Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Learning the Art of Bread Making

I have been making bread for many years now.  Sometimes with success, sometimes ... well, the results haven't always made me happy.  With the recent purchase of my Bosch Universal Plus Mixer (four months and counting!) I have not had a failure.  Is it the machine or have I been slowly learning the art - and science - of bread making?

Bread, at it's essence, is the simple marriage of wet (water, milk) with the dry (flour, salt, sugar).  The leavening agent (yeast) along with some lubricant (oil, butter) brings the happy union together.  The heat of the oven finishes things off.  The result?  Heaven.  Yet, making bread scares most of us.  I know it did me for many years.  Bread can be temperamental.  It needs to be worked to bring out the glutens in such a manner that the yeast will properly marry to it.  Only then will you get the proper rise required for a delicious loaf of bread.  Kneading, so required for that success, is something learned over time.

I have to give credit to my pizza making recipe for teaching me how to knead.  The recipe created a small enough amount of dough that I was able to learn how to knead.  I learned the right look and feel of the dough.  The soft touch that meant the dough was ready to be rested.

Having learned how to knead, the Bosch has given me the ability to vastly increase the amount of dough I can make at one time.  A recipe that makes 2-3 loaves of bread can easily be doubled.  The machine takes care of the arduous task of kneading.  I simply look on.  I do clean up, but am always drawn back to the Bosch.  I stare at the mixing dough, seeing it pull away from the sides of the bowl, being kneaded by the dough hook.  I occasionally stop the machine and touch the dough.  Too sticky?  I gently add a bit more flour and let the kneading continue.  After 10 or so minutes I stop my Bosch and do a final touch of the dough.  Soft, pliable, but not sticky?  Perfect.  I pull it out, giving it just a bit more kneading by hand.  Then into an oiled bowl, turning the dough over to make sure it's coated.  Covered with a tea towel, I place it in the oven for 40-70 minutes of proofing.

The proofing is when the dough rests and grows.  it should double.  There is nothing more magical then seeing your dough doubled.  Success.  You kneaded the dough perfectly.  Once doubled, you take it out ... and pound the dough, shrinking it back to somewhere halfway between it's doubled size and it's original size.  At this point there are so many things you can do with it.  Pizza shells, buns, breads, cinnamon rolls, twists.

With a doubled recipe I usually do three loaves of bread and use the remaining dough for treats.  I've made cinnamon rolls, hot dog buns, rolls, and pizza.  Bread sticks are always fun for a change.

I want to share with you one of the recipes I have been using recently.  It's the culmination of 3-4 recipes from various sources, tweaked until the resulting dough works for me.  You might want to tweak it a bit yourself, so that it becomes yours.

One special note - please use yeast from a jar.  Those individual packages?  I've NEVER made great bread with those.


Water, warm - 1 cup
Active Dry Yeast - 4 1/2 teaspoons
Sugar - 2 teaspoons

Water, warm - 4 cups
Salt - 3 to 4 teaspoons
Sugar - 1/2 to 2/3 cup
Oil - 1/4 cup
Flour, whole wheat or rye - 2 cups
Vital Wheat Gluten - 1 tablespoon
Flour, unbleached all-purpose - 12 cups

This recipe is for a double batch.  If you and your mixer can't handle this amount feel free to cut everything in half.  No worries.  Note also, my instructions will be for the Bosch.

First, place the first 1 cup of warm water and 2 teaspoons of sugar into the mixer bowl.  Swirl with your fingers to blend together.  Add the yeast and swirl again, so that the yeast is wet.  Cover and let rest for approximately five minutes.  While this is happening, measure out the remainder of your ingredients.

Once the yeast mixture has become frothy, you can continue.  In a separate bowl mix the remaining 4 cups of warm water, salt, sugar, and oil.  Mix and add to the mixer bowl.  Pulse to combine.  Next add the whole wheat or rye flour and the vital wheat gluten.  If you are using only white flour you probably won't need the vital wheat gluten.  It's useful when using flours that need more protein, providing an improvement in the texture and elasticity of the dough. Pulse to combine.  Add approximately 4 cups of the regular flour and start the mixer on 1.  Watch as the dough hook stirs the ingredients.  Slowly add more flour.  The mixture will start to thicken and the kneading begins.  Continue adding flour, slowly, until the dough leaves the sides of the mixer bowl clean.  Now let the mixer knead for another 5-10 minutes.  Check the dough occasionally to see if it's too sticky.  If it is, add just a little more flour (perhaps 1/4 cup at a time).  You don't want to add too much flour - then you'll have a dry, unmanageable lump of dough.  A little sticky is better than too dry.

Determining when enough kneading has occurred takes some practice.  The dough shouldn't be sticky.  It should feel as soft as a babies bum.  Take the bowl off the machine.  Pull out the shaft from underneath and remove the dough hook.  Pull the dough out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. 

Knead just a few times to make sure the dough is at the right consistency.  If it isn't, you'll have to do a bit more kneading by hand.  Place the dough into an oiled bowl that will provide enough room for doubling of the dough.  Make sure the dough is rolled around in the oil so that all the surfaces are oiled.  An un-oiled dough will dry and crack and this cracked surface is impossible to remove or re-incorporate into the dough. 

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and place in a draft-free place.  (Dough doesn't like to get cold ... cold slows the doubling time.)  I like to place my dough in my oven.  This keeps it warm, and safe.  Set the timer for 40 minutes.  At the 40 minute mark check the dough.  If it's doubled, great.  If not estimate how much longer.  Sometimes it can take a total of 60-70 minutes.  For dough with more whole wheat/rye it can take longer. In the winter dough takes longer to rise then during the summer months.  Wet weather, dry weather ... all types of weather will effect your dough.

Once the dough has doubled take it out of the bowl.  Place it on your counter and pound it down.  you aren't beating the life out of the dough, more like pressing the excess air out of it.  It shouldn't shrink down to it's original size, but somewhere between.  Now, you can cut it into pieces for various baking items.  This amount of dough will make 4-6 loaves of bread.  I only have two loaf pans so I always make two loafs of bread, I use a square cake pan for a square loaf, and perhaps the rest of the dough becomes rolls or breadsticks placed on a cookie sheet ... or I might roll it out for a couple of large-sized pizzas.  For the bread pans and cookie sheets a light oil will prevent the bread from sticking.  I place these filled pans on top of my stove and cover everything with tea towels.  While the dough rests and rises again I heat the oven to 350F.  Usually 25-30 of rising is all that is necessary.  For the pizza dough, no rising is necessary - once you've rolled it out you can put your sauce, toppings, and cheese and bake at 425F for approximately 20 minutes.  For the rest of the breads, 25-40 minutes of baking at the aforementioned 350F will do.

I hope you try your hand at bread making.  Once learned, a whole new world of baking is possible.  You'll be released from ever needing to buy store-bought, plastic-wrapped bread from the grocery store.  You'll know what your bread contains.  You'll actually be able to pronounce every ingredient.  You'll be able to create something wonderful that you can share with friends and family.

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