In which I use too much water but still kick ass at bread-making.

Perhaps it’s not the best idea to bake bread on a super-cold morning in a chilly, drafty house, but I find it refreshing to bake bread while wearing three shirts and a hoodie with the hood up. It’s not restrictive at all—it's so carefree!

When contemplating today’s bake, the “humble” cottage loaf, I felt much like a man in an erectile dysfunction commercial in that my expectations regarding my performance were very low. I didn’t want to walk on the beach or go deep-sea fishing or take a bath next to my wife like those sad but extremely handsome men do in the commercials in order to increase my baking self-esteem, so I did the next most obvious thing—I warmed up the kitchen by turning on the oven unnecessarily. (Perhaps the men in those commercials should try it, but I’m not sure that a warmer kitchen would help their penises, although I'd rather have a sad penis in a warm kitchen than a sad penis a cold kitchen.) (I'm assuming, as I don't have a penis.) (I didn't expect to use the word "penis" so much in a bread blog entry.) Warmer kitchen = better bread dough rise, yes? But of course!

I was reeeeeeaaaally uncertain about getting the shape right, as doing so involves cutting the loaf with a sharp knife. I'm not typically allowed to wield knives. I'm "clumsy" and "don't know what I'm doing." But, whether one is afraid of baking a loaf of bread or overcoming erectile dysfunction, the best way to deal is to just jump right in and/or ingest weird pharmaceuticals. I chose to jump right in.

As with all bread dough mixing, apparently, it's necessary to keep the yeast and salt far away from each other because salt is a yeast-killer. So that I what I did because I'm excellent at following directions.

Then, I mixed the dough with the mixer until the water had pulled all of the flour from the sides and the bottom of the bowl.

I chose to do the mixing and kneading in the mixer today because it's not nearly as messy as doing it by hand and because I feel like the mixer does a better job at both tasks. Once the dough was mixed, I kneaded it in the mixer for 10 minutes.

I was concerned about the dough rising in the Arctic temperatures in the kitchen, so I let it rise for an hour and a half, although it might have been fine at an hour--it had certainly risen by the end of 60 minutes. I love a nicely-risen bread dough; 'tis glorious!

After rising came the part I'd been dreading. (If I were a man with a sad penis, this is the part where I'd be hoping that the meds had kicked in.) I had to divide the dough in two and then shape each section into a smooth ball and THEN place the smaller ball on top of the larger ball and THEN cut into both of the balls all around to make the pretty design. This is a lot to ask of Missy Carr.

Looks pretty good, right? But I could already tell that the dough was spreading too much, which meant (I think) that I'd used a tad too much water in the dough mixing stage. Regardless, I forged ahead for the proof, after which it had REALLY spread.

I was still fascinated by the shape, though, even with the spread. We all spread a bit as we age, dough balls . . . don't be self-conscious. Love yourselves.

There was nothing to it but to go ahead and bake it, especially since none of us in this house particularly care how fresh bread looks. We inhale it enthusiastically, regardless. However, I WAS curious as to its baked appearance, so I kept peeking through the oven window as it baked. I baked it for 33 minutes and then removed it so that we could all stand around and admire it in all of its freshly-baked glory. It was done! I had not completely failed!

I didn't wait quite long enough to cut into it; I never do, as we're always dying to taste it. Even knowing that I should have waited longer, though, it could have used 4-5 more minutes in the oven. It wasn't raw, by any means, but Paul Hollywood would consider it a smidge underdone. Before watching the Great British Bake Off, I would never have realized that it wasn't quite done enough, but now I know how bread should be and look when it's done correctly . . . and this knowledge haunts me.

You can see in the picture above that the bottom of the hunk I've cut off is a little shmooshed, and that's how you can tell that it's not quite done enough. However, the top has a pretty good crumb structure. I'm weirdly proud of this crumb structure.

I'm basically going to have to fight the urge to bake another cottage loaf immediately in order to correct my mistakes, but at least now I know, as I move on to tomorrow's bake, what to do to end up with a loaf that's pretty close to perfect--use less water and bake it for 38-40 minutes.

So, I feel pretty good right now, sort of like a man who's moderately happy that his penis isn't so sad, anymore, and isn't that what we're all striving for?