Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bread Baking 101

For over five years, I've baked a lot bread, sandwich buns (using my pita recipe), pizza dough, rolls (such as cinnamon rolls), and other yeasty breads using mainly fresh-ground, whole wheat flour. Besides our obvious preference to its taste and texture, bread-baking is my personal re-centering go-to. ;)  Because of that, I've come to a certain appreciation for the process. I hope this tutorial helps you produce
tasty, wholesome, blooming 

Let's make some loaves!

I'll use my recipe from Carly's Awesome Bread, because it's awesome, and Carly's awesome, and it reminds me of her. I like that this recipe calls for three tablespoons of yeast and sugar, rather than the usual two.

Key #1: if you want taller bread, add more yeast. ;) 
This isn't necessary, but it can help with the rise.

After dumping the yeast and sugar into a big bowl, I run the tap till the water is just hot (or use the microwave to save on water going strait to the drain). Bread recipes always seem to call for "luke-warm" water, but

Key #2: I've found I get best results when I keep the dough as warm as can be. 

And since it's going to sit a while on the counter, I like to start it out cozy--the temperature I'd pick for a hot shower. Not to where it burns the skin, just to where it's steamy warm. Now pour three cups of that cozy stuff slowly over the yeast and sugar. You want to get every grain wet, so don't dump so fast that a chunk of yeast floats to the top and remains dry. Let it sit 5 minutes, or until it looks "bubbly," like this. You can even stand and watch it bloom if you'd like. :)

While the yeast bubbles, I like to mill my flour. If you're milling your own wheat, I've found it helps to

Key #3: turn the mill to its finest setting (sometimes called pastry). 

This helps reduce the sliver-like bits of the husk (known as wheat bran) left with the flour, which will cut through the dough when you knead it and diminish the elastic gluten effect. Those "shards" are very healthy, but they are stripped from white flour, making it much more effective at rising (read more on wheat  flours here). Milling five cups of wheat kernels will yield about seven and a half cups of flour. Alternatively, use store-bought wheat flour or even white flour.

Add one quarter cup (four tablespoons) of oil (I prefer olive oil for nutrition, but canola or melted butter work fine) to the yeast mixture, then add three cups of flour. Stir well (I use a whisk for this step). This will take a minute or two. It will be very liquidy, but try to get all the chunks out of the mixture.

Key #4: Let it rise 15 minutes. 

Because whole wheat is more fibrous, it helps to soften a portion of the flour by letting it sit a little longer in the warm water. Don't think of these extra minutes as a burden--I like to clean up my dishes...get small task and the "dough" is usually ripe. It will rise three times its size (but it doesn't HAVE to, so don't worry about measuring it)!

Now for

Key #5: add one tablespoon of salt and remaining flour, after the initial proofing of flour with yeast. 

The salt seems to inhibit rise, so I wait to the very end to add it. I'll usually mix it in with one cup of flour so I can stir it with a spoon. If you wait until you have to knead the salt in, it won't disperse right. I also like to preheat the oven now just to get it warmed up a bit for rising. Once the salt is stirred in, keep adding flour until it isn't workable with your spoon. Switch to kneading with your hands (in the bowl or on the counter) until there is just enough flour that the dough is barely sticky, like a sticky note. :) This will take about five minutes. Turn off the preheating oven.

Return dough to the bowl, cover, and place it in the warm oven (check to be sure it didn't get too warm during that time--you may want to wait a minute or set the bowl on a hot pad). Let it rise until double, or about thirty to forty minutes.(Think of what you can do with thirty minutes! This is a good time to get your exercise in.)

When you return, punch the dough down and cut it in half.

Key #6: I've found that kneading the dough and letting it rise 
again in the pans will equalize the air bubbles. 

Have you ever made a beautiful loaf, just to find that the top quarter is one big bubble? This second knead helps pop those bigger bubbles and disperse the air throughout the loaf.

Knead each half long enough to shape the loaf, two to five minutes on each, and pinch down the ends to cover seams.

Key #7: It is important to knead the dough into the shape you want it at the dough's pace. 

Don't just stretch the ends and fold it under, forcing it into shape without working it there. The end result will be tears in your dough, which grow as the bread rises:

These rips provide an escape for the steam during baking which will inhibit a good rise, and you'll end up with flat, mottled loaves. Gentle kneading and persuading will produce smooth and tight tops, more like this:

Lay them seam-side down in their pans, and let them rise (covered or uncovered) for about thirty more minutes. (Take a shower!)

When the dough is just equal with the tops of the pans, preheat the oven to 350.

The oven should be ready when the dough is peaking over the pan tops.

Key #8: Carefully slide the pans into the oven (don't pop the bubbles you've worked so hard to nourish!). 

Set the timer for thirty minutes. (Get the kids dressed!) If it's not quite the golden you'd prefer, turn the pans around and bake five minutes more. Voila! Bread! Whole wheat, no additives, tall, simple, affordable...and delicious. :) Enjoy!

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