Saturday, January 30, 2010

Baking for Illiterates

Not much baby news to report this week (except that I got my new maternity pants today - hurrah!), so I'll tell you the story of our travails with our new bread machine instead. The story begins not long after we arrived in Korea, when we came to the sad realization that nearly every baked good we attempted to produce came out flat, heavy, and unappetizing. We blamed our crappy convection oven because it's difficult to control the temperature, and things tend to cook very unevenly in it. So our dear friends and cousins Chrissy and Ryan kindly offered to ease our suffering by buying us a bread machine for Christmas (thanks, guys!). I guess I mentioned a few weeks ago that after weeks of examining our options and exploring the bewildering Hangeul jungle of the Korean internet, we finally managed to order and receive a brand new Korean bread maker, plus a box of Korean bread machine mix. We ordered the same model as our friends downstairs, Daniel and Marina, and they helpfully showed us how to use the machine and wrote down their basic bread recipe for us. A frustrating bout of experimentation ensued:

First attempt: Following Daniel and Marina's instructions to the letter, I start the bread machine on its first loaf. The bread rises only to about half of the ideal height and is heavy and unappetizing. Keegan researches bread problems online and concludes "It's the yeast, stupid." We test our yeast in a container of warm water and see very little activity.

Second attempt: We replicate Daniel and Marina's recipe again, but this time with brand new yeast and whole wheat flour. The result is still about half-height and super dense.

Third attempt: Keegan and I both have a lightbulb come on over our heads at the same time. Maybe the yeast, which is in fairly large pellets that seem to remain intact throughout the baking process, needs to be softened and activated in water before baking. Keegan points out that the instructions on the back of the yeast package, though nearly incomprehensible to us, do contain a measurement in milliliters and a time in minutes. Perhaps the amount of water and amount of time required to activate the yeast? We try the bread machine mix with our activated yeast and achieve a light, airy, slightly sweet, delicious loaf! I recommend it with Nutella and a cup of tea. I also recommend learning more Korean.

Encouraged by our success with the bread machine, Keegan has begun baking some other breads using the no-knead bread cookbook that my parents got him for Christmas. So far the results have been amazing - thick, hearty, crispy, and perfect to eat with soups or pasta. The bread machine bread is much better for toast and sandwiches. Say good-bye to store-bought bread, Plaskon household!

Another funny situation involving illiteracy in Korean came from my attempts to understand the directions for the bread machine mix. I could understand most of the instructions on the back of the box, but strangely there didn't seem to be any amount listed for the water we needed to add. I took one packet of the mix to my Korean teacher to get her advice. She frowned and told me that she would come to the store with me after our lesson to look at the box the packets came in, which I hadn't brought. It turns out that there is a chart on the side of the box that lists the amounts of water needed for use with various bread machine models. The instructions on the back of the box and on the mix packet say "See side of box for necessary amount of water." I felt sheepish and sorry for illiterate people everywhere. Sigh.


Mom said...

You guys are great problem-solvers. Glad you got everything to work out and are enjoying your bread. Maybe you can tell me how to make bread in my new machine. My Breadman conked out, so I bought an Oster (the only one Bed Bath & Beyond had). I have yet to make a decent loaf in it, but I will keep trying. And my next breadmaker will NOT be an Oster.

KIM! said...

WOOHOO for tasty bread! I made some today too - use two packets of yeast and it will me more like english muffins with lots of holes :)

ps I was in on the bread machine too :)

Vanessa S. said...

I KNOW this is an old blog, but I was trying to find a Korean brand breadmaker and I am so curious as to what brand you bought. It's still working well?

Ellen said...

Hi Vanessa - Sorry it took me so long to respond. Our bread machine is a WorlTec. We ordered it from GMarket. We haven't used it in a while, to be honest, because we never really managed to get the bread to rise reliably. I think it's more a problem with the yeast we were using than with the machine. Our friends have one and still use it several times a week with good results.