First, I will give credit to a cousin who passed this along to me. I’ve had my adventures with this bread recipe since learning it, and sometimes it continues to be an adventure.
Modern Merchants seek to attack our bodies with things that can survive a troll’s breath, or transportation under a saddle. While the alchemy they employ to transmute the unpronounceable into the ingestible is impressive, I always lower my visor and raise my shield a bit before approaching the ingredients list. I’d rather face a troll. I know that even in the best breads all those unidentifiable ingredients are preservatives, binders, and other such things to help the bread survive packing, shipping, trolls, handling, handling by trolls, and shelving at the store. But rationalizing away something that gives me flashbacks to my Organic Chemistry by proxy experience isn’t something I want to eat.
So I turn to biology! A living brew of foaming, fermenting, and emotional bacterial gremlins! But emotional? Indeed! I have to pay attention to it or it will fail to serve. However, too much attention and I could smother it into being introverted and selfish with its cultured (har har) goodness. It’s alive!!!
The process is one of patience. But the reward is bread. That’s good reward in my book! It starts with creating or acquiring a starter. This isn’t a gnomish gizmo that goes into one of these horseless carriages, but a living little pot of yeast ready to munch on sugars and starches to help a loaf of bread grow up big and strong. If a starter is not available for acquisition, here is a basic formula for getting started.
Bread Gremlin Food:
- A large glass jar (1 gallon / 2 liter) with holes punched in the lid.
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1C warm water
- 3/4C sugar
- 3T instant potatoes (the unflavored variety)
Put the ingredients in the jar and mix well. Let that stand at room temperature all day/night (12 hours). Place in ice-box. Feed after 5 days (see below), and then feed again between 3 and 14 days. Don’t feed too soon or too late or it will die. No cleric will be able to resurrect it.
Feeding the starter is a matter of biweekly attention. It can take as much attention as once every 3 days, but at that point joining the Bakers’ Guild is recommended.
Making bread from this is best done after 12 hours of letting the gremlins digest. I have also found that I can pour off the required amount and leave that on the counter for a few hours to come up to room temperature if I need to return this to the ice-box before using it.
The bread is made in stages that happen about 12 hours apart. The most common pattern I follow is this: (1) in the morning feed the gremlins, (2) in the evening make the dough, (3) in the morning pan the loaves, (4) in the evening bake. If I do it right, that is one weekend. It is a bit of a commitment to know I’m going to be around, but that works for me. The time between feeding the gremlin and making the dough could be shortened by a few hours by using starter from the fridge and letting it warm.
Feeding the Gremlin
Feeding consists of 1C warm water, 3/4 C sugar, and 3 T instant potatoes. Add the potatoes last and stir well to prevent clumping. Let this sit at room temperature for 12 hours. It can then be used or returned to the ice-box.
I will admit to using a gnomish mixer here (a stand mixer). It saves on a shoulder that failed its saving through vs. snow shoveling. Sometimes gnomish devices are handy. The standard recipe is as follows:
- 6C white flour (pref. unbleached)
- 1t salt
- 1-1/4C starter
- 1-1/4C warm water
- 1/2C vegetable oil
The dough should be a smooth consistency that doesn’t stick to your fingers like The Blob. Finding this consistency can be a matter of trial and error. If it dough is too sticky, add flour one tablespoon at a time until it is not longer desperately clinging to your fingers. If the dough is too dry, use the same approach but with water.
Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with a towel, and keep in a warm place for 12 hours. This is a challenge in the winter and I resort to putting it on my computer or in my entertainment center where there is always some form of heat. This is important, as is gentle heat. No heat, no rise. Too much heat, and the dough turns into a dried out lump.
Panning for Loaves
This can be a nice sparring match. The goal is to knead the dough about 10 times, divide it in half, shape it, and put it into greased loaf pans. However, the dough does not like to be divided (vorpal chef’s knife highly recommended here). My approach is to make sure the dough is warm, which means in the winter I’ll put it on top of the oven and let the oven warm to 350F. The radiant heat will soften the dough a bit. I then hand-roll it into about a 16” long log so I can somewhat evenly divide it. Then I use a rolling-pin to mostly flatten each piece (one at a time), roll it into loaf shape, tuck in the ends, and roll it again to get it to all stick together. It’s a bit of a process, but it makes a good, consistent loaf with no air bubbles or strange fissures into other planes of breadness.
After panning the bread, let it rise for 12 hours… or until loaf shaped. Waiting 12 hours to bake the loaves could yield mutant loaves resembling deformed muffins. The best rule-of-thumb here is to let the bread rise until it is almost the desired size. Then bake it. It will rise a little more when baked, but not much. Again, not much.
I have found that baking the bread for 40 minute at 350F is the best. Half way through, I rotate the pans to get an even baking. I also place the rack one position below the middle position to ensure thorough cooking.
And there you have the basic white bread. I typically double-bag the spare loaf and freeze it. When I’m on a roll both loaves will go in the freezer. They thaw well and taste just as good. Of course, giving the gift of bread is enjoyed by the members of my extended party.
My most frequently made option of this bread is a whole wheat, multi-grain loaf. I replace 2c of flour with wheat flour, add 1c of porridge (i.e., 7-grain cereal), and 1/2c of molasses or honey. This makes a delicious multi-grain loaf.
Other options include the following:
- Oatmeal Bread: When adding the flour add 1 cup instant oats and ½ cup molasses or honey.
- Wheat Bread: When adding the flour, substitute 2 of the 6 cups with wheat flour and add ½ cup of honey.
- Cheese Bread: When adding the flour, add 10 oz. grated cheese.
- Cinnamon Swirl: After the first rising, knead and divide into 2 sections. Roll out each section to a 10 x 13” rectangle. Lightly sprinkle a mixture of 4Tbsp. brown sugar and 4 Tsp. of cinnamon all over the rectangle, leaving about ½ inch around the edges. Roll into a loaf shape, put into the loaf pans for the second rising, then bake after approx. 12 hours.
- Pizza: After the second rising, instead of shaping into loaves, pound dough and divide into 2 sections. Roll it out and place on pizza stones/cookie sheets. Add pizza sauce, shredded cheese and any toppings. No need for second rising. Just bake right away at 425 for about 20-25 minutes.
- Empanada: After second rising, divide dough into 2 sections. Roll each out to fit a 9 x 13 brownie pan. Add one to the pan. You can then add whatever fillings you want. (We’ve done pork/salami with peppers/onions/tomatoes and spinach and cheese so far. Have fun experimenting!) Cover with the second layer. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Remove to brush 1 beaten egg on top to give it a crisp, golden texture, and put back in for 10 – 15 minutes. Jack’s Spanish teacher, who lived in Spain for years, said this is one of the best empanadas she ever had, and is hiring Jack to bake them for her family. J
 I never took Chemistry in college. Yet I knew enough people in the major that when they were subjected to took organic chemistry, I felt like I was right there with them. I didn’t learn anything outside of Carbon being second to The Answer To Life, The Universe, And Everything, and perhaps I’m thankful to avoid that educational contusion.
 Ingredient temperature is very important. Reactions, incarnations, conjurations, and epic results work better when the ingredients are at the proper temperature. Assume room temperature for most dry goods. It is even best to let things from the fridge get closer to room temperature before using them unless there are clear instructions (or Wizards with missing arms…) stating that the ingredient should be “cold”. Also, “warm” means warm, not boiling.