When Mountain Dew Experiments Go Bad
By Mark "The Red" Harlan
"Bake your own bread, with your own personality."
The underlying problem with cooking and baking is the whole process is a pack of lies. Books tell you how great things will be, and TV shows will whip out dish after amazing dish (conveniently prepared ahead of time) to tantalize your eyes, but when you try making something on your own, the entire event continually teeters on the brink of disaster. When in the kitchen I always feel like cooking fiasco is imminent, and on the rare occasion I do get something just right, the whole damn process has ended up taking so long that half the time I feel like I would have rather ordered out for pizza in the first place.
But anything that has the ability to go horribly wrong also has the potential to be incredibly fun -- especially if you can somehow add a machine to the process -- and it was in exactly this state of mind that made me want to experiment with Mountain Dew bread. I had seen a recipe for orange juice bread and I thought, "Hey, Mountain Dew has orange juice in it, what if I just use a little of that instead?" Maybe I could come up with something conceptually putrid enough to gross people out, but still within the limits of what technically can be digested by a person.
Drawing on my vast knowledge of baking -- which is to say, everything I learned about the life cycle of yeast in 7th grade -- I made some educated substitutions to the orange bread recipe and fired up my bread machine. Would the batter ooze? Explode? Is Mountain Dew covered by my machine's warranty? All these questions rolled through my mind as the dough ingredients sat foaming in the pan, my hopes raising high that something truly awful would happen. But as mixing turned to kneading, the bread started looking remarkably normal. There weren't any odd odors, strange steam, nor anything else that would leave you to believe the contents of the machine were any different from something that's supposed to be good for you like "Bean Sprouts and Other Things That Taste Like Dirt Bread."
When the loaf was finished, I opened the baking chamber to discover two things. One, the bread had risen an enormous amount, baking itself to the roof of the machine. A good sign. Something wasn't quite right.
The other very noticeable thing was the bread wasn't green, but rather a very pleasant golden color. Of course this is depressing because if the characteristic Dew color isn't there, the squirm factor of the eating public will be lowered considerably.
But it doesn't matter if it looks like the best loaf of bread ever cooed over by Julia Child, it's not going to be worth making again if you can't at least keep a bite down, and I felt a little too attached to the whole process to be wholly objective on judging it myself ... So I sliced the loaf and took it over to my geek friends, Bo3b (the "3" is silent) and Dave, for a taste test.
After some cajoling (I wouldn't tell them the mystery ingredient of the bread and they, in turn, wouldn't eat any until I had consumed a large portion myself -- that's what I get for sending an email about baking with bugs only a few days earlier) we all had a few slices. Sadly, the bread is wonderful. The crust is light and flaky, the crumb (that's what hoity toity baking types call the inside of a piece of bread) is airy and just barely hints at sweetness. I was looking for something that might destroy a bread machine, or at least gross people out, and instead got this. What a disaster.
Bo3b and Dave both loved it. In fact they finished it before some other very forgettable loaf I had made for comparison's sake. Admittedly, this is the duo where one member was once known to eat "Lucky Charms" with Pepsi poured over the top (as an adult, no less -- "I was out of milk" is his only defense), and the other guy seems to prefer dinners that smell like cat food while being cooked in a microwave. But if you think about it, this probably makes them more representative of geek taste than any other twosome this side of Los Alamos. The bread didn't last long and the three of us grudgingly gave the bread a solid 8 out of 10, with possibly one bonus point being awarded for using Dew in the first place.
Patricia Wells in the book Bread Alone says each loaf of bread is, "Like a small miracle, a birth, an accomplishment, an outward sign that we are nurturing ourselves and those around us." I guess all I can say is she wasn't talking about this loaf of bread. Even though it's good, Dew bread is still something more akin to Frankenstein's monster smokin' on the slab than it is to a small miracle.
If you want to try some yourself, we've included the recipe, but don't blame me if you like it. I guess my next step is to enter this in a baking contest somewhere (I'm considering adding a little red food coloring and calling it "Weasel Bread"), I'll keep you posted as to how that goes.