, making careful note of the ideal water temperature , extending times for letting the yeast develop and kneading. Today, I did it all over again. I made the water neither cool nor hot and mixed in a tiny bit of sugar. Then, I added the yeast and let them sit for 5 minutes, watching in fascination as the yeast bloomed before my eyes. They were alive! I added in the olive oil then slowly began to add flour mixed with salt, until the mixture became too stiff to mix and thus I began to knead. I kneaded and kneaded and kneaded- forcing myself to keep going for 10 minutes and only then did I ball the dough up and put it in a greased bowl, covering it this time not only with a damp cloth but a layer of clingfilm. I set it beside the stove as I cooked lunch to keep it warm and in an hour- it had risen! Hopeful now, I formed it into something resembling a loaf and stuck it in the oven. The results were much lighter and just as tasty but alas, it is still a little too dense, and it looks utterly deformed. although the first rise was successful, the second rise in the oven…well it did not seem to rise much in the oven. Neither did I shape it correctly. I still have a long, long way too go with this bread making business. It really seemed so easy, too.

I think its time to phone my grandmother.