Thursday, January 7, 2010

Homemade bread: taking time and using time

Some people think bread baking is some lofty unachievable goal.  I don't have time.  I don't know how to knead.  I'll end up with a brick.  I think I can count the number of bricks I have made in 20 years on one hand.  As long as you have nice fresh yeast and a good recipe, you have a good chance of producing a nice light loaf.  Keep in mind that bread dough would rather be a little too wet than too dry.  That's what typically makes a dense loaf for new bread bakers:  too much flour.  You don't really want it to get to the point of not sticking to anything.  That's too dry.  You just want it to be more interested in sticking to itself than to you or the counter.  And actually you can make a beautiful loaf of bread with no kneading whatsoever.  Check out the stretch and fold method.  Mike Avery at Sourdough Home does a great job of showing how it works.  This is especially good for people with arthritis or carpal tunnel symptoms.  The stretch and fold method uses time rather than kneading to develop gluten.  You can fit in a fold around housework or whatever every 45 minutes a couple or few times and then ready to bake.  Total hands on time: maybe 10 minutes, tops.  The results?  Indistinguishable from kneaded dough, except perhaps an even greater depth of flavor.  Here are a couple examples:

This is a 50% whole wheat loaf that I used as a standard sandwich loaf for the girls.  This was adapted from King Arthur's Ethereal Air Bread II.  Lightly sweetened with honey and malted barley syrup.  A nice elastic dough with well developed gluten.  My eldest got to help shape these loaves.  The girls love the squishy dough and I am often hard put to keep them from taking little samples.  Especially my toddler, who likes all things doughy.

Everyday Bread (Standard preparation)

1 t diastatic malt powder
3½ c white whole wheat flour
3½ - 4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
½ c baker's special dry milk (high heat treated dry milk - you may omit this if you do not wish to get a special ingredient.  Instead, substitute 2 cups scalded milk for the water.)
1 T salt
2 c lukewarm water
¼ c vegetable oil
2 T honey
2 T malted barley syrup
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten (you may used powdered egg whites + water)

Mix together the yeast, malt, dry milk, whole wheat flour, 3½ c of the all-purpose flour, and salt in a large bowl.  Pour the water, oil, honey and barley syrup into the dry ingredients, along with the egg whites.  Combine and turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead, adding flour as necessary, until a soft, smooth ball forms.  Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

Punch the dough down and divide in half.  Shape each piece into a thick rectangle, then roll each piece into a log, starting with long edge; place in two greased 8½" x 4½" loaf pans.  Cover them and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes, or until loaves have crowned 1 inch over the top of the pans.  Bake the loaves in a preheated 375ºF oven for 35-45 minutes, or until well-browned.

Yield: 2 loaves

The girls were so keen on getting a fresh slice, they kind of squished one of the loaves, but they still turned out just as soft and good as dough kneaded by machine.  Those are 9½" loaf pans that I used that time.  The 8" pans called for will of course produce a taller loaf.

Here is another 50% whole wheat loaf that used the stretch and fold method.  I adore this recipe, which is adapted from the Bread Cook Book by BH&G.  Even die-hard white bread lovers go for this loaf of cinnamon swirl.  And since I use white whole wheat, you can't even tell it is there.

Cinnamon Swirl Loaf (Standard preparation)

2¼ c lukewarm water
½ c sugar
½ c butter, softened
2 t salt
3½ c white whole wheat flour
3½ - 4 c unbleached all purpose flour
½ c baker's special dry milk (high heat treated dry milk - you may omit this if you do not wish to get a special ingredient. Instead, substitute 2 cups scalded milk for that much water.)
2 slightly beaten eggs
¾ c sugar
1½ T cinnamon
soft butter
Combine yeast, water, ½ c sugar, salt, softened butter, whole wheat flour, dry milk and eggs to make a smooth batter.  Add in enough of the remaining all purpose flour to make a soft dough..  Turn out on lightly floured surface.  Knead till smooth (8 to 10 mintues).  Place in lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface.  Cover and let rise in warm place until double (1½ to 2 hours).
Punch down and divide dough in half.  Cover and let rest 10 minutes.  Roll each half in 15x7" rectangle, about ½" thick.  Mix ¾ c sugar and the cinnamon.  Reserve 2 T of mixture; sprinkle remainder over dough.  Sprinkle 1 t of water over each; smooth with spatula.  (I like to use a spray bottle for this purpose).
Roll each as for jelly roll, beginning with narrow side.  Seal long edge.  Place sealed edge down in two 9½ x 5 x 3" loaf pans.  Let rise till almost double (45 to 60 minutes).  Just before baking, brush loaves with soft butter and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon-sugar.
Bake in moderate oven (375ºF) 35 to 40 minutes or till done.  (If crust browns too fast, cover with aluminum foil last 15 to 20 minutes of baking).  Turn out of pans and cool on rack.
Makes 2 loaves

Then there are the recipes that take a little more effort.  I found this overnight ciabatta recipe at and it has repeatedly given me phenomenal results.  This involves both kneading and folding.  But since I use my machine to help me knead, there is still very little cumulative hands on time for such a fabulous loaf.
Now I know that looks a little flat, but this is a very slack dough.  You should see it before it proofs!  There is also incredible oven spring on this dough.

These are a couple loaves that have come from this recipe.  The first one was from my first attempt at the recipe.  You can see the shine in the crumb.  This is a nice rustic bread with a thin crispy crust and a tender, slightly chewy crumb that somehow also manages to practically melt in your mouth.  I get requests for it and I highly recommend heading over to Susan's blog to see the recipe.  (Look for Ciabatta in the recipe index.)

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