Bionic Bread

After baking many brick-like loaves aboard, this cruiser finally came up with a surefire recipe for bread that won't fail

Part of the joy of cruising is to be self-sufficient, like the early pioneers. Being the grandchild of farmers, I remembered the lovely bread my grandmother used to make, and tried over the years to copy it. Unfortunately, the results were always loaves that could be used to build a house. However, on a circumnavigation with my husband, Dave, aboard our Tartan 37, Tigger, I had to get serious about baking my own bread. I set about trying different recipes recommended by various cruising friends. Milk bread, corn meal bread, bread cooked on the stovetop, bread cooked in a pressure cooker…I tried them all -- and added them to my list of house-building materials. Then I read an article by veteran cruiser Lin Pardey. Though her article was long and very detailed, the end result was a simple recipe, easy on labor and easy on oven fuel. I tried it. I liked it. It worked!

Then, in an anchorage in Panama, I accidentally discovered my own variation of the bread recipe. I'd put the bread in the oven to rise. I usually do this: heat the oven to 100 degrees, turn it off, and then let the dough sit in there. The rising time is more predictable than if the bread rises in a warm place on deck where temperatures vary. However, since I couldn't see it, that day I forgot about it and went into town. I returned about five hours later and, as I came aboard, I remembered my bread dough. I was afraid to open the oven, but one must be brave. The dough had taken over. It had risen over the rim of the stainless steel bowl, slithered down the sides and spread itself across the oven rack like grapes in an arbor.

"What a mess," I sighed, and began cleaning it up. But as I scooped the dough off the oven rack and back into the bowl, I realized it didn't look so bad, it punched down nicely. I decided maybe I should just bake it anyway; I did, and it turned into a lovely and delicious loaf of bread, almost like Grandma's. Now I always let it rise for a long period of time, chase it back into the bowl, subdue it, and punch it down again. Nothing seems to ruin it, and I have never added a loaf of this bread to the brick pile.

Lin Pardey gave many variations and adaptations to the recipe, but after trying several of them, I came up with my own basic "it can't be killed" bionic loaf.

2 heaping teaspoons yeast granules

2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup sugar
1 cup wheat flour
5 to 6 cups white flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add salt and sugar and stir to dissolve. Add wheat flour and white flour and mix until it is too stiff to stir with a spoon. Add flour gradually as you knead the dough. This usually takes about 10 minutes total. You can knead the bread more, but it is not really necessary.

Place dough in a greased stainless steel bowl, cover, and set in an oven that's been heated to 100 degrees, then turned off, to double in bulk. Punch it down and let it rise for several hours. Divide, shape and set into two greased loaf pans. Once in the loaf pan, cover and put in a warm oven to rise until double in size. Uncover pans and turn the oven heat to 350 degrees. The bread will bake as the oven is heating. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.

One variation on this is to roll the dough out flat, spread with butter, sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and roll it up. Make sure the edges are tucked under. Also, I find that if I am heating the oven to bake bread, by the time the oven reaches 350 degrees, the bread is done. Since the oven is finally hot, I bake something else that requires a preheated oven, such as cookies or cake.