Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Becoming Bread

"Resolve that you will have good bread, 
and never cease striving after this result 
until you have effected it." -
Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping in Old Virginia

Be the bread! I have to be the bread. There is so much feeling in the art of bread making. Truly there is a ton of chemistry, so you would think that I could wrap my scientific brain around the concepts and knead out some incredible artisanal bread. Alas! I am but a learner, and most of that learning is discerning what the bread is supposed to look like and feel like rather than the exact quantities of ingredients. I found the above quote on Wild Yeast and so I press on relentlessly.

You should press on, too. There's a recipe coming...

If you've been reading the blog long enough, you will know there is one thing that I confess to: I do not like to measure exactly. (Turns out Carrie doesn't either... reference: Shanghai Style Baozi.) So caveat now stated, let us take a look at my month-long (and counting) bread experiment. This is probably the first in a line of bread posts, so be prepared!

I've made rye, french country, boules, ciabatta, and more french country, and things resembling french country. Crunchy crust, burned crust, just right crust. Too dense, very spongy, small holes, big holes. Breads that have maintained their integrity, breads that have fallen down when I take them out of the oven. Perfectly done, undone, overdone. 450, 425, 420 degrees F. Convection Bake, Conventional Bake. More gluten, less gluten. Less yeast, More yeast. Bread flour, all purpose, whole wheat, rye. Sugar vs. honey.  Olive oil or no olive oil. Water a tablespoon at a time.

I started with a simple quest: holes... big holes... lots of big holes. And, I read recipes... lots of recipes. And I practiced... lots of practice. And I resolve to keep practicing!

My best bread was last night, so that's the recipe that I'm sharing. One thing to note is that I am using a starter, which I made myself. I read that it was easier to achieve holes by using a starter, I think I read that on King Arthur Flour's blog about Ciabatta. I read a ton of recipes on how to make a starter, but at the end of the day I made my own - a recipe is just a guideline anyway, after all!

You can read all about starters, but here are the basics. You mix it up, let it grow, come back the next day, pour off half, feed the remainder with a scant cup of all purpose four (or substitute a couple tablespoons for rye flour on occasion if you like that provincial flavor) and a half cup of luke warm water. Repeat. You can either toss the poured off starter or you can use it to make a loaf of bread! Once you get the flavor you are looking for, stick the starter in the fridge (full quantity). When you are ready to bake another loaf, pull it out, use a portion for your bread. Feed the remainder and let it sit out while you bake and then return it to the fridge.

Eileen's Starter:

1/4 c. Rye Flour
1/2 c. Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 c. Bread Four
1 c. luke warm water
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

Mix the ingredients above, cover with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter. King Arthur's website says start this process 2 to 16 hours in advance. Or as you can see from above, it's really no big deal to let it sit out longer. I keep having this hope that eventually it will become sourdough... don't know if that's possible, though.

24 hours later... (or repeated see the above cycle... I think I'm at day 21 or so...)

Eileen's Bread

1/2 c. Starter
1 1/2 c. Bread Flour*
1 tbsp. vital wheat gluten
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
1/2 c. luke warm water*
1 tbsp. olive oil

Instructions (Short version). Mix. Knead. Rest. Knead. Rise (4 hours). Form. Place on baking sheet. Rise (2 hours). Bake 35 - 40 minutes, or until done. Serve!

It is great the next day toasted, buttered, and served with a touch of honey. It's equally great as grilled cheese sandwich bread. Of course it's kind of amazing right out of the oven.

Instructions (Long Version):

*Note: Water and Flour is more about feel than it is about quantity. I read that you should start out by keeping some flour in reserve and allowing the ingredients to meld. If you find that your dough is TOO sticky or soupy, consider adding flour a tablespoon at a time. If you find that your dough is too dry, add water a tablespoon at a time.

I use a bread maker, mostly because I got it for Christmas several years ago. I don't find that I prefer the french bread that it makes/bakes, but it is very handy for handling the labor intensive work. I appreciate its kneading capabilities. I am certain (I've seen it done) that you can mix the ingredients in a bowl and hand knead the dough to your textural satisfaction. I'm equally certain that you can bust out the mixer that you received as a wedding present, clip in the dough hook, and be on your way!

Add all of the ingredients to the bowl (or in my case, bread maker rectangular thing-y with paddle installed). I have, in fact, done all of this without the paddle installed, but no harm done - just some fingers in the food which should bother anyone. A little reminder for the absent minded in all of us.

If you are using your bread maker, turn on the manual knead function. What? Don't have one? Me neither. Just pick another bread setting, they should all start with a knead cycle. You're going to pull it out in a minute anyway.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes (or until all of the ingredients are absorbed), then let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Prior to the rest, resist the urge to add flour if it displays lack of form. If it is too dry, add water a tablespoon at a time until it demonstrates more movement (it should look more stretchy/pliable but not quite pourable).

This one needed a bit more water...

Now you are ready to let it rest. This rest should allow for some more absorption of the flour and it will give the dough an entirely new texture. I read about this, totally didn't believe it, but then I observed the phenomenon for myself. Once the dough has rested, turn back on your kneading device. At this point you can add flour as you see fit.

Use some olive oil to grease a glass bowl, turn the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap (or a damp towel) and let sit for 4 or so hours. Often I do this at night before I go to bed and throw it in the fridge for a slow rise.

It is totally ok for your dough to be a bit sticky... See? I promise it will turn out okay.

As the end of rise time approaches, sprinkle a baking sheet with corn meal. Gently remove the dough from the bowl form into a baguette or a boule (that circular looking thing) and place onto the baking sheet seam side down. Slice the top to make those beautiful caverns that you see on bakery bread - they will grow as it rises. Let rise for another hour and a half.

This rise time can be shorter or longer as you see fit. My bread tends to expand horizontally more than vertically, but don't worry it turns out delicious either way! This is because I tend to use less flour. More flour yields a stronger form.

Preheat your oven to 420 deg F. Grab a baking dish, fill it with water, and place it in the bottom of the oven. I used a 9 x 9 brownie pan and it made this delicious crust so I say the more steam, the better!

When you and the are ready, put your bread in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. It is done when a cake tester comes out clean or the internal temperature approaches 212 deg F. I'm finding the cake tester method is working well for me.

So what do you think of my latest obsession? More bread posts? Make sense? Questions? Leave me some comments!

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