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Life on my own #38: Baking bread

Sometimes I imagine that bread grows on trees in bunches, like bananas. Complete with the plastic baggie it’s sold in.

My aunt gave me a bread machine the other day, but it didn’t come with instructions. Not really, anyway; the instruction booklet stopped right before the recipes began. What good is that?

So I spent Martin Luther King day with my aunt and uncle at my cousin’s new apartment. My cousin, a 25-year-old bachelor, is very good at baking bread. (Go figure.) He’s got about 7 years of experience using a bread machine, too, so he spent part of the afternoon showing me how it’s done.

Start with the wet ingredients, he said. I scribbled this important information into my notebook. Then add the dry ingredients, he said. Scribble. Set the bread machine to “dough” and go watch a movie, he said. Scribble, scribble.

While the dough baked, the family introduced me to a very silly movie called Private Eyes (if I remember correctly). It starred Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Yes, it was absurd, and yes, I enjoyed it.

That annoying beeping sound went off just as the movie was beginning to wrap up. Why do all kitchen appliances have that annoying beep? Can’t they come with nice ringtones, like iPhones? Or at least that catchy, foreboding cell phone chime from Jurassic Park? “Kirby, paint and tile plus, West Gate…” or so my siblings used to sing.

But this dingbat sound told my cousin that the bread was ready to shape, tuck and rise some more. So shape, tuck and rise he did. Or it did, I’m not sure which. Anyway, we were to wait half an hour while the unbaked loaf sat in the bread pan. (Scribble, scribble.) Then after a half-hour of baking, out came a funny-looking, delicious little loaf of bread. Success!

Armed with my notes and my mom’s yeast, I attempted to replicate his success. It didn’t go so well.

First, my yeast is old. Mom gave it to me before I moved here…. ten months ago? So I’ve had it at least a year. I asked Mom later how long she’d had it. First she told me, oh, probably a year. She then lengthened her guesstimate to a couple of years.

So this yeast is three years old.

Normally, living things that are three years old are in their prime of life (cats) or not even there yet (children). Yeast that is three years old is a grandpa. Or worse.

I had some hazy idea – borne from conversations with my aunt – that yeast does, in fact, die sometime. When, I had no idea. (And I didn’t know at the time that I was working with grandpa yeast.) So I Googled how to test yeast. It said, the yeast should make some foam.

Well, mine did. A little anyway. But I figured, that should be OK. If it were dead, it wouldn’t make any, right?

So I went on my merry way, tossing a few cups of flour into the bread machine bucket on top of the milk and shortening already in there. Into the bucket went the rest of the ingredients, and the machine did its thing once I told it to make “dough” and that the recipe was for a 1.5-pound loaf. (Thank you, Google, for telling me how to tell the size of a loaf. Except I still don’t know what exactly weights 1.5 pounds.)

Step one, check. Step two, check. Eventually it came down to watching the bread through the oven glass. I do know enough not to open the oven while it’s baking bread, thank goodness.

But it took too long…

I finally figured it was plenty long enough and pulled the bread out. First, the crust was darker than it looked through the oven glass. Lesson learned. But second, it was 1/8th of an inch thick and surrounded a seriously dense bread loaf.

It’s not supposed to be that dense. This is banana dense. And this wasn’t even the kind that grew in bunches on trees.

I called my cousin for a diagnosis. Your yeast is probably too old, he said. Well now you tell me.

The best part? I was taking it over to a friend’s house for supper!


Abby said…
Why don't you just make real bread in the oven?
Sarah said…
It is real bread and it is in the oven. The bread machine just takes care of the mixing and rising part of bread-making. (Yeast has to be in like 80- or 90-degree heat to work; not sure exactly what the temperature is. So the bread machine adds that heat as well as the mixing.)

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