Science in the Kitchen

Science is not usually my thing and understanding chemical reactions is generally beyond my comprehension, but this week it seems science forced it way in and got me thinking and experimenting.

The first sign was the collection of plastic containers Mr Good deposited on the bench early one morning on his way out to work.  These had once contained the leftovers he took for lunch but were now a series of mould habitats all at varying stages of development.  Thanks for that Mr Good!  Anyone for penicillin?

But the main source of science experimentation was of the yeasty type.  I’m back to bread making and this time I’m trying out two different methods in the hope of getting inspired and to find a more convenient way of making bread on a regular basis.

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Experiment number 1 is sourdough, something I’ve been meaning to try for absolutely ages.  I had planned on doing a class to get my head around the process, but as it’s been over 6 months and I still haven’t even signed up for one I decided to launch myself into the process and see how I go on my own.  This initial motivation was blog inspired, someone (who was it, I’ve forgotten now) had been using the River Cottage sourdough method which looked clear enough for me to follow.  I started the starter a few days ago adding the flour and warm water together and then leaving to ferment.  I had trouble finding a warm, draught-free spot for it and it took a few days to show any signs of fermentation.  To be honest I’m not sure it got going really at all but I was sick of waiting so went onto step two, feeding the dough.  Now it’s a daily process of feeding and discarding for a week or so before I get to find out if my starter started!  Who knows?

Sourdough Starter - fermenting in the bowl hopefully.

Sourdough Starter – fermenting in the bowl hopefully.

Experiment number 2 was all about bread making convenience.  I bought a secondhand bread machine from ebay without a manual, but that’s what the internet is for yes?  It took me just a minute or two find the manual online.  I had a read through, looked at the recipe and promptly decided to make some changes.  The recipes in the book called for quite a bit of sugar and milk powder.  The recipe I’ve always used didn’t require either of these, so I left them out.  I also left out the bread improver I usually use (I don’t really like what’s in bread improver so I’m hoping the bread maker does the ‘improving’ for me).  I kept an eye on the dough as it was being kneading, checking its consistency and it seemed similar to my usual dough so I hoped that I had the right balance of dry and wet ingredients despite my alterations.

The end result was a small and slightly denser than desired loaf with a nice, but a bit pale, crust.  I think I’ll definitely go for the large loaf over the regular next time and I’ll try the dark crust setting too.  As for the denseness, I’m not sure how to counter that.  Did I not add enough yeast?  Should I go back to using the bread improver?  Did the yeast not activate as well because I left out the sugar?  Was it something to do with not adding milk powder – not that I’ve ever used this in bread before?  Or some complicated combination of all of these things that will mean I will need to keep experimenting and perhaps even writing down what I change so I can remember how different each loaf is.  Any advice on this predicament would be appreciated by this very amateur baker.

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The good news is that my $10 investment did produce a loaf of more than just edible quality and was super easy to do, just dump the ingredients in and press start.  That’s what I need at the moment.

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2 Responses to Science in the Kitchen

  1. I’d try looking up some alternate bread machine recipes on the internet. My mom has a book with tons of them – and I don’t remember milk powder being in any of them. Her bread always turned out quite nice.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Will do Heidi, I did borrow a friends bread maker manual and all her recipes also had milk powder in them. Think I’m going to try following the recipe exactly and see what that result is and then tinker a little until I find a combination that works for us.

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