Thursday, February 21, 2008

Simple Start

Right, so I guess a good first post is just a multi-role all-environment utility bread. I'm going to copy roughly from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, one of my favorite bread books, and add my thoughts.

So.

Make the sponge
Need:
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 6 tablespoons powdered milk (what is up with that?)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup cold water


  • Dissolve the yeast in the water (duh). Combine the flour, powdered milk (powdered milk is creepy) and salt, then mix and make a well in the middle. Pour the yeast and water right on in there, then mix vigorously for something like five minutes.
    Cover that, and leave at room temperature for twelve to eighteen hours. If leaving for the full eighteen hours, use very cold water and keep it in a cooler place.


    So, when I make this, I've never used the milk powder. That stuff scares me a little bit. If you leave it out, it'll be OK, and if you want to just replace some of the water with milk, that's cool too. Milk powder is apparently popular where using milk would throw off the consistency, but really, if you're adding milk powder and water, just add milk and water.
    Personally, I like to use a quarter cup yogurt and just over a half cup of water, or some combination of yogurt and water, since that's given me the tastiest bread.
    Regarding flour, I also like to use rye flour here, since the acidity of the yogurt will break down the harsher parts of the rye and let it make nice bread (all rye bread should have a sour element to it to make the flour behave). One cup rye and one cup whole wheat is what I've been doing lately, though always remember that rye absorbs less water (or is absorbed more readily into water, whatever), so the fluid ratio will be a little off. This doesn't matter as much in the sponge, though, since you'll just work it into the bread later.
    And in case you're afraid or think you misread that, yes, you leave a yeasty sponge on your countertop for at least half a day. This is totally cool. It should triple in volume in that time, so make sure you've got something large enough. Using a pre-ferment like this makes the bread extra tasty.
    Anyways, on with the show.

    Make dough
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup warm water

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups flour


  • Dissolve the yeast in the half cup water, dissolve the honey in the one cup water. Add the sweet water to the sponge, and mix with your hands. Next, incorporate the yeast.
    Mix the salt and flour, then make a well. Pour the sponge mixture into the well, then fold in the flour. Mix all the flour in, and squeeze with your hands for consistency (squish squash!). Adjust water/flour ratio, since a sponge will vary based on how long it's been fermenting, and flour varies itself.
    Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface (man you see that line a lot) and knead until silky-smooth. This should only take about ten minutes, because the squeezing and mixing from before has already partially worked the gluten.
    Shape the dough into a ball, and place in a bowl, smooth side up. Cover and let rise for around an hour and a half or until doubled in volume. Gently poke a finger into the dough about a half inch in. if the whole doesn't fill in at all, punch down the dough, otherwise, let it rise a little longer. Next, let it rise again until doubled, which should take half as long as the first time.
    Punch down the dough again, and divide it in half. Let the dough relax before shaping, then place it in loaf pans or on a baking tray to proof for forty-five minutes before baking.
    This loaf benefits from a high initial heat and steamy oven (see page 106). Baking times vary from twenty-five minutes for rolls, to almost an hour for bread at 350ºF.


    Well, that's kind of the bulk of the work right there. For adjusting the water/flour, you'll just figure it out in time, but if you can knead it without too much work, and it's not too sticky to handle, you're probably in the safe-zone. Kneading is a bit of a learned skill as well, and there are plenty of things online that ought to be able to do a better job of explaining that than me, such as this semi-reputable looking article. The important part of kneading is to stretch the dough without tearing it (too much), so you work it into nice long sheets of gluten which will trap the gasses from the yeast and let your bread rise. If anyone is unsure about kneading technique, I am totally happy to come over/have you over to make bread sometime. It really isn't that hard, but baking is a fun thing to do with people!
    For shaping, I like to make one or two big round things on my baking stone, or just do simple loaves in pans. Loaf pans usually come out in about fifty minutes. As for page 106, well, I brought the book back to the library and didn't copy that page down. I just put an old pan on the bottom rack of the oven with some water in it when I heat the oven, and set the oven to 400ºF for the first five minutes, then drop it down to 350ºF for the rest of the time. When you think the bread is done, the easiest thing to do is to pop a loaf out, and knock it on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it should be done, but you can certainly reserve the right to take it out before it sounds hollow if you think the crust is getting too dark.

    One of the best loaves I've made was this recipe with garlic and olives in it. I coarsely chopped the stuff up, then added it while kneading the dough. The garlic was obviously delicious and the little bit of residual juice on the olives worked through the dough to give it a nice, subtle olive flavour throughout.

    Anyways, I am tired now, so I'm off to bed. Happy baking! I'll try to keep this thing up weekly.

    1 comment:

    Lock said...

    Neat recipe, James. This blog holds promise.