Sunday, January 07, 2007

Baking Bread

I've started baking bread again. I made bread regularly for about a year and a half up until Baby was born, then I found I had a hard time getting it done when I needed naps as much as the kids did.

But I made a couple loaves Friday and was almost surprised how good it was. I'd forgotten I make good bread!

Making bread can be an art form, if you want to go nuts with it. But basic, nutritious, yummy bread is not hard, merely time-consuming.

I learned to make bread in Home Ec in High School. We used the Gold Medal Flour Cold Rise Bread recipe, which I lost years ago and have never been able to find since. If anyone has a copy, drop a comment! The advantage to Cold Rise bread, besides a slow rise for a fine texture, is that you can basically stop 2/3 the way through and put it in the fridge over night. Turns out you can really do this with almost any yeast bread recipe, but the Gold Medal recipe made an especially nice loaf of bread.

When I went to re-learn to make bread I naturally went to the internet. Rather than reinvent the wheel, in you are interested in learning to make bread, I highly recommend The New Homemaker. They have several pages dedicated to making Whole Wheat Bread.

Here is my bread recipe. It's based on the New Homemaker's Whole Wheat recipe, but I use half unbleached white and half whole wheat flour, as hand-kneading 100% Whole Wheat dough is tough, at best. The instructions are lifted almost entirely from the New Homemaker's guide, for which I thank them!

50-50 Bread

The Sponge
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar (this is a cheat to jump-start the yeast)
3/4 cup warm water
1 cup unbleached white flour

The Dough
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt

The Sponge:
In your mixing bowl place the 3/4 cup of warm water and sprinkle the 4 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast (if you prefer to buy the packets, use two for this recipe) onto it. Then add the 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Stir them together vigorously. Then cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour (see, this wasn't so hard).

You will notice, when you peer into the bowl, that a lot of bubbling and expanding has taken place. It will reach a peak of expansion and then settle back down a little. That's when it's time to move onto the next step.The

The Dough:
When your sponge is ready, uncover the bowl and add the 1 1/2 cups of warm water and 1 cup each whole wheat and white flour (that's right, not all 4 1/2 cups of it). Stir this in very well.

Temper the mixture with flour to protect the yeast a little (just sprinkle a little flour over the top of the sponge). Otherwise you risk reducing the yeast activity and adversely affecting your final bread.

Now add the 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten, 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/3 cup honey and 1 tablespoon salt. Mix these in well. Now start adding the remaining flour about 1/2 cup at a time, alternating white and wheat.

By the time you have 4 cups total of flour, you will have a stiff dough. Now you should put in your dough hook, or put your bread on a board to knead. Use additional small amounts (like 1 tablespoon) as they are needed to keep the dough from sticking. Test the dough for stickiness in the mixer. Looking at it won't tell you enough.

Keep working the dough as long as possible, 10 minutes in the mixer. If you are kneading by hand, you're looking at 20-30 minutes. Take a break about 10-15 minutes into it and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. You will find it relaxed and easier to work then.

When you think you've had enough, draw the dough into a ball by cupping your fingers around the ball of dough and drawing the surface toward the back. Is it smooth all the way around? Or do some cracks appear around the edges? If you want it perfect, knead until the cracks go away. Take breaks if you need to. Or just move to the next step. It will still taste good and will be a starting point for you to improve upon.

The first rise:
Place this dough into a large greased bowl (preferably not metal) and cover with plastic. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until it doubles in size.

So what's a warm place? My house is kept rather cool, so I typically put my bread dough into the oven with the light on. Or leave it out on the counter and let it rise longer. Remember a cool rise for a longer period of time is a good thing when making bread.

When you think enough time has passed, pull the plastic back and make a big poke in the dough with a finger. Watch the hole. Did it fill up again right away? Did it fill up slowly? Or did it just sit there, a big hole, doing nothing? If the answer is either of the first two, it's not ready yet. Pull the plastic back over and go do something else for a while. Check it again later. If it's the last answer you're ready to shape the loaves.

Shaping the loaves:
Shaping loaves has been a bit of a puzzle for me I've had to work it out on my own. Words cannot convey exactly what you do and pictures never seem to get at the critical bits of information. There are a couple of things you are trying to accomplish by shaping your dough that will make for a better loaf. One is getting all the air out. This kind of bread does not benefit from large air pockets. The peanut butter just squishes through them and it makes a big mess!

My first objective when I dump my now large puffy bread dough out onto the counter is to gently press all the air out of it. I'm not kneading it at this point because I don't want the relaxed dough to get stiff and elastic. That would make it difficult to shape. I ease all the air out and cut the dough in half.

The second thing I'm trying to accomplish is a high standing loaf with a perfect symmetrical mound coming out of the pan. The way I shape it will greatly affect this. I flatten each piece of dough out into a longish shape. At one end I begin to roll it up like a towel, although I'm very careful to pull the dough tight and not let any air spaces in. By pulling the dough towards me as I roll I create tension along the outside surface. This tension will improve the smooth outline of the finished loaf.

When I get to the end of the piece of dough, pulling the edge firmly I pinch the edge to the loaf. You actually pinch the dough along the seem and it will hold together. Don't tear the dough, but pinch firmly. At each end I shove the outside edge into the middle of the dough and grasp the remaining flaps and pinch them to the underside of the loaf. This takes some figuring out, but it has done wonders for making loaves with ends that don't sink down into the pan but rise up with the middle of the loaf.

The second rise:
Place these into greased 9 X 5 pans. They will need to proof (another fancy word for rise) one last time. Cover them with plastic. This last rise will take an hour or less, again depending on how warm the room is. If you want, instead put the dough in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours (that's cold rise!), which can be nice if you find yourself pressed for time. The dough should come at least an inch above the top of the pans before you put them in the oven. A finger poke is still a good option here to decide if the dough is really ready, but in this case you want the hole to fill in slightly. You need some good yeast action in the oven for a final push.

Turn your oven on to 350 degrees. While you're waiting for it to heat up, mix about a tablespoon of water with one egg and paint the top of your loaves when they are proofed. Then put them in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes.

To test for doneness, pull the loaf out of the pan and tap the bottom with a wooden handle. It should have a hollow sound. This takes a little experience but a loaf with no reverberation isn't quite done. Put it back for 5 minutes and check again.

Cool these for at least an hour before slicing. If you don't wait that long the structure of the bread will not support a knife and will mush down and stay permanently mushed when you're done mangling it. Try to be patient.

1 comment:

Chris said...

mmm, sounds yummy, and easy!
i know what i'm doing this weekend


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