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August 17, 2007
The humidity didn't break enough even to think of baking bread until at least five in the afternoon yesterday, and it was not what a person would call a welcome thought, even then. But we were fresh out of bread for toasting in the morning, so it was time.

I got out the two old measuring cups I always use, and lifted the heavy stand mixer down from the pantry shelf. I checked the expiration date on two packets of yeast and sprinkled their contents over a cup of warm water in the little bowl I always use for softening yeast, setting it aside. I reconstituted some dry milk and boiled a little water, mixing them together with some honey and a bit of salt. I began to add flour to the liquid ingredients. I always enjoy that part: I allow the different kinds of flour to call to me, so that each batch of bread I make is as different from its predecessor as each day is different from each yesterday. Martha Stewart would have just died, but she wasn't there.

Whole wheat and rolled oats. No corn meal this time, and no wheat germ. Even a bit of white flour: I try not to be a prig about whole grains, and a little white lightens what can be a very hefty loaf of bread. Around and around went the heavy dough in the metal bowl, lifted and turned and folded in upon itself by the dough hooks. The kneading went on and on, longer than usual, and it became apparent that something was not right: the dough wasn't its usual wonderful elastic self. It wasn't stretching and springing back, as it always does.

Hmmmn....the humidity? Too much whole wheat flour and not enough oats? Did I miss a liquid? I stared at the sullen lump of brown dough, turned to look for more oats, and my eye fell on the softened yeast, still foamy and all but breathing in its special bowl. Oh, no! No wonder the dough was so stolid; it was unleavened. I had inadvertently made a batch of whole wheat matzoh.

Ah, well. Better late than never, I told myself, and dumped the lovely yeast onto the dough. It quickly formed a pool in the center, making the whole thing look a bit like a volcano. This was ominous, but I turned on the mixer anyway. After some initial splashing, the yeast was incorporated, so that now the dough resembled mud. I added more flour and oats to take up the moisture. Hoping for the best, I covered it with a clean towel and set it to rise.

All was well in the end. For all it had been through, the dough rose magnificently to the occasion, once in a greased bowl and then again in four loaf pans. So there will be bread for the breakfast toast, bread to take as a hostess gift, bread to freeze for later.

We'll make mistakes. The goal is to think through the new situation they present: is there another way that will factor in the new truth which my mistake has brought into being? Can I change gears? Do I have the guts to make a volcano out of a lump of dough and see it through, in the hope that there is still a loaf of bread in there somewhere?

I did yesterday. Today is a new day, pregnant with a new litter of mistakes. Let's see where some of them will lead.

The Bread of Error

2 packets of yeast in 1 cup of warm water. Keep your eye on it.

While it's softening, mix in large bowl (a stand mixer with a dough hook makes this easy, but I made bread for years and years without one):

2 cups milk (I reconsitute powdered milk)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup honey (or molasses or sugar. Or leave it out.)
2 tsp salt

Now ADD THE YEAST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mix. Add, a cup at a time:

12 cups flour

(Your choice: I mix things up a bit, starting out with 2 cups of white flour and going from there, using whole wheat, rolled oats, corn meal, wheat germ, flax seed, leftover granola, ground up nuts, whatever)

Continue to knead, adding flour if dough is sticky, until you can rest your hand on it for thirty seconds without sticking to it. Dough will be smooth and elastic. If it isn't, LOOK AROUND FORTHE YEAST!!!!!!

Turn dough into a large greased bowl and spray top of dough very lightly with oil. Cover wtih a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until double, about 90 minutes. Punch down (Literally: take your fist and plunge it into the center of the dough a few times. This will be one of the most satisfying experiences you have ever had.).

Shape into loaves, either round ones or baguettes or in loaf pans. Cover and let rise again until double -- faster this time, maybe 30 minutes. Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes -- a little less if your oven runs hot, like mine. Better check it at 20 minutes.

Makes four 1-lb loaves.
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