Note: we are currently cooking through the Woman Suffrage Cook Book. You can find a PDF version here. You can read my introduction on it here.
To begin with, I really need you guys to know that I am writing the word “homemade” as it is written in the recipe. I spend a lot of my time proofreading my writing, and this has been getting under my skin.
Before I decided on experimenting with yeast, I found a recipe for oatmeal bread I wanted to try. I realized I was quickly nearing the end of the breads section, and if I wanted to try out the yeast with one of these recipes, it was now or never. I decided to combine the recipes and bake two versions: one using the potato yeast and the other using active dry. Looking back, it may have been better to use a recipe I already understand, but I am not a scientist, and I have no clue of what I’m actually doing.
I used the yeast the day after it was supposed to be ready, and while it separated quite a bit, it smelled like bread! This gave me hope that a) this might actually work and b) I wouldn’t poison myself. Like Lucy Stone suggested, I stirred it well so it was all incorporated before scooping it out.
Now on to the bread! The recipe reads:
Oatmeal or Rice Bread
Two cups cooked oat meal, or rice, salt to taste, two tablespoons of sugar, one cup of sweet milk, one-third cup yeast, flour to make it stiff.
S. Louise Simonds.
I decided this would be a good recipe for the yeast because the measurement didn’t seem standard. It was a little more believable to imagine people using homemade yeast for it.
I made six servings of old-fashioned oatmeal on the stove following the instructions (I would include pictures, but it quickly went from a rolling boil to a volcanic eruption, and I had to shut that down pretty quickly). I let it cool for a few minutes and put it in a bowl and stirred in the milk.
With the yeast, I added a little more than a third of a cup
because I had no faith.
I then put the bowl on the scale and started adding the flour. Six hundred grams seemed to be the right amount. At that point, it was “firm,” or workable. Once it was well-combined and smooth(ish), I set it aside.
And then, I started to repeat the process only with active dry yeast. I warmed the milk and added the yeast until it started to bubble. This took around ten minutes.
I combined the rest of the ingredients, used the same amount of flour again, and kneaded. I cleaned two bowls, buttered them, added dough, and used a dry-erase marker to note where each dough started.
I set a timer for twenty minutes so I could check on their rise. As expected, the active dry had a good start.
I used the finger-dent test from Ken Forkish’s book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, to check when it was ready. As he writes, “To do the test, poke the rising loaf with a floured finger, making an indentation about 1/2 inch deep. If it springs back immediately, the loaf needs more proofing time. If it springs back slowly and incompletely, the loaf is fully proofed and ready to bake. If the indentation doesn’t spring back at all, the loaf is overproofed.” At around two hours, the active dry was ready to go. It had doubled, and the loaf sprang back slowly. The homemade version? Ehh…not so much.
I took it out of the bowl and placed it on our floured table (side note: Bryce built me this beautiful table, and I think I’ve filled every crook and cranny with flour. He’s the best, and I’m a slob).
I formed it into a loaf, placed it in a buttered loaf pan (I used a glass 1.5 Pyrex) and placed it under a towel to rise again. Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 375°.
It was ready to go thirty minutes later.
I set a timer for twenty-five minutes, and about halfway through, I had that “oh, shoot!” moment of realizing I hadn’t added butter to the top, so I threw it on real quick. The bread took maybe forty minutes, and I baked it until it was a nice golden brown on top and sounded hollow when I knocked on the top.
We sliced it up. It was admittedly a little under-baked, but it still tasted great with some butter on top. It was a hearty bread that, with some tweaks, would be good with breakfast.
So, that was the control loaf. At this point, the homemade hadn’t seemed to improve at all. It seemed like a bust, honestly, but I had resolved to give it twenty-four hours before giving up. We went on with the rest of our night. After putting the kids to bed, we hung out a bit, watched some Netflix, and made some cocktails (Friday nights when you have two young kids are lit). At some point, I went in to look at the bread, and IT SPRANG BACK SLOWLY AND BEAUTIFULLY!!! This was eight hours after the original start. While it hadn’t risen much, it did bulk out and fill the bowl.
I repeated the earlier process. Again, it felt fully proofed within a half hour.
This took a long, long time to bake. I started the timer for twenty-five minutes and had to keep putting it back in. It took around fifty minutes total. But hey, look at that lift!
Okay, so on to the taste test. We sliced this loaf open only to realize it was so doughy on the inside. This is totally user-error. But it did throw off the taste a bit. The potato starter didn’t seem to negatively affect the flavor, however.
I don’t think this was the right recipe to test this with, and I should have realized this from the beginning. I do think it was successful based off rise alone. But I’m too much of a novice breadmaker to really have a handle on going rogue with a starter. As I stated earlier, I plan on doing a final post to address what went well and what could be improved. I have a recipe I’ve done maybe a dozen times for a sourdough bread that I will substitute this yeast with before I go live with that post. That will give me a better handle on all the rise and bake times, and I think that will let me gauge the taste a little better. I kind of hate leaving it on this note because the failures with this experiment were all mine, but I guess that’s the point of this blog.
So, I’m going to say this was a success, but I’ll give the final verdict by the end of this week.
Ken Forkish. Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. (New York: Ten Speed Press. 2012). 74.