But as soon as I added more flour, got it sort of balled up and onto the counter for kneading, I knew it wasn't...it didn't feel right under my hands. It was wanting to tear into bits. Nothing to do at that point but go on...did my best to get it to first rising, put it in the big dough bowl in a warm place, checked on it, and it did double. But when I punched it down, it let out a weak feeble hiss, not the healthy gust that a happy dough gives. I messed it around on the counter, trying to restore its intent to rise, shaped the loaves and put them in the pans, and as soon as they'd risen to just lift the covering towel, put them in the oven.
And they flopped. They actually went down in the oven, instead of puffing up higher in those first minutes. I knew within minutes it was a FAIL...I could see through the oven window the sagging, wrinkled tops as they subsided.
These are the most pitiful, misshapen, excuses for bread loaves....and they're heavy. If they didn't go soggy in water, they'd make fine construction materials. They are destined for other than table use, although we had discovered with the earlier batch (that did about the same thing, only it didn't even spread sideways to fill the pan) that the bread doesn't taste bad, particularly, and is a pretty good bread for dunking in soup.
I called the yeast manufacturers and had a moderately lengthy chat with the very pleasant lady on the phone who, after I'd described my experience with making bread, the way I'd stored the yeast, and how the dough behaved, agreed that yes, it was the yeast. Quite probably, the yeast had started to deteriorate early because of excess heat in some warehouse or truck; it was nearing its use-by date but hadn't reached it. They're sending me coupons.
However, what I really wanted was some of my own bread, the right size and texture, to eat. Also, after several failed batches in a row, I was beginning to doubt that I really did know what I know. So off I went to the store to buy yeast in the little foil packets.. and I made another batch--same recipe, same flours--and knew as soon as I turned it out to knead that I was back in home country. It held together--in fact got more "together" as I kneaded it. I put it to rise (still nervous) and it rose strongly and let out a hearty "WHUFF" when punched down. Now it felt even more like healthy dough, and smelled like it, as I divided it, shaped it into balls to rest. Rolling it flat to shape the loaves themselves, it held together (didn't try to tear under tension. The loaves rose smoothly; I put them in the oven when they were lifting the towel just about the same as the failing batch earlier, and....
So it was definitely a yeast problem and I haven't lost my "bread hands."
The remaining "bricks" may turn into bread pudding. Or be cubed and dried for stuffing the turkey in a few months (frozen after drying, yes.) Or used as bread crumbs, for us or the birds.