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Best Bread Machine Bread. Really, No Lie!

Let’s be honest here, okay? What’s your reaction when you see a recipe for anything that has the word Best in the title? Personally, I’ve seen far too recipes labeled with that word for me to fell anything but jaded. “Yeah, right.” I say to myself. “Here we go again.” Then I generally yawn and add it to the To Be Tried pile. Except I don’t have a pile.

What I do have, howver, are two databases on my iPad Mini: Pepperplate, and the New York Times coooking app. So when I needed to bake a loaf yesterday, I started looking and came across a recipe called Best Bread Machine Bread. I’d had it in Pepperplate for a while, and decided to give it a try.

It’s a very simple recipe, as you can see:

Best Bread Machine Bread

best-bread-machine-bread
Recipe originally from Allrecipes.com

This recipe is easy and foolproof. It makes a very soft and tasty loaf of bread with a flaky crust.

Yield: 1-1/2 pound loaf
Active Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 2 hrs

Ingredients

1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 (.25 ounce) package bread machine yeast
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

Directions

Place the water, sugar and yeast in the pan of the bread machine.
Let the yeast dissolve and foam for 10 minutes.
Add the oil, flour and salt to the yeast.
Select Basic or White Bread setting, and press Start.

And that’s it. Simple and easy.

My impressions of the bread are that it should be called Best And Easiest Bread Machine Bread Ever. But let’s face it: that would be redundant, since basic bread machine bread is already easy, right?

What I like About It:

  • It is indeed quick and easy.
  • It holds its shape well.
  • It lasts more than one day. That’s because of the oil.
  • It’s filling.
  • It’s a great sandwich bread.

What I Don’t like About It:

  • It’s a very soft bread. The texture is reminiscent of Wonder Bread. And that means spreading peanut butter and jelly on the bread tends to smoosh it down.
  • It doesn’t fit in my toaster. That’s not the bread’s fault; when I bought a toaster, I looked long and hard at a model with long toasting slots, and decided against it. Now I regret that decision.
  • And that’s pretty much the only negatives I have to say about the bread.

I had it for dinner last night as part of a grilled cheese sandwich, and this morning it—along with a cup of tea—is helping helping beat back a lousy migraine. (Did you know that the English pronounce it “mee-grain”? I never knew.)

Enjoy!

Robyn Jane

Well, THAT Was Yummy!

The 7-Up biscuits recipe is definitely a keeper. Only 4 ingredients, and I cheated on one of them. Here’s the recipe:

7-Up Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Bisquick
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup 7-up
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Instructions

  • Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Mix Bisquick, sour cream and 7 up. (Dough will be very soft – which is fine)
  • Knead and fold dough until coated with your baking mix.
  • Pat dough out and cut biscuits using a round biscuit or cookie cutter (mason jars or other kitchen items work great for this too).
  • Melt butter in bottom of cookie sheet pan or 9×13 casserole dish.
  • Place biscuits on top of melted butter and bake for 12-15 minutes or until brown.

7Up biscuits

And that’s it. Pretty simple, huh? Oh, and what I said about cheating? I swapped out WalMart’s in-house brand baking mix for the Bisquick. It’s all good!

Robyn

A Blog I Started Following

I spend some of my free time (when I’m not blogging) in Second Life. I met a new friend there the other day, and she’s just started an interesting blog. If you have any interest at all in photography in Second Life, you might want to check out her blog.

It’s a beautiful day in Rochester, but my Yahoo Weather app on my smartphone makes me wonder why, when it’s 73°F/23C° out, they choose to show me a picture of the Genesee River when it’s frozen over and there’s snow on the ground. If they’re trying to help me cool off, why didn’t they show it last week when it was 90°F/32C°?

There’s also a lovely breeze blowing, and as usual when the weather is nice, I have my apartment windows open. Not that it does a whole lot of good, as both windows are on the same side of the apartment, so I don’t get any cross breeze coming through. Still, the fans do a good job of circulating the cooler air. And that’s helpful since I’ve just turned off the oven, which had been on for about an hour and a half while I baked a couple of loaves of zucchini bread.

I’m not pleased with the results. You see, last night I set out a couple of sticks of butter to soften for oatmeal raisin cookies, and added the salt, baking soda, sugar and brown sugar that recipe called for. But this morning, I woke up thinking, “I need to make that zucchini bread while the zucchinis are still fresh.”

The result was that I added the salt, baking soda, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, and oil to the butter and sugars before I realized what I was doing. Anyway, I continued with the bread recipe, thinking that the worst that could happen would be the bread would be to buttery or oily.

Well, it’s edible, but it’s not something I’m going to share with anyone.

But here’s the recipe for you. I’ve baked it before—the right way—and it’s quite delicious. I definitely recommend it, if you like vegetable breads.

Proofing Yeast? Why, and How Do I Do It?

The old saying that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In this case, “proof” means “test.” It’s used the same way as “proving grounds” is used to describe a missile test site.

And in just the same way, “proving” yeast means to test it. The practice started before the modern technology of reliable refrigeration came into existence. Yeast would often go bad, and rather than mix up a big batch of dough only to discover your yeast was dead—resulting in a loss of ingredients—bakers developed a quick and easy way to proof (test) the yeast before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

I always proof my yeast, but not just to see if it’s alive. I find that by doing so, it mixes more readily with the rest of the ingredients, and causes the dough to rise faster.

So how do you actually proof the yeast? Well, it’s actually an old, arcane formula that takes years and years to master, but I will initiate you into The Secrets:

  1. Take the amount of yeast called for by the recipe
  2. Measure out the amount of liquid called for by the recipe
  3. Heat the liquid to between 75 and 80 degrees F (24–26 degrees C), or barely lukewarm
  4. Add the yeast to the liquid, along with maybe a teaspoon of sugar (to give the yeast something to munch on.
  5. Wait about 10 minutes

That’s all there is to it, really. So what’s the big deal?

Well, the water dissolves the dry coating around the yeast, releasing the active yeast inside. The active yeast will go to work on the sugar and a bubbly foam will form on the surface (from the carbon dioxide being released). This foam is proof that the yeast is active, and once you see it, you can add the yeast to your bread dough.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a loaf to bake. It’s a new recipe, and if it works, I’ll post it here either tomorrow or Thursday.

Sourdough Magic (and setting the record straight)

I like sourdough. After all, I lived in Alaska for almost 20 years, and in the San Francisco Bay Area for another 5 or so, so I was probably predestined to like it. Hell, once you’ve spent a year in Alaska, you’ve even earned the title “Sourdough,” to distinguish you from the Cheechakos.

And like so many others, I even bought into the myth that the only place you could get genuine San Francisco sourdough bread was in San Francisco—or at least close to the Bay Area. That had to do with the fact that the wild yeast strains native to the area aren’t found anywhere else.

But today I found out that’s just not true:

Here’s what SERIOUS EATS has to say about it:

What gives San Francisco sourdough its particularly sour flavor? Some argue that it’s the makeup of the wild yeast strains native to the area, but if that were the case, you wouldn’t be able to make sour breads in other localities without introducing some of that extra-sour San Francisco yeast first. This is clearly not the case, and indeed, once the particular strain of lactobacillus bacteria responsible for San Francisco bread’s sour flavor was identified, it’s been discovered all over the world. L. sanfranciscensis is what French and Italian country-style loaves owe their sourness to, it turns out.

So what does make San Francisco sourdough bread so special? From my own knowledge of history, as well as a reading of what experts have to say on the subject, it’s experience. Sourdough arrived in the Bay Area in 1849, along with the Gold Rush. And when you’ve been baking for over 165 years, you’ve had plenty of time to perfect your technique—as well as the magic formula for the perfect sourdough bread.

As near as I can tell, the magic formula has to do with how much starter dough you mix with your bread dough. In some San Francisco loaves, the percentage is as high as 50%.

So What Does This Mean?

In practical terms, it means that if you happen to visit San Francisco and buy one of the ubiquitous packages of genuine San Francisco Sourdough Starter, you don’t have to worry about it becoming “corrupted” or devolving into a Rochester sourdough starter. (I picked Rochester because that’s where I live.) So no matter how many times I move, my genuine San Francisco Sourdough Starter will remain just that.

Or, in my case, since I’m going to make a batch of starter from scratch this week (and it will take the whole week), no matter where I take it, it will always be a Rochester Sourdough Starter. That’s assuming I cheat and use commercial yeast to start it. If I do it the traditional way by letting the natural air-borne yeast do it, it will probably be the above-mentioned L. sanfranciscensis, so in that sense, I could probably legitimately call it genuine San Francisco Sourdough Starter!

Anyway, all of this is by background and introduction to today’s topic which (surprise!) is sourdough starter and how to make it.

Here’s my tried and trusted recipe for an easy sourdough starter, which has been handed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years in great secrecy I found on the web a couple of years ago.

How To Make A Sourdough Starter

Love sourdough breads? Wondering how to make your own sourdough starter? It’s easy. While the internet is full of sourdough starter recipes that call for odd ingredients like pineapple juice, orange juice, potato flakes or sugar water, to make a truly good sourdough starter you need just three things: flour, water and time.

Ingredients

flour
established sourdough starter (optional)
1 tablespoon baking yeast (optional)
filtered water

Instructions

Starting the sourdough:

Whisk 1/4 cup flour with sourdough starter or yeast (if using) and 3 tablespoons filtered water in a small bowl. Pour this into a jar, and let it sit for twelve hours. Twelve hours later, whisk in 1/2 cup flour with 1/3 cup filtered water and continue adding 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup water every 12* hours for one week until your starter is brisk and bubbling. As you feed your starter, take care to whisk in the flour and water thoroughly into the established starter—aerating the starter will help to yield the best and most reliable results.

(*Note: this isn’t absolutely critical. Even if you only manage to do it once every 24 hours, it will still work.)

To accommodate for expansion of the sourdough when it’s fed, make sure that your jar is only half full after each feeding. If you’ve made too much sourdough starter for the capacity of your jar, pour some off and use it in sourdough biscuits, sourdough pancakes or sourdough crackers.

Maintaining the sourdough:

After a week, your sourdough should be sturdy enough to withstand storage. If you bake infrequently (that is: if you bake less than once a week), you can store your sourdough in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature and feed it well about twelve hours before you plan to bake. If you bake more frequently–every day or a few times a week–you can store your sourdough at room temperature and feed it with 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup filtered water once a day.

Special considerations:

If a brown liquid appears floating on top of your sourdough starter, simply pour it off. Sourdough bakers call this liquid “hooch,” and it is harmless; however, it often signifies that you’ve fed your starter too much water in relation to flour or have let your starter go too long between feedings. Sourdough starters are relatively resilient, and bounce back quickly once you resume proper care of them.

Notes

Aeration of the starter is essential to ensure that the bacteria are well-distributed throughout the starter and can, thus, begin to ferment the new flour and water mixture added to the starter at each feeding.  Proper aeration of the sourdough also helps to ensure that the production of hooch – a thin liquid that sometimes rises to the top of sourdough starter – is minimized.

As an aside, “hooch” is highly alcoholic. In fact, the infamous “pruno” made by convicts in prisons is a variation of this by-product, produced by fermenting raisins and other fruits, along with sugar and water. Personally, I use the fact that a half inch or so of hooch has accumulated on the top of my starter as a sign that it needs to be stirred down again.

Fed Sourdough Starter

Most sourdough recipes will call for 1 cup or so of “fed” sourdough starter. Here’s how to turn your refrigerated starter into “fed” starter.

  1. Up to 12 hours before beginning a recipe, stir the starter and discard 1 cup. Or give 1 cup to a friend, or use 1 cup to make waffles. However you do it, you want to get rid of 1 cup of starter.
  2. Feed the remaining starter with 1/2 cup lukewarm water and 1 cup flour.
  3. Let it sit at room temperature, covered, for 4 to 12 hours, till bubbly. It’s now “fed” and ready to use in a recipe.
  4. Once you’ve removed however much starter your recipe calls for (usually 1 cup), feed the remainder with 1/2 cup lukewarm water and 1 cup flour. Let this remaining starter sit, covered, at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours, until bubbly.
  5. Stir down, return to its container, and refrigerate.

Notes

If your starter isn’t refrigerated, there’s no need to do this. Just use the starter as it is.

For more about “hooch,” see this article on Wikipedia.