Baking bread: how hard can it be, right? While some quick breads can be done in a day with little need for rising time, others need hours to ferment and rise. I baked 75% whole wheat bread from Ken Forkish's book Flour Water Salt Yeast, a healthier bread without sacrificing taste.

I baked 25 loaves for a biology project, testing the effect of fermentation time on the density of each loaf. I thought that because the dough with longer fermentation times would be given a longer amount of time to rise, their density would be smaller. 

I learned many new things about the joys and challenges of bread baking through this experiment. While it was hard work to get up semi-early and stick to a schedule, it was also a strangely calming experience. Here are the things that I learned while baking 25 loaves of bread for a school project. 

1. Mixing dough takes some serious arm strength.

My arms got quite the workout when I had to mix the dough and fold it again... and again... and again. It can be quite tiring to get every last speck of flour mixed into the dough, and I'll admit that I was slightly out of breath after doing it.

Luckily, the mixing and kneading provide a much-needed workout for all the bread eating that happened after the loaves were finished. 

2. But also sometimes very relaxing.

After the first few challenging batches, I finally started getting the hand of the whole mixing thing, and the process became much quicker.

Instead of just mixing the flour at the top with the water and then moving on to the bottom, I started trying to mix the flour at the bottom with the water first. By tilting the tub slightly toward me, I was able to reach that flour so I didn't have to struggle with incorporating it later. 

3. Variables are hard to control.

Hannah Bernier

Experiments require control variables that must be kept constant in order to make sure that the variables you change are the ones affecting the results. My experiment measured the effects of fermentation time on density, but there were many other variables that were hard to keep the same between batches.

For example, when I divided each batch into two loaves, I had to split it in two so that the two loaves had the exact same mass. This proved pretty hard as measuring a big lump of dough can be a challenge to get on a scale.

4. It can be time-consuming.

It took eight or nine hours from start the finish for loaves to be made, which can be a big time commitment for busy people. The dough has to be mixed fairly early in the morning, left to ferment, divided, left to proof, and finally baked. 

For baking just one batch, it's not too bad with careful planning, but baking so many in a row took a lot of time. I absolutely had to be home to knead and divide the dough at certain times of the day, which sometimes resulted in scheduling conflicts. 

5. The smell of fresh bread is like nothing else.

Hannah Bernier

For two glorious but messy weeks, my kitchen was full of the smell of freshly-baked bread. It was wonderful. With the warmth of the oven going and the comforting smell, it was the perfect season to do this experiment.

cheese, cream, cream cheese
Hannah Bernier

I can't say I'll be baking 25 loaves of bread in a span of two weeks again. However, it helped me get a better feel for the timing of bread baking if I want to do it in the future and gave me a delicious taste of the life of a baker.