Or, how I lost my mind

I've made most of the bread my wife and I eat for the last 8 years or so, in a home-grade breadmaking machine, the sort of one where you throw the ingredients in a metal pan/tin/container, push a couple of buttons, and 3-4 hours later a nice hot fresh load of bread is ready.

This has worked well; it tastes better than store bought, is cheaper, and it's kinda fun to stick it to The Man on a regular basis.

After a bit of experimentation early on, I settled on a recipe that works well, and quickly memorised it.  I was able to prepare a loaf almost on auto pilot without much effort at all.  Every now and then, I'd make a mistake in one of the minor ingredients and the loaf would come out wrong, but it was typically easy to diagnose.  It's pretty obvious to taste if you forget the salt, or to size if you forget the sugar.

Then a couple of weeks ago, it all went wrong.  A loaf turned out wrong; it was half the normal height, dense, and the texture was full of bubbles, not a nice bread crumb, and it had a flat top.  It looked like the yeast was working (creating the bubbles), but something else had gone wrong.  Maybe I'd only put in 2 cups of flour, not 3.  Maybe too much salt?  Or not enough?  It tasted largely ok; a bit different perhaps, but not really off.

Oh well, this happens.  So I put another loaf on.  It happened again, in exactly the same way.  OK, that's annoying.  The next day, I tried again, being really careful with the recipe.  And it worked, mostly.  The loaf was still a bit small, but had risen fairly well and had a nice domed top.  Not ideal, but things were back on track.

The next loaf was bad again, in the same way.  I fiddled a bit with things like the temperature of the water, and using other baking plans (e.g. the one for wheat-grain bread which has a 45-minute pre-soak with a bit of heating, to soak the grains).  Nothing worked.  I did notice that the dough wasn't holding together in as much of a solid lump during the early phases, but I hadn't looked at the dough for years and couldn't be sure if it was normal or not.  Some research suggested that the texture was possibly a case of too much liquid; the bigger bubbles could be (if I understand correctly, and I'm not an expert) because the gas produced by the yeast wasn't held properly by the structure of the dough, and it couldn't sustain the height during rising.

But I knew this recipe backwards and inside out.  It called for 1.25 cups of water, and I'd been doing that for years.  In the interests of science, and taking the actual observations into account, I dropped that to 1 cup, and lo, the loaf turned out normal.

This should make me happy.  But it doesn't, because there's only 2 explanations I can think of:

  1. Something invisible has changed; I'm thinking the mineral content of the town water supply, or maybe the yeast has gone off (except it's a fairly fresh batch, and I'd used some from that batch successfully before it all went wrong).  There was no obvious time correlation with any other changes I could see.
  2. I had mis-remembered the recipe. 

At this stage, option 2 seems the most likely.  This distresses me, because it means not just that my memory is playing silly buggers, but that it's lying to me.  I didn't wake up one morning and forget the recipe.  I woke up, was convinced I knew the recipe, but a cosmic ray had flipped a bit in my memory, and I was now wrong.  Before the successful loaf, I would have sworn in a court of law that the recipe called for 1.25 cups of water, and something else must have changed.  But the evidence suggests that I was simply wrong.

I don't know that I can trust my memory any more, and this is unpleasant. 

Getting older sucks.