Few things bring as much pleasure as pulling a freshly baked loaf of bread out of your oven. And it’s not just that heavenly taste of the bread, either!
On the Dakota prairies, where I’ve spent my life, most homemakers respond with dreamy “Oohs” and “Aaahs” when the topic of homemade bread arises. I believe, in part, that’s because the practice and the bread connect us with pleasant and comforting memories of our past. Most women born in the Dakotas in the 1920 and 1930s baked their own bread.
It may also be that both my peers and I derive great personal satisfaction from creating a food that’s so tasty and heartening. It’s fun at the same time that it makes us, and our families, feel good.
I must confess that, for years, my bread baking attempts were not something that made for delicious eating. I tried many recipes, some from my mother, some from friends, others from beautiful books or magazines. No matter the source, my loaves were heavy, dense and not at all what I hoped for when I started the process.
Over and over I tried changing my ingredients, the type of yeast I used, how long I kneaded, whether or not I used my mixer or did everything by hand. Although I enjoyed a few rare successes, I could not consistently produce a satisfactory loaf of homemade bread. For the most part, I only attempted baking bread in the winter.
After my husband went through cancer treatment in 2017, I knew I wanted to make another serious attempt at baking bread that was fresh and free of artificial colors or preservatives. My plan prompted me to invest $50 in a bread machine.
I carefully followed all the instructions that came with the machine, trusting that I’d find a beautiful loaf at the end of the bread machine cycle.
That’s not what happened.
Much to my dismay I had the same dense, heavy loaf I’d made so many times in the past. To say I was frustrated is an understatement!
But I wasn’t ready to give up. As a writer who constantly conducts research, I began searching for information about yeast, flour, “easy” bread recipes, etc. After sifting through it all, I discovered that one little change to my baking process just might change my bread baking efforts forever!
That little change involved the yeast in my bread recipes. What I discovered is that yeast — a living organism — thrives at a temperature range between 105 degrees (Fahrenheit) and 110 degrees (Fahrenheit). As long as the yeast has something to feed on — i.e. sugar, honey, syrup — it will grow and grow as long as it’s warm enough.
I also learned that the gluten in grains (wheat, spelt, farro, durham, etc.) must be “worked” through kneading the dough. When the gluten is well developed and the yeast is in the ideal temperature range, bread dough rises to its greatest heights!
Much to my delight, my bread machine canister helps maintain a steady temperature range as the dough kneads and rests. My oven is a great place to let the dough finish rising (I don’t bake in my bread machine), and I have not had any loaf failures since putting the pieces of this puzzle together!
Anyone who aspires to consistently produce healthy, homemade bread — white, 100% whole grain, 100% mixed grain, etc. — will find the combination of maintaining the liquid temperature to boost yeast action and allowing the bread machine to develop the gluten is an easy “fix” for satisfying the homemade bread baking bug!
Longtime journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of, “Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever!” and regularly shares recipes and information about bread baking on her website, www.bakeyourbestever.com. You’ll find her book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and in the Country Store at www.ourdakothorsetales.com. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at “Mother Earth Living,” “Grit Magazine,” Facebook (Secrets to Baking Your Best Ever), Twitter @bakeyourbestever and Pinterest at “Secrets to Baking Your Best Bread Ever.”