Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Yeast and I

Yesterday I woke up in the mood for some good, homemade spaghetti sauce. It's always nice when I have a plan for dinner sometime before my husband gets home, so I went with it. But - and there's always a but - I had no bread to go with it. Bummer!

You must understand, I am NOT a baker. I'm starting to make my peace with yeast (as you may have read in my Sourdough Starter posts), but I have never been able to get any of my breads to actually rise. The flavor is good, but the texture is something akin to dry cottage cheese. Add to that the additional challenge of being at high altitude (7,200 feet), and you can see why this is something that I don't try on a regular basis. Still, I decided to give it a try.

A quick search of the internet yielded several high-altitude recipes for French bread. I picked two that were very similar, required no kneading nor a bread machine, and took very little time. I started with "Recipe #2" because it called for 2 periods of rising. Then while it was doing its thing, I worked on "Recipe #1".

The results were surprising. Despite using nearly identical amounts of water, yeast and sugar, Recipe #2 rose, but Recipe #1 did not. Still, I baked the "loaves" (and I use the term VERY loosely, since I didn't have a french bread pan and they were really just pools of batter) and checked the results. Yep, #2 was somewhat fluffy inside and #1 was most definitely not. Odd.

I decided to repeat the recipes, but do them at the same time so that the water and yeast temperatures would be exactly the same. (I also decided to use standard loaf pans, since the flat, "panini" style bread really wasn't what I was after.)
The results...
#1 (left) barely rose, while #2 (right) mushroomed above the pan.

I am truly shocked that such minute differences would lead to such different rises! But, I guess yeast works in mysterious ways. As for flavor, #1 was slightly better - it had more salt and a bit of shortening. But #2 had a much better crust. I am going to combine the recipes for all future efforts and now have the perfect, high-altitude French bread recipe - yay!

And just in case you're wondering what I did with the "mistake" bread... not to worry. We don't waste a lot around here. I turned them into a huge platter of finger sandwiches...
and sent them to work with my husband. Now everyone gets to enjoy my efforts :)

Happy Kitchen Time, everyone!

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