Cake/brownie mixes and baking bread from scratch

Just put a pan of brownies into the oven for my Pumpkin. I used a *mix* and I feel kind of dirty about it…after all, it’s JUST brownies. I could probably have done this from scratch. But it’s so QUICK to just be able to open the box, crack the eggs and measure the water and oil…and they smell so goooood while they’re baking…

What say you, Gentle Reader? Are mixes a sop to convenience and thusly the Devil? Or are they valid shortcuts for busy people who don’t need to prove their culinary capability by cooking from scratch?

I thought that I should also be able to bake bread from scratch, too. Bread is SIMPLE. The staff of life, the basis for many different meals and foods. Flour, water, sugar, salt, yeast. Can’t get much simpler than that…but I’ve tried making bread at various times in my life, with varying degrees of failure.

Recently we’ve been trying to spend as little money as possible in preparation for a possible financial Armageddon. As a result I’ve been trying to make as much food as possible from scratch. Prepared foods are expensive and don’t always contain wholesome ingredients, especially commercially produced bread. And now that I have nothing but time, I feel that I should be doing something productive with it.

Cookies are simple for me. I can make a yummy, lovely cookie out of just about anything. Soups, stews, meals from scratch are pretty easy too. Yeast breads are a different story, however. I found a really good recipe for homemade frozen biscuit dough over at http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/paulasbiscuits.htm , and had reasonable success with edible biscuits using Susanne’s friend Paula’s recipe, but for the most part, the mysteries of yeast-risen white bread have eluded me since the beginning of my cooking career.

I have tried repeatedly, sometimes using the same recipe over and over again, sometimes using a new recipe. But I have been successful in making nothing more than an almost inedibly hard, poorly risen loaf. Each time. I call it “The Breadbrick” because it’s not so much a loaf as it is a brick of very dense bread. It’s probably more suited to being used as a building material.

I may decide to patent the process if I can figure out what I’m doing wrong so that others can follow my lead. Then millions of people can produce their own “Breadbrick(TM),” the portable snack that can also be used as a personal protection device. Keep the Breadbrick(TM) in your purse, and you can nibble on a corner before going in to do your grocery shopping, and if someone tries to take your purse on the way in to the store, you can clonk them on the head with the Breadbrick(TM) and knock them out.

And I KNOW that my bread is less-than-pleasing. My wonderful husband told me the other day “I love bread…and I love the bread that YOU make, too.” Which I interpreted as “I love the stuff that you make that’s SUPPOSED to be bread, because I love you and everything you do for me.”

*Sigh* I owe the man a loaf of pliable, slice-able, honest-to-goodness bread.

It’s just BREAD, for chrissake. I should be able to do this successfully. I’m full of hope at the beginning of every batch, and the house smells wonderful with the proofing dough poofing out its yeasty goodness into the air. And the smell of baking bread? The only smell better than bread baking is toast toasting.

But my failures are wearing me down. Each stiff, compact loaf I produce wounds my soul. I MUST bake a comely loaf of bread! I’m at the point where it’s not even a QUEST any more, it’s my OBSESSION to make an appealing loaf of plain ol’ white bread from scratch. I was pissing and moaning to Jes about it the other day (really, WHY does that woman still listen to me? All I ever do is complain to her!) and she found a great website that describes the breadmaking process in detail: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/lessons/yourfirstloaf .

After poring through the incredibly detailed descriptions and helpful video here, I think I’ve figured out what I’m doing wrong. I believe I’m putting too much flour in while kneading the dough, which would make the dough stiff and dry. I’ve been letting the dough rise (or proof) in my wall-mounted microwave, because I noticed that it’s quite warm inside when I turn on the worklight underneath. Maybe it’s TOO warm for the final proof, causing the bread to collapse in on itself when it goes into the oven, so I’ll try doing the final proof on top of my stove or inside the oven itself. I have made yeast-risen French bread successfully many times in the past, and the main difference between the two processes is that the French bread does its final proof on baking sheets on top of the stove, because the sheets are too big to go back into the microwave.

I’ll try it again and let you know. Hopefully this attempt won’t be another epic FAIL.

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