They Took a Licking

So, how was your day yesterday? Let me tell you about mine. (Be warned, it’s a long story.)

It started well enough. Finding myself in my minimalist sometime-kitchen with a few bottles of Guinness Extra Stout and Saint Patrick’s Day on the horizon, I thought I would try a bread that made an appearance in last week’s YeastSpotting: Mary’s (One Perfect Bite) Rye Bread with Guinness Stout and Fennel Seeds.

I mix it up (with a couple of adaptations); so far so good. I must say the aroma of the dough catches my attention, and I know this is going to be one mighty bread. I decide to go with two larger loaves rather than Mary’s three, and here’s where things start getting interesting. In this kitchen we have no brotforms, no bannetons; in fact, we have no baskets of any kind except a couple of plastic chip baskets that are way too small for these two-pound loaves. But we do have a couche; let’s see, here it is. Uh-oh:

The mice have been here, apparently. And let’s just say I cleaned the couche up a bit before the photo. Normally I don’t wash it, but I think I will make an exception in this case. Before I use it again.

Moving on to Proofing Plan B: The medium glass mixing bowl, and the colander, both lined with (rodent-free) linen, should do the trick nicely (and colorfully).

While the boules are proofing, I make (as in mix, roll, and cut) some pasta I will eat for dinner. (Why this is an important piece of the story will become clear.)

Forty-five minutes before I estimate they’ll be done proofing, I preheat the oven to 450F. At least I think it’s 450; the display on my range is shot, so I have to set it by counting the number of times I press the “+” button, each time increasing the temperature by five degrees. Sometimes I lose count, but I’m pretty sure I set it to 450. Give or take. (I like to think that learning to live with uncertainty and lack of visual feedback has made me a stronger person.)

Now this point would also be a good time to put the one of the loaves in the refrigerator for retarding, since I can only bake one loaf at a time. But I don’t remember to do that until I put the first loaf in the oven. So already I’m prepared for this second loaf to be overproofed, since it will continue to proof some once it’s in the fridge.

I put the first loaf in the oven, covered with homemade cloche, for 10 minutes. Remove the cloche, and it’s looking good! Turn the oven down to 425 (I think) by pressing the “-” button five times, set the timer for 30 minutes.

Time to cook the pasta. I set a pot of water on to boil and go work on the crossword puzzle.

After 20 minutes, the most incredible aroma of fennel and Guinness and rye is filling the house. I go to check the bread. Switch on the oven light… nothing. Drat, the bulb must be burned out. I open the door and peek inside. The loaf is brown, but not done yet.

And hey, what’s with this pasta water? It’s hot but not boiling yet. There must be something wrong with that burner; let’s try another one. Now back to the puzzle.

When the timer goes off ten minutes later, what the hell? The loaf is nowhere near done. And double what the hell? My water is less hot than before. Is this range even operational? Uh, well now that I take the time to tune in and analyze the situation, I see that, no, it is not. Circuit breaker time.

The circuit switch is clearly labeled “Range.” After a couple more rounds of range-crashing and circuit-resetting, I realize that label should read “Range and Under-Cabinet Lights.” What, the oven, burners, and lights can’t all be on at the same time? For five years, I have somehow missed this fact?

OK, so lights OFF, oven ON (what temperature at this point, God only knows), burner ON. I bake the loaf for some amount of time until it seems done, and truthfully it doesn’t seem to have suffered much for being jerked around so much. It looks and smells great (see top photo).

Meanwhile, the pasta is cooking. Time to drain it, but where’s the colander? It’s in the refrigerator of course, holding that second loaf of rye bread with Guinness Stout and fennel seeds. Damn, I need that colander, and I shall have it.

Now if I had any brains I would transfer the loaf into the (now free) bowl I used for the first loaf, and put it immediately back into the refrigerator. But I think we have established by now that I do not, in fact, have any brains. So I just take that linen-cradled dough out of its colander-cum-banneton and set it on the counter. Which by itself won’t be too bad if I remember to put it back in the colander and back in the fridge once I’m done draining the pasta. Well, that’s a big IF.

Dinner is good. The pasta is delicious. I am just going to rest my eyes for a few minutes before I clean up…

Apparently I was more sleepy than I thought, and it was good to get some rest. Oh and look, that second loaf got a rest too, right here on the counter where I left it, uh… can it really be almost two hours ago? It’s not really a ball of dough any longer, more like a deflated mini-basketball. Should I just toss it? I decide to schlep it back into the colander, back into the fridge, and deal with it in the morning.

So this morning, after deflating it even more with the scoring, I bake it, and damned if this isn’t what I get. The second of two loaves that refuse to die:

And just to let you know, Mary was kidding when she said the flavors in this bread are strong. They’re not strong, they are Herculean.

Finally we come to my adaptation of the recipe. I know the directions get a little fuzzy at the end there. Just do whatever, I’m sure the bread will land on its feet. Now please excuse me, I have to go call the electrician.

Guinness-Rye-Fennel Bread

Yield: 1850 g (2 loaves)

Sponge Ingredients:

  • 390 g flour
  • 280 g coarsely-ground whole rye flour
  • 4.7 g (1.5 t.) instant yeast
  • 85 g water
  • 682 g (2 bottles) Guinness Extra Stout

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 390 g flour
  • 21 g (3.5 t.) salt
  • 1 T. fennel seeds
  • All of the sponge


  1. In a large bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 4 hours, until the sponge is expanded and bubbles appear on the surface.
  2. Add the final dough flour, yeast, salt, and fennel seeds to the sponge and mix roughly in the bowl, then turn the dough out onto an unfloured counter.
  3. Mix (knead) with your hands until the dough reaches a low level of gluten development, about 10 minutes. The dough is soft and sticky, but resist the urge to add more flour.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Cover and ferment for one hour.
  5. Turn the dough into a lightly floured counter. Divide into two pieces. Preshape them into balls and let rest, covered, for 15 minutes.
  6. Shape the dough into tight balls and place them, seam-side up, into something to hold them.
  7. Proof for some amount of time, at some temperature or combination of temperatures.
  8. Ditto on the baking.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Janie says

    Oh . . my . . God!! I just came upstairs after baking the outrageously good Apple Cider Sour Rye from last week and logged on to tell you how insane it is when I found your saga of the Guinness bread sitting there front and center, so I read the whole thing with equal parts compassion, kinship and hilarity. I have had power failures at the worst moment in my bread cycle; I can’t use my best (most expensive) oven because mice now live there; my other oven can’t get a grip on the correct temperature (today I set it to 400 and it shot right up to 550, proud of itself) and I’m always forgetting where I left my brain. But what amazing loaves you turned out after everything that happened!! You get the baker’s Purple Heart and I’ll go over to the Cider Rye post shortly and tell you how much I love it!

  2. says

    Flo from Makanai and I often tell each other stories of the “loaves that shouldn’t be”. Sometimes, when the rules just weren’t followed, loaves forgotten or refolded and re-retarded, well, in the end, sometimes those are the best!
    Yours look lovely! Must try as I have a Guinness loving husband at home.

  3. Linda says

    I am relieved to hear that I am not the only one out there making do with the only marginally equipped kitchen & brain combo! for instance, i’ve learned that a splatter screen makes a reasonably good peel (when the bread isn’t too heavy).. and am nearly recoved from teh burns inflicted when I forgot to oil my semolina flatbreads *before* putting them in the oven… such is life.

    thanks for sharing – the recipe sounds perfect!

  4. says

    Hi Susan, I couldn’t help but laugh as I read your post. I always suspected you had a sense of humor. Now we know for sure. I have a favor to ask. You’re my bread guru and I can tell you were able to get a lot more air into your bread than I got into mine. When you have some time – this is a serious request – would you make a video showing how to knead high moisture breads. I’m doing something wrong and my pride is hurt. I envy your holes. I am jealous and I’m old and tired! Please, please, please.

  5. Kristen says

    Wow. Perseverance must be your middle name! I would have been uttering most unladylike language the whole time.

  6. says

    This is what happens when you bake sober! Next time have a couple of the Guinness first and then bake. :)
    The bread looks awesome, and I love Mary’s site. I am going to add her to my blogroll right now before I forget.
    Heculean flavours sounds perfect to me!

  7. says

    Sounds a bit like my kitchen. The mice problem has developed into a regular post issue “Mouse Wars”, I’m currently loosing. The stove has a digital readout that works, but is only marginally reflective of the actual oven temperature. And the Guinness Stout (a staple in our refrigerator)… well, that would never have made it into the bread. Probably the reason I stick to cinnamon rolls and quick breads. Doesn’t require nearly the attention to detail. Still, the bread looks like it was worth the effort. I’m sure it tastes great, especially with a couple o’ pints.

  8. says

    Isnt it funny. Thats why I always tell people who are afraid to bake bread that really bread is pretty resilient. A case in point!

    I love that you trudged on and it worked!

  9. says

    Whoa ha ha.. you have such a great sense of humor. Even my bread guru experience some trouble sometimes. The only thing is she know how to fix it ….

    The bread look great, not sure I want to try it since you said it tasted herculean. Hmmm

  10. SallyBR says

    You do make me feel more daring about bread baking – I would have discarded the second loaf for sure, unable to deal with it.

    Loved the idea of the colander for proofing – I only have one small wooden thingie for that, and sometimes the recipe calls for two loaves, I end up making a batard with the second. Never occurred to me I could use a colander lined with cloth.

    great post! wonderful looking bread, even if the road to get there was a little “twisted” :-)

  11. Janie says

    By the way, years ago around this time of year I was looking for inexpensive proofing baskets for my larger loaves and hunted down a couple of REALLY cheap Easter baskets in Walgreens. My main criteria was the inside shape (as round as possible). I took off the handles, lined them with linen and have used them ever since. So this is a good time of year to go out hunting for proofing baskets!

  12. says

    I needed your story to cheer me up. :)
    You lack neither in humour nor brains. But multi=tasking can sometimes have one running around forgetting things. And I should know! :D

  13. says

    This is a hilarious story, thanks for sharing. Last week I was trying to make due without a banneton to make a large long loaf so I had to do similar crazy improvisations. I took a turkey roasting rack, put cardboard on either side so that the bread wouldn’t fall through the rungs of the rack, then covered the cardboard in a floured dish towel. It did work, but I think there must be an easier way! I like someone else’s easter basket idea. I’ll have to give that a shot.

  14. says

    Why would you call the electrician, why not just go back to the puzzle you’d been working.
    Gad this sounds so like me. This is really one of the great examples of bread really is not that fussy, it really can take a lot of abuse from us.
    It looks very beautiful.

  15. Jo says

    Inspired by this tale of triumph in adversity the dog and I went out yesterday evening to source some bottled guiness to start this bread, it had all sold out. So we didn’t even get started!

  16. says

    Too funny, you had me with the oven thing, from the get-go….and then you grabbed me with the needing of that colander. Life, some days it just a bowl full of cherry – PITS.

    But that bread…oh goodness, it sounds lovely.

  17. Janie says

    I tried this yesterday and loved it. No disasters to report along the way — all went smoothly. The flavor does march right up and announce itself — quite assertive! — but be not afraid. It was particularly good this morning toasted with butter and my favorite tart orange marmalade (St. Dalfour). The orange and fennel went together beautifully . Thank you Mary and Susan!

  18. says

    Well this just proves what I’ve always suspected. Bread WANTS to be bread!

    What an excellent tale!! I love that it has several happy endings. (So sorry to hear about the couche!)

    What did you serve with the bread?

  19. says

    Your story really cracked me up! I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters and it’s just nice to know that we are all human after all. :)

  20. says

    Haha. Nice story. Can’t even imagine what it’s like to guess the oven temperature. I’d go nuts. I’m the kind of guy that measures everything to the tenth of a gram :)

  21. Dough Boy says

    Hello just found ya.

    In The Apprentice: My Life In the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin

    Jacques Pepin talks about how he learned to tell the heat of a oven by sticking his hand in the oven, and depending on how long he could keep his hands in the oven would let him know about how hot the oven was, and if ready for use.

  22. Gabrielle says

    Oh my, I don’t know which you do better, bake bread or blog my funnybone! I just nearly used up all my starter in your cranberry-and-oat scones (which were fab); I will definitely steal my husbands Guiness and make this tomorrow while the beasties recover their volume!

  23. Katerina says

    7.Proof for some amount of time, at some temperature or combination of temperatures.
    8.Ditto on the baking.
    Please can u tell exact time of baking? May be I did not get something, sorry))

  24. Michele says

    I am interested in what you used for a homemade cloche – I am on a budget but really want one — what did you use? Thanks!

  25. Vic says

    Hi Susan.
    Wonderful wonderful blog! Thank you for sharing!

    I have a question – if I am to reduce the amount of yeast and increase the fermentation time, let’s say to overnight… 8-10 hours at least, what would be the proportion of yeast?
    Thank you!

  26. erica says

    I have tried few of your bread recipe, and i say that u r a bread goddess. I have tried also a few recipe from other website, but non on them actually giving the right tips of bread, until i found this French guy that commenting on a website, and i asked him about Ciabatta bread, and instead of him giving me the recipe that i ask for, he give me your website. And i tried your recipe just 2 weeks ago, Ciabatta, Bagutte with polish, corn bread, egg bread and conchas. All turn out what i wish it to turn out. Oh also i am making the starters also from you. Thanks to you now im like everyday bread women in the kitchen, just thinking and finding new recipe of what i can make of the day.

  27. Dietrich Look says

    Great recipe and with its vagueness leaves room for creativity. I added some whole wheat and some hard wheat flour keeping the wheight the same. Had some chocolate stout in the fridge which I was not a fan of for drinking, it went into this receipe instead. And I used a Dutch oven for baking. The outcome was amazing and the second batch is rising as I am writing this. The taste of the bread is outstanding and goes well with either cold cuts or cheese as well as peanut butter and jam. The crust is awesome and gives the teeth some exercise. Highly recommended recipe!


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