Whew. This was way harder than throwing stuff in the bread machine. So we ended last time with the soakers soaking and the sponges hanging out in the fridge.
I took step by step pictures so that I could write less provide a better visual guideline. Well, almost step by step. I couldn't some of the time because my hands were all gooey or had oven mitts or flour on them. You understand...
So, first I took out the sponges and let them get to room temperature. I matched up my gooier (is that a word?) first sponge with the thicker looking buttermilk soaker. It took longer than an hour, and I got sidetracked doing other things. By the time I got around to making bread... they were good and ready.
Then, I got everything else I needed out. Mainly yeast, butter, flour, honey, and some warm water. I also grabbed the olive oil for coating the bowl that it would rise in, the magazine, and a three-year-old.
And I grabbed my Mirro dough hook bowl that we scored from Goodwill for a mere $3.00.
The directions said to cut the sponge into about 12 pieces and roll each piece in the sponge. So, here's the start of the cutting.
And the end. It didn't work that great, and I ended up pulling off chunks anyway. Lesson learned.
So, there are 12 chunks rolled in soaker. It actually worked better than I imagined. It's more of a squishing and patting it on than a rolling or coating... but I didn't stress out about it.
Then you sprinkle on the yeast, butter and honey (and salt if you want to... I forgot to mention that above) and start mixing. For people with fancy mixers, you can use the paddle attachment to stick it all together and then switch to the dough hook. I used elbow grease and a spoon.
Then I put my two speeds of mixer to work...
Two minutes on three year old speed and another two minutes on seven year old speed.
I did a final mix and let it rest for ten minutes.
Now remember, I did this twice. The second time, I got all confused and tried to put my mixer attachment on upside down. But I added a few sprinkles of flour too, and that seemed to help a little... after I put the dough hook handle together the right way, of course.
After it has rested, you pull the dough out (and it stuck to the bowl pretty good), flop it on a floured surface and knead it with flour (and water if it is too thick) until you have a great consistency of sticky, stretchy dough.
Once it looks good, roll it in a ball, coat with oil from the sides of the bowl and let rise under a towel for 45 minutes. I always thought it was supposed to double when rising, but it is only supposed to get 1 1/2 the size.
Then, take it out, knead a bit and shape into a loaf.
There's the first batch, rising (for another 45 minutes) in the bread pan.
This is the second batch.... this one had the chia seeds. Yum!
While the loaf is rising, you preheat the oven to 450 degrees. HOT! With a baking stone on the bottom rack and a cast iron skillet on the top rack. This creates more even heating, etc. Mother Earth explains it better. All I knew was it was HOT, and I was scared about the next step. We also had to turn on the vent and open the windows because both the stone and the pot started smoking in there and it stunk the house up. I don't think that can be avoided... not at that high of heat.
Then, this is (in my opinion) the most dangerous part. You set the... oh wait, I forgot.
Get a little over a half cup of water. You have to brush or spray the top of the loaf with water.
Gently. This is me pretending to brush water on the loaf so I can have a picture of that step.
Okay, back to the most dangerous step. Sorry.
You set the loaf of bread on top of the baking stone. THEN... dunnnn dunnnnn dun duhhhhhhh...
You have to pour the rest of that water from the cup above into the cast iron skillet! Yikes! It hisses and jumps around everywhere! I'm glad the article warned me about that. I wore an oven mitt and hissed my kids out of the kitchen during that step. But, I survived. And so did the cast iron. Whew!
After your adrenaline stops pumping, lower the oven temp to 375 and set the timer for 20 minutes.
This is a picture of a perfectly rising loaf. I was just getting ready to go for a quick run (see I can bake bread and run in the same day!)
After the first 20 minutes, rotate the loaf and bake for another 20 minutes. The inside temp of the bread has to get to 195 degrees or higher. The loaf will also sound hollow on the bottom when you tap it... but I used a thermometer because I couldn't actually tap the loaf until I had dumped it out to cool on the rack anyway. I trusted my husband to turn the first loaf while I was outside running.
I think he did an okay job.
There is loaf #1, cooling away.
And two. I forgot another important part. After you brush the water and before you put the loaf in the oven, you cut the top. This allows the air to escape and keeps your loaf looking pretty. I tried two different slash patterns. I think I like the second one better. It looks more "official".
Here they are again. With my reindeer Christmas cookie jar that I just realized I forgot to pack away. He will probably stay out all year now.
Ooh la la. It cut up so pretty! My house also smelled amazing. I don't think they should make a fresh baked bread Scentsy, because that would be weird... but you can't beat that smell!
And now, for the final part. Taste testing. Mother Earth didn't recommend this, but I recommend you have at least two taste testers. I found a seven year old and a nine year old. They requested strawberry freezer jam as a topping.
They also requested a second slice each. They didn't look enthused enough the first time around, so I tried to get them to smile bigger... ummmm, not sure what they did instead!
The bread passed the test, even my wishes-he-could-eat-soft-white-bread-everyday kid approved. So, now I am just trying to figure out how to find time to make fancy, shmancy, scientific bread all the time. It probably won't happen as often as I hope it will, but it sure was worth doing the experiment!!
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