It is a miracle this worked. I did so much wrong. Ironically, killing yeast was the least of my problems. All of my bad habits came to roost with this one…and still I ended up with two pretty decent loaves of cornmeal yeast bread. Awesome cornmeal yeast bread.
In spite of myself.
Here’s what I had going for me. First, I have an awesome “pantry” which includes my freezer. Earlier in the year, we’d been given corn flour by the farm as part of our CSA delivery. Unlike the smooth, super yellow stuff sold at the store, this has a much more coarse texture and the color ranges from light yellow to a dark brown. It has nothing added to it so you have to use it right away or it gets moldy. I’ve been using it bit by bit but I still had some of this precious gold in the freezer.
Second, these were not my first loaves of bread and it was not January. I have to say there were many times when my confidence was flagging on Sunday and it’s only the experience I’ve gained in this process of making something yeast each month to get over my yeast phobia that saved me. I had some solid techniques and some basic understanding to bring to bear when I did it all wrong.
Here’s where I got in my own way.
I didn’t read the recipe RIGHT before I started the process. I had pre-selected two possible recipes for a yeast bread made with cornmeal since I knew I wanted to use the stuff from the farm. That’s all I had left in my brain after several weeks of waiting to get in the kitchen.
Problem #1: Milk. The two recipes called for either 2 cups of milk or 3 cups of milk. Before I realized that was a problem, I started following the 3 cup recipe which had honey, a favorite. This meant I started by proofing one package of yeast in a little water to get it going and then I was supposed to mix 3 cups of milk into my dry ingredients and then eventually mix in the yeast mixture.
I didn’t have 3 cups of milk. I had barely 3/4 cup milk. Including the half and half I had for coffee (thankfully a nearly full container), I had 2 cups of dairy. So, that meant the recipe I had started with was no longer my recipe and I had to switch to the 2 cup version. Which did not start by blooming yeast in water. And required a second package of yeast. Thank goodness I had 2 packages of yeast.
Problem #2: Flour. Both recipes called for up to 7 or so cups of flour — it always varies based on conditions like humidity and temperature in the air. I did not have that much flour. No problem, you say? Just head to the store? While you’re there, maybe pick up some milk too?
Problem #3: Time. I was slated to be somewhere by 2 p.m. and it was about 12:45 p.m. when I started making bread. I didn’t have time to get to the store and back and still get the bread going and get to my event by 2 p.m. A sane person would have tossed out the cup of yeast blooming in water and just decided it was better for another day.
Stubborn? Yep. Resourceful? Yes, often. Crazy? Perhaps. Lucky? Yes, as it turned out.
I was determined to get the dough going thinking it would rise while I was away and then I could finish it up later in the afternoon.
So, armed with recipe #2 which required 2 cups of milk and did not require a yeast/water slurry, I got to work.
- 3 c. flour (which I had)
- 1 cup cornmeal (I used about half my farm corn flour and half commercial cornmeal to have a combination of smooth and coarse cornmeal texture)
- 1 package of dry yeast. The recipe calls for 2 packages, but I already had one package “proofing” in about 1/4 cup warm water since I had started with a different recipe. If you were making this, you would just put 2 packages of yeast into the bowl and move one with your life.
That’s pretty simple. You just dump in the dry ingredients and mix it together.
On the stove, you then heat up the liquids:
- 2 cups milk (mine was my weird ratio of milk and half & half to BARELY get to 2 cups)
- 1/2 cup butter (= one stick)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
This should have been simple. The goal is to get to about 120-130 degrees. They even tell you in the recipe that the butter doesn’t have to completely melt. The idea is to be warm, not hot, so you don’t kill your yeast. This is my problem. Turned out, not this time!
Problem #4: Butter. I had butter. Lots of it. In the freezer. This meant I was putting really cold, cold, cold butter into my milk/sugar/salt mixture and heating it all. This meant my butter would be melting very slowly, throwing off my sense of the temperature of my mixture. Giving me a false sense of calm and time.
Problem #5: False sense of calm and time. It was lunch time, I was getting hungry, and I thought I’d try to quickly rinse some blueberries. I had no sooner gotten the berries in the spinner in water when I heard a terrible sound. The sound of milk boiling over. Not just milk. Milk with butter and sugar. It was terrible.
I dropped the berries and rushed the stove. I have no idea how much I lost but I was hoping from the look of things that I still had most of the liquid I had started with. My only consolation was that I still have that yeast/water slurry on the counter and hoped the liquid there might offset what was lost.
Problem #6: Too hot milk mixture. I got the messy pan transferred to a clean pan and got out my instant read thermometer. My milk was super hot. It had boiled after all. I decided to set the timer for 10 minutes, which I barely had given my need to leave the house soon, and hoped it would drop to at least 130 or close. It was just over 130 when the timer went off. I could tell my yeast/water mixture from recipe #1 was proofing nicely so I hoped that I’d get enough yeast from that if adding my milk killed what was in the big bowl of dry ingredient.
- 2 eggs
Thankfully I almost always have eggs. One of the few things I got right. And then you stir to combine everything. This is also when I poured in the water/yeast that had been proofing for recipe #1.
Problem #7: Flour, again. I had put most of what I had into the big bowl to get 3 cups. Thank goodness it was a cornmeal recipe because that meant I had 1 cup of cornmeal to offset what I needed in remaining flour. The idea at this point is to turn out the sticky dough on to a floured board and basically knead in flour. You could, I guess, add up to 4 cups more getting you to the 7 cups listed in the recipe.
Learning #1: In all of the times I’ve made bread so far, I’ve never gotten to the maximum flour listed in the recipe. Due to my conditions in Oregon, I’ve never had dough take as much as they list as being possible in the recipe. I was guessing this would be the case this time as well so I hoped what was left in my flour canister might be enough.
It wasn’t. I had about 2 cups if I was being generous. My dough was kneading well but it was still sticky.
Learning #2: Use what you have. I knew I had more of the corn flour from the farm and lots of smooth commercial corn meal. I had no idea if I could add more to the dough without ruining the result, but at this point I was too far in to turn back. And I needed to leave the house soon. So, I used mostly the commercial cornmeal since it has a finer texture more close to that of flour but I also spread out a bunch of the corn flour from the farm. I have no idea how much it was but it sure looked like a lot (up to a cup?) to me. I started kneading and kept kneading. I wasn’t sure if my dough was less sticky due to my idea working or if the texture of the cornmeal was just masking my mistake. Either way, I decided to move forward and just see what happened.
As I was putting the dough into an oiled bowl for the first rise, I was feeling it was still too wet. Then I got an idea from blogs.
Learning #3: Slow things down in the refrigerator. The whole reason I started making bread when I clearly didn’t have enough time was because I wanted to take advantage of the time I’d be away from the house for the dough to rise. Ironically, here I was now trying to sort out how to slow it down so I could fix an error. I had read enough recipes to know that you can sometimes put dough in the refrigerator overnight so that it will rise slowly and then you can finish the bread the next day. Some actually like the slow rise in the fridge for development of yeast flavor. I just needed to buy some time to go meet my friends, get to a store for flour, and then come home and try to fix things.
Problem #8: Yeast with a Different Idea. The yeast was definitely not killed. Indeed, it was super active. Even in the refrigerator, it puffed up like crazy and only stayed in the bowl because the cling film was wrapped so tightly. So much for slowing things down.
Still, I went ahead and turned out the dough on a floured board and tried to work more flour into the dough. Interestingly, it didn’t take as much as I thought it would. I’m not sure if that’s because of all of the extra cornmeal I added or if it was too far in the process to accept flour so readily. After a few quick kneads, I put it back in the oiled bowl and finally go to making myself something to eat. I had been so rushed for time that my lunch had been a protein bar that just happened to be in my purse.
I then decided to preheat the oven. My idea was I’d first roast some green beans to eat with dinner later and then I’d cook the bread. I knew I needed about an hour for this rise — maybe less since it had already been rising in the fridge — as I was attempting to reset the clock with my flour addition.
Problem #9: Oven drama — think back to the milk! I was happily washing and trimming green beans when suddenly there was a really bad smell. I turned to see if I had accidentally left one of the burners on and something had spilled. Nope. I opened the oven door and the kitchen filled with smoke. I quickly turned off the oven, turned on the fan, and opened lots of window. Once I was sure I didn’t have a fire, I came back to investigate. The pan of hot milk that boiled over happened to be on the burner with the vent pipe from the oven. It meant that while I had cleaned up on and under the burner, I had failed to realize some of the sweet and sticky mixture made it to the oven. And then I proceeded to bake it on and burn it by preheating the oven.
Luckily the time pressure was now off so I wasn’t rushing any longer. I waited a bit for things to cool, found a really stiff sponge, and then set to scrubbing off what I could of the baked on bits. I scrubbed as hard as I could and got most of what was there off except for the stream that had been the thinnest and was the most burnt. I had a moment where I wondered what I had been thinking.
I get through all of the hoops of what I did wrong — not enough flour, not enough milk, not enough time — and now I would ruin my bread because the oven was smoky and everything would taste burnt? I was very sad for a moment.
And then I remembered the beans. I had planned to cook them at a high temperature (400 degrees) and with some bacon I had cooked previously that was in the freezer. I was also using fresh rosemary and some bacon fat from cooking the bacon. My beans getting smoky would not be a problem. I knew they wouldn’t smell burnt since I got most of the milk yuck off the oven floor, but I knew it was going to take a while to burn off the last bit. And I didn’t want it to be with the bread.
I turned the oven on to 400 degrees. I opened the door a few times to let out smoke. By about the third time, there was barely any so I decided I was safe and put in the beans. They roasted in the oven with the cooked bacon, rosemary, and bacon fat for about 30 minutes and when they came out, the gunk on the bottom of the oven seemed to be neutralized and nothing bad came out of the oven. The beans, by the way, were DELICIOUS!!
While the beans were cooking, I got back to the dough. I got to do the satisfying punch down. At that point, there’s very little to do. You just turn it out on to a board, cut it in two, form two loaves, and then put them into two greased loaf pans to rise. I covered them with a cloth and put them on top of the warm oven. While the beans did their thing, the bread rose nicely. Just before putting them into the oven, you brush the tops with melted butter.
Learning #4: Be sure. Just to be sure, I lowered the temperature to 375 degrees and set a timer for 10 minutes. I figured if there was still smoke I’d just have to come up with another plan. I had no idea what that plan might be. At this point I had two loaves that had risen in two bread pans and things were ready to bake. Happily, the smoke was no longer an issue and into the oven went the loaves.
I’ve never been so happy to see bread in my life. I can’t believe it worked given all that I had done to get in my own way.
I needed a little “sit down” after all of that. I poured myself a diet soda and took my weary self to the sofa. After more than an hour, I was finally able to face the kitchen again. I had eaten some of the beans and put the rest away for lunches. I was still hungry but thought I should let the bread cool a bit more. But I was impatient so I sliced off a couple of pieces and ate them with a bit of salted butter. The bread was delightful.
I do think my texture might be a bit “wet” so if I was on some kind of baking competition, I’m sure the judges would have counted against me for that. Oh well, as my mom says. I’m not sure if my “crumb” is as it should be. I do know it was pretty tasty just as bread. Extra texture due to all of the extra cornmeal, I think. I had a hunch it was going to make pretty good toast.
It made MARVELOUS toast. The drying out of the bread and the extra crunch provided by the coarser corn flour from the farm is a really lovely thing when toasted. Really lovely. I added butter and honey and was in heaven. Heaven!
I will probably eat all of the rest of it as toast since it’s so tasty that way.
For breakfast today, I toasted a couple of slices. I then added a spicy mustard, tomato slices, cheddar cheese and pepper and put it under the broiler. AWESOME.
Learning #5: If you’re going to make a mess of things, make sure you do it in month 7 when you have skills to figure out what to do. And revel in the fact that killing yeast was not your problem even though that’s the whole reason you’re in this process of bread making. Killing yeast was not even in the list of risks you faced this time.
And yay to toast. Really, really good toast!