Post #522 A Bread Story

January 23, 2017 at 6:49 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #522 A Bread Story

I have a friend named John.  We’ve been friends for a very long time, since the days before he was married.  His daughter has her drivers license and is getting ready to graduate.  It’s been a long time.  We met when we both joined a contract at work involving world travel (although we never traveled together.)  We shared a desk for several weeks, and sat in the same training classes, etc.  We didn’t leave for kindergarten together, but we have been friends for over twenty years.  So when he mentioned on FB that he was tired of store bought bread, I promised to show him a really simple bread recipe that he could do at home.

The perfect bread recipe has been one of my “holy grail” searches (along with perfect donuts and perfect scones/biscuits.)  Bread can be time consuming, tricky to get right, and aggravating because so many outside entities can influence the success or lack thereof of the finished product.  I’ve played around with bread machines, frozen bread, stirred bread, quick bread, and hadn’t found the perfect bread until recently.  You’ve all read some posts where I mention one of the food groups I’m active in called Food Interactive on FB.  It’s a good group, and we share tips and successes and failures all the time.  Last fall, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, one of the members shared a simple bread recipe.  I can’t remember exactly who it was since there are several regular contributors, but she made it sound so easy and the photos looked so good, I immediately decided to try it out.  It was all she advertised it to be.  It was easy; it was good; and it was exactly what I’ve been looking for.  It’s the only bread I’ve made since, and I usually make two loaves a week.  Cuz we purely love us some bread in this house.

First of all, let’s discuss the bread making process.  It’s not complicated in its basic form, but it can seem complicated if you haven’t done it before.  Also, it can be quite a workout if you don’t have machines to help.  Trying to incorporated six cups of flour into 2 cups of water can be challenging.  But it can be done.  The basic process is blooming yeast in warm water and sugar.  We’ll talk more about yeast later, but basically, this step is provide the rising agent.  Letting the dough rise, or proofing as it’s called, can be done in a lot of different ways, the most common being yeast, but another very well known process uses sourdough.  Not going there in this post.  After the yeast has bloomed, flour is incorporated into the liquid, and the resulting dough is then worked.

Working the dough means moving, folding, pressing, more commonly called kneading.  There’s a chemical process that happens when wheat flour and water interact.  It creates protein strings called glutens.  (These glutens are what people with celiac disease react to.)  Gluten gives the dough elasticity and strength and the characteristic chewiness to the bread.  The dough must be kneaded well for the yeast to be distributed throughout the dough, and for the gluten to form.  It takes about ten minutes or so for this to happen.  The easiest way to do this is bring the dough ball close to you and press gently with the ball of your hands leaning into it a little.  Turn the dough a quarter turn and press again.  Do this for about a minute, then fold the dough on top of itself and start pressing again.  Some people make this an athletic event, but you don’t need to.  All you’re doing is distributing the yeast throughout the dough.

Then the dough is left to proof, or to rise.  Lots of things can impact how well dough is going to rise, and they’re all very important.  One thing the cook can control is ambient temperature, and breezes.  This is done by simply putting the dough in a bowl and putting the bowl in a box of some sort.  I use the oven.  The dough is left for about 90 minutes, until it has doubled in size, then the gases from the yeast are released by “punching down” the dough.  I know lot of people who get a kick out of punching the dough down, but I tend to take a gentler hand and press the dough down.

The dough is then shaped into whatever product is desired.  The basic dough can make a lot of different things, some you may have seen here in this blog.  But for loaves of bread, the dough is spread into a rectangle, rolled, then placed into a loaf pan.  Once the dough is shaped, it’s allowed to rise again until doubled, which usually takes about half the time as the first rise.  The double (and sometimes triple) rise gives the bread it’s rich flavor.

After the second rise, the bread is glazed with an egg wash (one egg of any size beaten with a little water to help break it up) and baked until it’s done.  You can use a thermometer, or just time it and tap the bottom to see if it sounds hollow.  I’ve never have any difficulty with the timing method.

That’s it.  You can see that it takes some time.  Start to finish, it’s a commitment of about four hours.  But you don’t have to be hanging around watching it for four hours.

So here’s my finished product:

bread-1

You can see that I didn’t divide the dough exactly in half, but that only makes the bread more interesting.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 1/4 cup warm water (110-115)
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast (that’s 2 1/4 tsp if you’re using a jar)
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I substitute 1 Tablespoon softened butter for 1 of oil for flavor)
  • 6 cups AP Flour
  • 1/2 cup AP Flour for working the dough
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)

In a large stand mixer bowl, dissolve sugar in water, then stir in yeast.  Let stand 10 minutes for yeast to bloom.  Add 3 cups of flour, salt, and oil (or oil/butter).  Mix until smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the final three cups of flour, stirring until well incorporated.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and work the dough until smooth and elastic, adding from the reserved 1/2 cup if the dough is too sticky.  Lightly oil a large bowl, at least four sizes bigger than the dough ball, and place the dough into it, turning the dough so the oil covers it.  In a warm, draft-free area, let the dough proof until it doubles in size, about 90 minutes.  Do not allow the dough to over rise.  When it’s ready, press the dough down, and turn onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough in half, and shape each piece.  Use either a rolling pin or your hands to gently spread the dough into rectangle about 9×14.  Starting from the short end, tightly roll the dough into a log shape and place into a lightly oiled 9×5 loaf pan.  Set the pans in a warm, draft-free area and let rise again for 45 minutes until doubled.  Preheat your oven to 375.  Crack egg into a bowl and add a small splash of water.  Beat until well incorporated.  Lightly coat tops of loaves with egg wash.  Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.  Remove from pans and tap bottom to sound hollow.  Cool on wire racks until completely cooled.

Let’s talk about the ingredients for a moment.

Yeast is a living organism that eats sugars and releases carbon dioxide gas.  Basically, it’s a tiny little farting machine.  Those gases cause the dough to rise.  Yeast is very fragile and can die very easily.  If the water is too warm, it’ll die.  If it’s too old, it’ll die.  Those are the two major reason why yeast will die, and the primary reason you allow yeast to bloom before using it.  You don’t want to get into the middle of your bread making process only find your bread won’t rise because the yeast is dead or dying.  Trust me.  You really don’t want that to happen.  Other things will cause the yeast to slow down too.  Salt prohibits yeast from doing it’s job, but I’ll talk about that later.  Cinnamon and other heavy herbs will cause yeast to slow down.  When these are added to bread, they’re always added during the shaping process and the proof time is increased.

Water temperature must be right otherwise the yeast will not activate.  Too cold and it will stay asleep.  Too hot and it’ll die.  My hot water tap is just about the right temp.  It should feel just slightly too hot to your fingers, but use a thermometer if you have one.

Sugar is sugar, but use standard table sugar if you have it.  It dissolves easiest.  I’ve used honey for a different flavor, but if you do, remember to adjust the amount of water so your dough isn’t too wet.

Salt will inhibit the yeast action so why do we add it?  Two reasons, mostly.  First, if we didn’t add it, the bread would taste pretty bland.  Some people might like that, but I like a little oomph to what I’m eating.  Second, if we didn’t inhibit the yeast a little, the dough would explode all over the place.  Not really, but it would rise far to high and too fast.  The result wouldn’t taste very good.

Oil/butter adds richness and flavor to bread.  You can leave it out, but I don’t recommend it.

AP Flour is simply All Purpose flour.  Flour comes in various qualities.  It’s referred to as low, medium, and high strength.  It’s also referred to as cake flour, AP flour, and bread flour.  It has to do with the amount of gluten each produces.  Cake wants to be light textured so very little gluten.  Bread wants a lot of texture so a lot of gluten.  I tend to mix AP and bread flour 50/50 for this recipe.

One more thing to talk about and we’re basically done with basic bread.  The relative humidity in the air has a big impact on your dough.  In these days of air conditioning, houses tend to be more stable in that respect, but today when I was making my bread, it was raining, and it had been raining for several hours.  Knowing this, I added a couple of extra tablespoons of flour to the mix.  During kneading, the dough wasn’t coming together.  It was separating as I worked it.  I stopped to inspect it and pulled it apart and instead of an elastic, pliable structure, I found a dry, breakable structure.  So I added a teaspoon of water to the center of the dough and continued to knead it.  Here’s the thing about adding liquid to bread dough.  When you do, it breaks apart.  But then it comes back together and looks wonderful.  So as you get experience in the recipe and the process, pay attention to what the dough is telling you.

So John, I hope this helps.  Let me know if you try this and how it turns out.  Here’s how the center looked when I cut it into it:

bread-2

Absolutely perfect!  So yummy!

Oh!  One other thing to say.  Bread smells delicious when it’s baking, and even better when it’s cooling.  Part of the structure is created in the cooling process.  You’re going to be tempted to cut into while it’s still warm.  That’s great for rolls or small loaves that you can eat in one sitting.  DO NOT do that to a full loaf of bread.  As the steam escapes, the bread firms up.  If you cut into it too soon, when it’s not completely cooled, it will turn gummy in the center, and no one likes that.

Enjoy

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