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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bread Baking 101

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Measuring Out The Flour: Always fluff the flour out before you measure it and make sure it is lightly scooped into the measuring cup and not packed or else it will not measure out correctly. I do this by fluffing it up with the measuring scoop in the flour bag or canister right before I scoop out each cup full. Then take your a knife or a long tubular handle (handle a wooden spoon) and remove the excess flour by scraping it across the measuring cup.

Water Temperature:
I have found that as long as it is not cold or hot the temp is not that important. No need to take the temp of the water, just use luke warm. You know it is luke warm by putting your finger in and it feels like nothing, the temp of your finger has not changed. Again, it is neither hot or cold.


KitchenAid Method : Use the dough hook. Add liquid ingredients and yeast and mix for a few seconds until foamy. Add dry ingredients and mix on low until a ball forms. Knead for a good 7-8 minutes after the ball of dough has formed.
Cuisinart Method: Use the dough blade and low speed. Add the dry ingredients including the yeast and pulse a few times on low. Add the liquid in a slow steady stream and mix until a ball forms. Once the ball forms knead for one minute for white bread and 2 minutes for whole wheat.
Hand Method: Place the yeast in the liquid (except for the fat or oil) and stir, allow it to foam up. Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and make a well. Add in the liquid and oil/fat and mix together to from a ball. Knead for a good 10-20 minutes. You will know you are finished kneading because the dough will be smooth and elastic. Tear off a walnut sized piece and stretch, it should not tear easily but rather stretch like a piece of gum.

Rising Dough:
Always place in draft free warm area, a large bowl with plastic wrap on top of the preheating stove or on top the fridge works fine. I like to heat my oven for a minute turn it off and rise the bread in there. Oil the bowl or else the dough will get stuck and will not rise as well. Oil the wrap so that the dough doesn't stick to the wrap. It needs to rise until it is double in bulk. if you are not ready for it yet simply press sit down and allow it to re-rise. This is actually how the French make their bread.
Or you can place it in the fridge as this stops the rise and then continue with recipe when you are ready.
Or you can  freeze it after the first rise by pressing it down, oiling it, and sealing in a plastic baggy. then when you need it simply defrost it in the baggy and continue on as the recipe says.

Forming Dough Into A Shape:
First flour up the counter lightly. Now there are many many different ways to form your hearth bread but here are some basics:
Italian Round:
Form a large ball by tucking it underneath it self several times making sure it is nice and tight and firm with no air bubbles.
French Baguette:
Cut the dough into 2 loaves and then roll each out to the size of a notebook size paper. Now roll them up (short ways) and then take your hands and with the fingers and bottoms of your hands touching the counter rock and roll them into shape. Then come to the very ends and roll into little thinner tails.
Sandwich Bread or Loaf Bread:
 Punch it down and grease a loaf pan with butter or Vegetable spray. Take the dough and press it out with your hands to a rough rectangle and roll up tightly turning the ends up underneath to form a nice tight loaf that fits in the pan. I the like to press it down a little to fill in the corners making it pretty even.

How To Know When It's Ready to Bake:
Once it is shaped I usually allow it to rise for about 1 hour, or if using a bread pan until it's crowned about 1 inch above the edge of the pan. Either way a finger pressed into the dough should leave a mark that springs back very slowly.

Baking Sheet & Baking Stone:
If you use a stone it needs to be in the oven as you pre-heat it and placed on the bottom rack. First thing is to place your formed loaves onto a sheet of parchment that has been lightly sprinkled with corn meal onto the baking sheet (even if you are using a stone), cover, and allow it to double in bulk. For the stone you slide the parchment off of the baking sheet and onto the stone. Add ice cubes and then bake. Without the stone simply place the baking sheet onto the middle rack, add icecubes, and then bake.

Slitting The Dough:
This for hearth breads only.You do this just before baking. You need to do this so that your bread does not "explode" in the oven and come out looking warped! This is in fact your signature on the bread. There 3 basic types to try but you can be as creative as you like. First you need a very sharp razor blade, a straight edged razor like you buy in the hardware section to replace your paint scraper works fine. And you need to oil it up just before each use. Then slit about 1/4 inch deep into one of these patterns. Classical: slit bread with medium size cuts, almost straight, but who overlap on about 1/3 of their length. Saucisson: these are at a slant but more parallel to the bread's "axis" Polka: these cuts are crossed like a slanted checker board.

Steaming Your Oven:
This is for hearth breads only. This helps the crust to form and can be done in a variety of ways, here are my favorites. ICE-CUBE METHOD: Simply throw in 3 ice-cubes just before you close the door and then do not open the door until the bread is finished. WATER SPRAY BOTTLE METHOD: Fill a water spray bottle with cold water and spray the oven and really good just before closing the door. Again, do not open the door until the bread is finished.

How To Know The Bread Is Done
The best way is to tap the bottom of the loaf. It will sound hollow when it is finished.If it is not hollow sounding put it back in the oven for 5-10 more minutes and try again. Just after a few times you will get the hang of it and find the perfect time for your oven.

Cutting OR Tearing The Bread
The worst part about baking bread at home is the waiting! Waiting for the rise, waiting for it to bake, and then waiting to cut into it! You really need to wait for it to cool down, it will be cool to the touch, in order to slice it without destroying the loaf. It also needs to finish cooking as the very middle will not be fully cooked until it cools completely. Use a long serrated knife for slicing using a sawing motion without applying too much downward force because this will crush the loaf. A general rule for thickness of the slice is that the denser the crumb, the thinner the bread can be sliced without the slice falling apart.
But if you like you can just tear a piece off like The French and Italians do! In our family we would just pass the loaf around each tearing off the amount we desired. Just note that this only works with hearth breads.

Storing Your Bread
Homemade bread will not last as long as store bought, no nasty chemicals. I find that it lasts longer in the fridge but pretty much after a few days is only good for toasting. I would rather eat toasted good wholesome bread then un-toasted inferior bread everyday. Here is an Amish tip for sandwich breads: Wrap your bread in a plastic bag while it is still slightly warm this will help keep it moist longer!

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