The success of bread depends on many factors, most of them centering around the behavior of yeast, the living organism that makes it rise. This means that, on any given day, the recipe you've used for years may prove maddeningly balky and leave you with an inert lump of uncooperative dough. The obvious thing to do is throw it out and start over, but there are alternatives.
Make a Sponge
If you are not faced with a time constraint, use your batch of failed dough for the next day's bread. Buy some fresh yeast and mix up a "sponge," a small portion of dough, using about one-third of the flour and all the yeast called for in your original recipe. Let the sponge rise once on its own, then cut it into dozens of small pieces. Do the same with your original dough and knead them together for 10 minutes by hand or in your mixer. Let the dough rise overnight in your fridge and bake it the next day.
Use Quick-Rise Yeast
Quick-rise yeast also can be used to resuscitate a failed dough. Roll the dough into the thinnest rectangle you can manage on a lightly floured counter. Open an envelope of quick-rise yeast, also called fast-acting or bread machine yeast, and sprinkle it over the dough. Mist the dough lightly but evenly with a spray bottle and roll up the dough like a jelly roll. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes by hand or in your mixer and leave it to rise. The quick-acting yeast should raise the dough adequately.
Cut your dough into walnut-sized balls and roll them into 6-inch circles. Flour them well. To make pita-style breads, put a pizza stone or cast-iron pan in your oven and preheat it at its highest temperature. Once the oven is thoroughly heated, bake the breads one at a time for four to five minutes on each side. They will puff as the moisture in the dough turns to steam. Alternatively, brush the dough rounds with a beaten egg and sprinkle them with coarse salt and sesame seeds. Make crispbreads by baking them at 400 F until golden, approximately 10 minutes.
Roll out your bread dough into the thinnest rectangle you can manage. Brush it well with melted butter and sprinkle it with sugar. Fold the dough in thirds, buttering and sugaring each side as you fold it in. Roll the dough out to its original size and butter and sugar it once again in the same way. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes to let the dough relax. Use the dough to line a sheet pan, and cover it from edge to edge with fresh-sliced fruit, such as plums or cherries. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 375 F until the fruit is juicy and bubbly.
- "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold S. McGee; 2004
- "Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague"; Rick Rogers; 2002
- "The Professional Pastry Chef"; Bo Friberg; 2002
- Fine Cooking; Flatbreads on the Grill; Mary Karlin; May 2010
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.