Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Bread Odyssey

Earlier this week, I became hooked on a BBC TV show called Great British Food Revival.  Every episode deals with a local food product or dish that is distinctive British but is in threat of disappearing from the British culture due to lack of awareness and use.  In one particular episode, they focused on artisanal breads and how easy they are to make at home with products you can buy at the store.  Feeling inspired by the show's message I decided to try my novice hand at making the basic White Bread Sandwich Loaf.

Having never made bread before, I had a few items that were missing from my pantry.  The most important ingredient on the list proved to be the most elusive.  Lyle's Golden Syrup is a distinctively British sweetener akin to Karo's Corn Syrup in the U.S. but with a much deeper flavor due to caramelization of the syrup prior to bottling.  As luck should have it, I was able to find a small stock on the bottom shelf at the only Whole Foods on the island.  Could I have used a substitute?  I probably could have but I wanted to maintain the integrity of the recipe as far as I could as this was my first time making bread ever.

(This was worth the search)

With ingredients at the ready, I prepared to make my bread...

Let me reiterate that I have never made bread before so when I encountered the point in the recipe to add my yeast I had no knowledge that the dry yeast I was using was different then the fresh yeast listed on the recipe.  After spending the appropriate time mixing, kneading, and baking, the bread never developed it's rise and what I ended up with was more like a garden stepping stone then an actual bread.  For those interested, I didn't take a pic of the disaster but here is a impression of what it looked like...

What the bread felt like to me

Not to be discouraged, I did my due research online and figured out how to activate my dry yeast (much easier than I thought).  The next evening, I dove back into my flour, yeast, and golden syrup and tried it again.  The second iteration, while "yeast-y", became a victim of my own hubris and impatience.  Because I thought that I had the riddle of my bread solved with the yeast, I overlooked the amount of liquid I was adding to my flour-yeast mix.  I ended up committing the ultimate novice mistake and blindly followed the recipe rather than my instincts about what the product should look like while putting it together.  Using all the liquids afforded to me by the recipe, I ended up with a very runny dough that had the appearance of a grey flour pudding.  While I did get rise from my yeast, and a nice flavor, the end product was a bit limp and retained a yellow hue due to all the butter in the recipe.

 (Looks ok, but. . .)

(. . . it didn't quite meet standards)

With greater knowledge in hand, and a semi-obsessive desire to get it right, I tried it one more time the following evening.  
With this third iteration, I followed the recipe, activated my yeast, and added my liquids slowly to the flour mix til I got what I thought was the right texture for raw dough.  Adding my secret ingredient, patience, I got the appropriate rise from my bread and retained the wonderful flavor that was in the second loaf.  

(Chewy Success)

So was the end result worth all this effort?  I certainly think so.  The flavor that is imparted by the golden syrup and the butter is unlike any bread I've had before and the chewiness of the bread crumb is due to my own kneading of the dough.  Knowing this, I can modify the chewiness in the future as I gain more insight into how to manipulate gluten to my benefit.
Overall, I feel much better about what I'm doing and plan to keep making breads for the household.  With only 6 ingredients in the recipe, it's not only healthier than store bought bread but it's cheaper as well. 

Thanks for reading!!


  1. That last loaf is a beauty. It looks like it was worth the effort. There are few things better than fresh bread.

  2. Thanks. The chewiness of homemade bread is so addicting