YANKTON | In her quest for the perfect homemade loaf of bread, a local woman has published a book sharing her personal method for getting perfect results from your bread machine.
"Secrets to Baking the Best Bread Ever," by freelance writer Loretta Sorensen, came out in December and is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
"I started helping local authors publish their books in about 2005," Sorensen said. "I knew just enough to be dangerous. (With this book), I did all the graphic design on the inside, and Cindy Mason, who is a graphic designer here in town, actually did the cover. I took all pictures."
Taking her cue from her mother who made everything from scratch, Sorensen said she always wanted to bake bread.
"Over the years, I've tried all the traditional methods. I tried a mixer; I bought a food processor and tried that and nothing worked," Sorensen said. "When I bought the bread machine 20 years ago, I was never happy with it. I used it a few times and then I wound up giving it away."
In 2017, Sorensen's husband Alan was diagnosed with cancer. As he went through treatment and recovery, the couple tried to eat as little processed food as possible, and Sorensen decided to try her hand at bread making once again.
"I thought, 'You know, I should get a bread machine. I bet they are a lot better than they used to be,' she recalled. "Bread machines might have more features, but the basic bread machine is still the same."
Returning temporarily to the traditional method, Sorensen had an epiphany.
"The thing that changed it was, I started using my digital thermometer to check the temperature of my liquid," she said. "That is the key: start it out at the perfect temperature range and try to maintain that warm environment right through to when it's time to start baking."
The bread machine, she realized, could be used to do the hard work, and combined with her newfound knowledge, could yield better results.
"I went traditional, which is a lot of work, and actually, no matter how good you are at it, the traditional way, I could never mix it as thoroughly as the bread machine does," Sorensen said. "It does it for 15 minutes at a time, two kneading cycles. I couldn't do that."
Current yeast has smaller granules than it did when her mother baked, so should be easier to activate, Sorensen said.
"However, my experience has been: activate it; get it started; make sure it's good," she said. "I did some research, too, on the chemistry. You've probably heard that baking bread is an art, and there's some truth to that, but there's also some science involved."
Sorensen's book begins with a bread-making cheat sheet that lists everything that she found contributed to a better loaf, including temperature and equipment specifics, as well as advice on bread-making machines.
With her new bread-making method, Sorensen finally got consistent, delicious results.
"Bread is sensitive, so there is a little variation (in results)," Sorensen said. "The thing that is consistent for me is this: a high rising loaf and light, fluffy bread, that's 100 percent of the time. That is what sold me. I don't have to worry about, 'Will this time be flat and brick-like? No.'"
Sorensen was so pleased with the way her bread was coming out that she started sharing her methods with friends.
"Everyone's like, 'What are you doing? I have the same trouble with my bread machine.' But there are so many little tips," Sorensen said. "I did a bread blog. I blog for Grit magazine about making bread, and as I went, I thought, 'I need to put this in book format so that, first off, I can give it to family and friends, and everyone that is really interested has all the information that I learned and I can just hand it off to them."
In the book, Sorensen recommends using a bread machine, but offers advice on using a mixer, or using the bread machine solely for mixing and kneading.
"In fact, there is one recipe in here from a friend of mine who uses a bread machine to do the first kneading and the first rise, but then she takes it out of the bread machine and rolls it out flat," Sorensen said. "I have tried that, too. It's contrary to logic that you would roll that dough out flat and squeeze out any air bubbles, but that will give you a pretty good loaf."
Using a bread machine to do the hard work will yield wonderful fresh-baked bread in about two hours, Sorensen said.
"Most of the time is at the front end, when you have to get everything in the machine," Sorensen said. "I recommend a bread machine for sure."
In the book, she also includes thorough discussions on flour and grinding, as well as recipes for bread, buns and rolls.
"This is a happy circumstance, and I do think it will help a lot of people," Sorensen said. "Bread machines are coming back, and if somebody buys one, at least they would know what their options are."