It's almost like making beer

Posted on January 31, 2007 by Chris Lumens in cooking.

I’ve been going pretty crazy on cooking this past month. For Christmas I got a couple cookbooks and I have been picking things out at random to make. In addition to dinners and sides, I have been trying to get into some baking as well. It’s seemed like this mysterious other half of cooking knowledge, completely different from the typical things I do like making a roast or sauteeing something in garlic. The first thing I baked was banana bread. It was so simple and so good that I felt like an idiot for throwing away perfectly black bananas for all those years. I’ve resolved to never do that again. I also made some chocolate oat bars that would have been almost perfect if I’d had the right dish.

Last night, however, I decided to get more complicated and make raisin bread. I’ve always loved raisin bread so it was a natural choice for my first bread baking experience. The recipe was really fairly straightforward, but time consuming. Reconstituting the yeast and adding in all the flour smelled very much like brewing a batch of beer. And when you get down to it, I suppose they are very similar processes - in both instances, you’re taking a bunch of grain and adding yeast to it for fermentation. The bread’s just a little more solid than the beer. Since I’m pretty good at the brewing thing (though I haven’t done it for about two months) I figured I would be pretty good at this.

I don’t have a big mixer or bread machine, so I had to knead the dough by hand. That wasn’t really hard at all except that it was tough to figure out when it was done. I kept working and working on it for about 15 minutes which was probably long enough. I guess more experience will help there. After I finished that, I set it aside to rise while I went running. I had a really crappy run, then came back to see that the dough had indeed risen (which I was only a little bit nervous about) and worked on finishing it up. However, I made two mistakes at this time. First, I turned on the wrong burner and ended up burning butter to the bottom of my glass pot and filling the apartment with smoke. Second, I forgot to read the last part of the recipe where it said to let it rise for another hour. Whoops.

Well, I recovered from those minor mistakes and finally got the loaf in the oven. The place slowly filled with the smells of baking bread and cinnamon which was a good contrast to the smoke from earlier. Forty-five minutes later it was done. I took the bread out and promptly went to bed.

This morning, I gave it a try. The crust is nicely crunchy and cinnamony. The bread is decently balanced between dense and light. It tastes just like I was hoping my own raisin bread would. So I am quite pleased with how it worked out. For the next time, I think I need to embed the raisins in the dough instead of just sprinkling them as they like to fall out when I slice it. I’d also work on my kneading technique and perhaps my mixing technique as I’ve noticed a couple flour pockets. However, I think the next time will be a couple weeks from now because of the time required to bake a single loaf. It was still a pretty fun experience, though.