Baking bread, part two.

I debated whether or not to continue writing about baking bread – and decided that I would tell the story about my most recent bread disaster, and, about why it happened.

Picture the kitchen – it’s a galley kitchen, a bit wider than some, and big enough for my husband, BD, and me together if we choreograph it correctly.  It’s the end of the day, and I’m a bit tired; we’re doing some house renovations, I’ve been food shopping and I’ve been biking, and spent a chunk  of the day gardening.

We’re having pizza for dinner (cheeseless, due to BD’s allergies), and I’ve made a double bread recipe and will use part of the dough as the pizza crust, and part for bread.  BD is making oatmeal cookies at one end of a counter – well, he’s using two-thirds of the counter, really – and I’m grilling veggies and chicken for the pizza.  I separate off a third of the dough, add herbs and grilled onions to it, and roll it out.  While it’s rising slightly, I divide the rest of the dough between the two bread pans, and put them on top of the stove, to benefit from the warmth as BD’s cookies bake.

We’re doing all this at the same time so that the oven is on for the shortest period of time possible.  Here in Ontario, where we have time-of-use pricing for electricity, the hours between 5 and 7 pm are mid-peak in the summer – the second most expensive per-unit charge.  We’re sensitive to our electricity use, both for budgeting reasons and for environmental concerns.

BD’s cookies are done, and while the oven changes temperature from the 375 degrees the cookies bake at to the 425 the pizza needs, I throw together a salad while BD cleans up the kitchen.  The pizza only takes 15 minutes.  As I take it out of the oven, I look at the bread – it still needs at least half-an-hour to rise.

“Should I turn the oven down to 350 and leave it, ” I ask BD, “or turn it off completely and then reheat it to 425 in half-an-hour?  Which will use more electricity?”  He considers.

“Turn it off,”  he says.  So I do, and put a timer on to remind me to look at the bread in thirty minutes.

We eat dinner, clean up; the bread still needs a bit more time.  It’s 7:30 p.m., time for Jeopardy!, which we watch every night.  Ten minutes into the show, the buzzer goes off to tell me the bread is ready to go in the oven. With at least half my mind on the show, I go to the kitchen, open the oven – yes, it’s warm – and put the bread in, set the timer for fifty minutes, and go back to Jeopardy!.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?  Fifty minutes later, the timer goes off, and I open the oven to find the bread dough has continued to rise, overflowed the pans, and dripped down the sides and through the racks and onto the bottom of the oven.  Because, of course, I didn’t turn the oven back on.

I could make lots of excuses  – I was tired, I was distracted by the quiz show – but the real reason is that I was not being mindful.  The bread did not have my attention.  The human brain really isn’t meant to multitask – for a good discussion of this, see Leo Widrich’s blog here.

I’m not one to beat myself up about this.  I said a few choice words, wiped up the worst of the dough, and baked the bread anyway.  Then I couldn’t get it out of the pans in one piece, so it ended up on the bird feeder, in chunks.  The squirrels were happy.  I made bread again the next day, with my mind on the work.  And when we found ourselves in the same situation a week or so later, we didn’t turn the oven off between cooking dinner and baking the bread.

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