Baking a loaf of bread…

…the hard way.

Living off-grid isn’t always easy, but it is almost always interesting. We are having a test kitchen today. Last night we tried to use the bread maker to bake a loaf of bread. The way it’s supposed to work is it mixes the dough, it kneads the dough, it allows it to rise, it stirs it again, allows it to rise again, then it bakes the loaf of bread. Well, everything went well until the first rise. The heating element turned on and stayed on, that’s not supposed to happen, a short time into the first rise, the machine gave me an error code and beeped. I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but it soon became evident that things were going wrong, the heat coil was still on, the inner chamber was heating up to cooking temperatures, the bread did not have a chance to do the first rise. I turned the machine off and extracted the dough. I’ll have to investigate the bread machine further to see if it’s going to work properly, if nothing else, I can use it to mix and knead doughs for tortillas and bread.

I was able to rescue most of the dough, I just had to pull off some of the outer layer that had begun to cook. I kneaded the dough a little, shaped it into a ball and put it into a heavy, round cake pan. I covered it with a towel and let it sit in a cool room overnight. I didn’t want to try to bake it last night, there was a good reason for that.

We do have an oven, of sorts. It’s a small oven that came out of a very old travel trailer, it has a 3 burner top and a small oven compartment. It was gifted to us by our very good friends (thanks!!!!). The stove looked like it had never been used, BUT the trailer where it had been originally housed was in bad shape. Animals had gotten in, ring tailed cats, these look like a cross between a raccoon and a cat. They did what animals do, they poo’d and pee’d on everything, including the stove. I spent some time cleaning, scrubbing, removing layers of stuff you don’t even want to know about, and yes, I did wear rubber gloves.

It cleaned up very well, looked like new and worked like new, the 3 burners on top worked fine. The inside of the oven looked pristine, I doubt it had ever been fired up. The thing is, the first time you light anything like this, you have to burn off the oils and dust, and it’s good to do this when you can open all of the windows, it IS going to stink. We lit the oven for the first time, we knew it would smell, but we didn’t realize just how bad it would smell. The oven doesn’t have a thermostat, but since Bob is experienced with repairing restaurant equipment, he has a temperature probe, so we popped in the probe, and lit the oven.

By the time the probe read 300° F, smoke was starting to waft up through the vents on the oven, and eeewwww! Did it stink, we quickly opened all of the windows, even put a fan in one window. It didn’t help, the smell got so bad that we decided to move the whole thing outside. Bob got on one side, I got on the other and we moved the whole thing out on the porch. It was still lit, the propane bottle is attached to the metal frame where the oven sits. Once outside, we allowed the oven to get up to 650° F, yes that sounds very hot, and yes, I was nervous about it. But Bob is experienced with cooking equipment and he was on top of everything.

Eventually the smelly smoke subsided, we turned off the propane and allowed the oven to cool off on it’s own. If it smells or smokes next time we light the oven, we may have to disassemble the oven and replace the insulation. In the mean time, we will go down to the minivan (that has been parked by the road since we got here, it’s still packed with some of our belongings) and get my counter top convection oven. We will have to use our generator, but it should only take 30 minutes or less to bake this loaf of bread. That is after I clean out the mouse poo and burn that off too, fortunately it should be easier to clean and burn off, it has a thermostat, I can set it and forget it! …well almost.

It’s unbelievable how much trouble this loaf of bread has been! It had better taste good! Stay tuned for updates on this loaf of bread.


Click here to read part 2.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks Betsy, I just read your sourdough success story, it looks and sounds very tasty. I have only dabbled in sourdough starters, and that was more years ago than I care to admit… I remember putting the starter in the warmest place I could think of, the closet where the water heater resided… when the starter began to bubble and come to life, everyone else in the family practically ran from it and refused to eat anything made from it.

    For now, I’ll have to stick with yeast dough, at least until next summer, I don’t have a reliably warm enough place. It gets warm during the day, but at night it gets down in the teens, we don’t try too hard to keep the cabin warm, we just dress warm most of the time.

    Yes, I do find comedy, even if it’s a comedy of errors, I have to laugh, the only other option is to cry and that doesn’t help, much… The bread I was working on didn’t turn out, I ended up putting it in my neighbor’s oven. After it was baked, it didn’t seem to brown very much, it had a very unappetizing pallor to it. After I took it out, I discovered that it stuck to the pan, it took quite a bit of work to get it out of the pan, and it took the so called non stick coating with it, I couldn’t even bring myself to toss it outside for the animals to eat, I didn’t want to poison them with that non stick coating. So back to the drawing board. I’m not too disappointed though, I know I can make a loaf of bread, I’ve done it too many times before. I can say though, this was the most spectacularly failed loaf of bread I’ve ever made, so if nothing else, I can’t do any worse than this. :)

    You are so right about appreciating each step, I have to laugh when I think of other people living like I do, I don’t think many would like it for long, but I don’t mind the “hardships” because I know that each time we improve something, it makes life so much easier and makes me appreciate even the little things, like doing the dishes, at first I had to get the water that I hauled in, take it outside in a small pan along with the dirty dishes, a scrubby pad and the soap, wash the dishes with cold water and rinse with cold water, then I had to bring in all the clean dishes. Once Bob got the sink drain plumbed, I could at least do the dishes INSIDE the house, still with cold water that I had hauled in. Once we got the 55 gallon drum inside the house with the 12 volt pump, what a luxury! I had running (cold) water and could do the dishes in style! :) Most people would balk at having to do the dishes by hand, I am just thankful that I CAN do the dishes inside the house with running water and a drain. Yes, I am thankful for each and every small (and sometimes big) step we take to improve our lives. Hot water is the next big thing, I’ll feel so very civilized when I have hot running water inside the house…


  2. Hi there, Wretha! Your story is such a great illustration of how tough it is sometimes to just get the basic stuff set up. You’ll really enjoy the luxury of having a working house, after you’ve passed through these early stages. And, as you show so well in your writing, at least there’s comic relief in the catastrophes…

    It’s funny, I just came here to read your blog after I finished a long blog post of my own tonight on bread-making. I had succeeded with making sourdough bread, after I made my own starter, and I was feeling happily pioneer-ish. So I thought of checking in at this website.

    If you’d like to read my sourdough story, stop by:

    And I hope your loaf of bread eventually made it to your table!

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