(Beware: Long post with LOTS of parentheses. Starting with this one.)
I'm telling you, it was a thing of beauty.
Never in my life have I squealed so loudly as when I opened up the microwave and saw the dough pushing upward on the towel I had placed over it. It rose! It really rose!!
Let me explain...(cooking nerdiness...beware...)
The recipe: Banana Muesli Bread (though...actually...I didn't use muesli because I was too lazy to go buy some. So I used dry rolled oats, instead. Same difference.)
Today I had a weird desire to try yeast bread again, although THIS time ignoring the advice of Mr. Hollywood about yeast (the man who wrote the bread cookbook I use) and instead looking yeast-usage up on the Internet. And what I found was extraordinarily easy to understand!
Though I use Active-Dry yeast, which you can ALLEGEDLY toss in with the dry ingredients without proving (dissolving in water, for the uninitiated), I decided it would be better to try proving this time.
First of all, it is NOT necessary to put sugar in the water when proving yeast. Yes, it makes the yeast blossom. But the blossoms are not necessary for the dough to RISE, they are only necessary to prove that the yeast is still alive. Since I had no reason to suspect otherwise, I didn't bother putting any sugar in there. I did, however, use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water (about 100-110 degrees), and sure enough the stuff dissolved!
I mixed it in with the flour, salt, and butter (too much salt, though...next time I'll use less, as Mr. Hollywood and I have different opinions about such things, it seems). I also kneaded it for a LOT longer than I ever had, as I had been under the mistaken impression that kneading for too long makes dough stiff. Er, I guess if you knead for...you know...an HOUR or something, sure. But a good 5-6 minutes of steady kneading turned the dough into a smooth, elastic ball of goodness.
It was time to let the dough rise. The moment of truth, as it were. Because I live in a place where the kitchen is never warm or damp enough for such things, I had to try something other than just setting the dough on the counter. Following a trick I had learned reading another baking blog, I microwaved a cup of water and then stuck the covered dough--glass bowl and all--into the steamy microwave with the cup of water. Then I left it alone for 2 whole hours.
After a walk down to the beach in the sunshine, then a walk back up past the yarn store where the lady gave me a pair of knitting needles for free, I returned to the kitchen...opened the microwave...
...and there it was. Having doubled in size, for the first time ever! I squealed really loudly. I was really happy.
The rest was boring, but satisfying. The bread turned out quite tasty (though, like I said, a bit too salty thanks to Mr. Hollywood's odd ratios). I think with a lovely topping of Nutella it could really be a winner.
But best of all, it differs from ALL of my other baking endeavors in that it is soft, bubbly, not dense, and rose enough to make two nice-sized pull-apart loaves.
I am content. And full of bread.