Thanks to the miracle of cell phone texting, Kendel and I have been keeping in touch on her activities on her first day in France. So far, she hasn't seen any riots or civil commotion, but it's early in the trip.
She'll be in class tomorrow, learning French cooking (or doing some work for the CIA). Since she is learning some new cooking skills, last night I decided I, too, should do the same. And so today I baked bread in my solar oven.
I found a recipe on line, especially formulated for baking in a solar oven. Here's what I did:
Foolproof Whole Wheat Bread
2 tablespoons dry yeast
5 cups hot water
2/3 cup oil
12 cups whole wheat flour (or 7 cups whole wheat flour & 5 cups white flour)
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons salt
2/3 cup honey or sugar
Sprinkle yeast into 1/2 cup warm water. Let stand 10-15 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon sugar. Combine the remaining 4 1/2 cups hot water with 7 cups whole wheat flour in a large bowl. Add salt, oil and honey or sugar. Continue mixing until well blended. Add 1 cup flour to mixture. Add prepared yeast to mixture and blend thoroughly. Add 3 to 4 more cups of flour.
Knead for 10 minutes or until there is a consistency like cookie dough. A stickier dough will result in moister bread.
Oil hands and divide dough into 4 parts. Mold into loaves on oiled counter. Place in oiled pans. Oil top of loaves if soft crust is desired.
Cover loaves with damp cloth and let rise 1/3 in bulk.
Place loaf pans in dark pans with lids, or insert an empty loaf pan on top of each loaf of dough. Cover. Place in solar oven by 11 a.m. Cook 2 1/2 hours.
I chose this recipe namely because of the title - "Foolproof" bread. Given my skill level at baking bread (an EZ-bake oven would be challenging to me), I wanted something simple. And to make it even easier, I cut the recipe in half so I wouldn't have to grind 12 cups of flour.
I ground the flour myself last night, using hard white wheat and a grinder I purchased from Emergency Essentials. This is what it looked like in the kitchen last night:
This morning, I skipped church (but listened to a great podcast from Dr. Charles Stanley, pastor at First Baptist in Atlanta, while on a morning walk) and made the bread.
Making the bread was very easy - easier than I thought it would be, in fact. However the end product, below, was a bit short of my expectations:
I knew there was a problem when it didn't rise after 30 minutes from forming the loaves. I put it in the oven anyway, leaving in there for 90 minutes. The temperature fluctuated between 250 and 300 degrees, due to the cumulus cloud deck hanging over Austin today.
Taste wise, it's pretty good. It's very moist, which I like, but it's also very dense. I gather that's a function of the fact the bread didn't rise. The yeast was still well before its "best by" date, so I am not sure what I did wrong (or if there were other factors beyond my control.)
I give my efforts a grade of C+. The bread is edible and tastes good. In a power outage, I'd be thrilled to have this as part of a meal. It could be better, however, and I will work on trying to figure out how to improve it.
One final thing I want to point out to you - other than using the microwave to heat up the water (which I could have easily done in the solar oven, as it does that very well), I used no electricity in any part of the process. I used a hand grinder to make the flour, I kneaded the dough by hand, and baked it using the sun. If we were to unplug the house from the grid tomorrow, I could make this again with about an hour's worth of my time. And I suspect I could get much faster and more efficient at baking bread in the solar oven with a little practice.
I learned to make bread in a solar oven today. It may not be the most exciting thing I could have done on a Sunday, but it did greatly increase my confidence in the ability of the solar oven to prepare food when it really counts.