Anyway, to get to the point of my post, I've learned (after much experimenting and failing) what the dough needs to look like in order to get the loaf to rise properly. Moisture in the air, temperature, and humidity all play a role in how bread rises, but I've gotten to the point where I can whip out a pretty decent loaf regardless of those variables.
At least, I can whip out a pretty decent loaf when I use bread flour. Here's where I run into my newest challenge. I've been reading some on the history of flour, and I've learned that any flour bought in the grocery store isn't that great for you. Freshly ground flour is amazing for you, but it will go rancid pretty quickly (why our store flour has to have the germ and bran removed from it) and if you wait longer than 24 hours to use it you lose well over half of the nutrients in it.
Baking with freshly ground flour is pretty tricky, too. It is heavier than white flour (since it's straight up wheat) and so it won't rise as well. Also, the dough ends up stickier than dough made with bread flour. I had trained myself to look for the stickiness of the dough when checking to see if it's the right consistency, so I'm having to relearn what that looks like.
I've still got a lot to learn, as my loaves are still pretty short when all is said and done. They taste good, though, and are really healthy, so at least something good is coming from them! Once the dough is mixed and has risen some, I shape it and let it rise longer.
It bakes for about 30 minutes, and I cover it with foil about halfway through so the crust doesn't get too dark. After it comes out of the oven, I rub the top with butter to keep it soft and shiny, and then slice and we eat it!
My roommates have voted they like buttermilk bread the best, so that's all I've made in awhile. I need to try making plain bread with the freshly ground flour to see if that makes any difference. Once I got really ambitious and used real buttermilk left over after I made butter, but most of the time I just add cultured buttermilk to the water the recipe already calls for, add oil, honey, baking soda, salt, flax, flour, yeast, and wheat gluten, and mix it up.
One thing I have found that has shocked me is that since I've been using freshly ground flour my Spring allergies have been pretty nonexistent. For my entire life April has meant sneezing, itching eyes, a runny nose, and general miserableness. This April I sneezed twice, and my eye itched for a few minutes on the way home from work one day. I'll be curious to see if May holds the same story, but even if it knocks my allergy season in half it's totally worth it.
I'm sure I'll do many more bread posts in the future as I continue to try to prefect my methods. I'm trying to make pretzels right now, and if those work I'll post a picture of them!
And, to end, here's Mosby.