It’s the flour.

I gather that when S&L first bought their property up here 15-odd years ago, their short-term intent was to throw together a combination bug-out location/construction camp. They brought up a house trailer* and built a quicky utility building, then over many years of weekends they built their wonderful big house and better outbuildings.

Since it was at least theoretically an emergency retreat from the beginning, they stashed quite a lot of food there including five pails of “high gluten white flour,” one pail of which L just opened to see if it was still any good. She found it free of bugs, but wanting to stick her toe in the water she did what people seem to do when they’re not sure about some ancient food stash – she gave me some of it.

It looked like flour, felt like flour, smelled…not exactly like the all-purpose flour I’m used to but not bad, you know. I proofed some yeast, started adding flour, and as soon as the dough ball started to form I knew where I’d smelled that smell before.

Two years ago L gave me two sacks of “bread flour” that I just couldn’t work with at all. The dough ball has a granular texture, it’s more like mixing corn meal mush than bread dough. The dough doesn’t change its character under kneading, not if you knead it all day. It soaks up a lot of water fast. And it only rises once.

I’ve done it so often by now it’s imprinted in my DNA: You knead the dough until it’s smooth and homogeneous, you coat it with oil and let it rise in a warm bowl, you cut it in half, punch it down and let it rise again in warm bread pans, you bake it. But with this stuff the first rise goes off in an encouraging manner and then that’s it. When you finally give up on the second rising and bake the loaves anyway, you get two unappetizing-looking bricks.

It’s exactly the same as I remember from two years ago. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but I don’t know how to work with this stuff.

At least I got a good food bucket out of the deal.

*true story: If you climb under their house you can still see the frame of that trailer. They built the house in sections, one section surrounding the trailer. That way, no matter the weather, they always had a decently livable place on the site. Once part of the new construction had been rendered residence-worthy, S tore down the structure of the trailer with a Sawzall and gradually hauled it to the dump. But the frame stayed right where it still is.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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9 Responses to It’s the flour.

  1. jabrwok says:

    I know bupkiss about baking, but maybe add sugar for the yeast?

  2. Joel says:

    Yeah, did that.

  3. jabrwok says:

    Well, I’m all out of ideas then:-P.

  4. R says:

    Try a slightly moister dough with around 2-4 tablespoons of wheat gluten replacing an equal amount of flour.

  5. coloradohermit says:

    Sounds like it wants to bake with just one rise. That’s what I’d try, for what it’s worth. Been years since I’ve baked any bread though.

  6. s says:

    If it is really “high gluten white flour” it’s bread flour. That type needs a lot less kneading than all purpose flour. If you knead it too much, the gluten gets too strong and resists rising as you describe. It also produces the tough chewy bricks.

    Try a batch with about 1/3 as much kneading as you normally do, and see if there is any difference. It may not feel right but should rise better.

    When I worked in the bakery we used the mixer’s dough hook to do a light first knead before the first rise in the mixing bowl. No oil. After dividing into loaves a very light second knead, just enough to get the right shape. As the new guy, I had to learn not to overwork the dough. There were a number of bricks produced during my training.

    Later when I would bake at home with all-purpose flour, at first I didn’t knead nearly enough, the gluten didn’t develop, and I never got a decent rise or good loaf. Bread is finicky, do one thing it doesn’t like and it lets you know.

  7. MJR says:

    What S said… As for me I got nothing. As a guy I’ve barely managed to learn how to heat and serve so good luck with this.

  8. Mark Matis says:

    Whattaya ya got against Jews, man? Why you be hatin’ on matzoh like that???

  9. Judy says:

    Matzoh ball soup! Yes! Love the stuff! Great use for Principal Seymour and all his old girlfriends.

    Go for a no-knead type bread. It is a real shaggy (wet) dough; it’s the only way I can make a decent loaf of bread. It’s not my mother’s beautiful loaf of bread but very eatable. By the way, I do my no-knead bread in a loaf pan lined with parchment paper above the walls of the loaf pan. That way the parchment supports the dough ball during the oven-spring until it is baked.

To the stake with the heretic!