Posts tagged: baking

Dec 24 2007

Give us this day our daily bread…

To finish off yesterday’s basic ingredient tips:

Milk: Another “not required” ingredient. I leave it out a lot, as I prefer harder, crunchier crusts that you don’t get with milk in your bread. When I do use milk, I use powdered milk, since it frees you up to use as much milk as you want without worrying about the liquid vs flour ratio. Plus, powdered milk doesn’t spoil, and it really makes no difference at all to the actual bread. If real milk is used, again, count the liquid as part of your water. Milk will help create a softer texture inside the bread, and can darken and soften the crust.

Salt: NEVER LEAVE THIS OUT. Minor, but trust me, you’ll notice if it’s not there. You can experiment with fleur de sel or other fancy schmancy french salts – they do change the flavor a bit. Personally, I like plain old kosher salt.

Other stuff: Berries, seeds, cheese, anything can be added to bread. Just keep in mind the texture you want in the final bread, if you’re adding something mushy (raisins are a good example), don’t add them until just before the first rise. Stuff like cheese is better added earlier, so it melts and can flavor the whole bread.

Now, about my favorite appliance, my bread machine.

I adore bread machines. In fact, the way I got into bread baking as a hobby in the first place was by finding some old janky bread machine for $10 at a yard sale somewhere. I took it home, started playing, and was hooked.

I only use my machine for the dough cycle. I don’t think I’ve ever baked in the machine I have now, and I’ve had it for over 4 years (still running strong too!). Why use a machine instead of a mixer? Some say it rises bread better, some say it’s just lazyness. I think it’s a combo of the two. I will never pre-warm ingredients, rise, and mix them as well and as consistently as a machine can. My dough cycle ends just in time for the final shape and rise (unless I’m feeling very fluffy, in which case I’ll rise it again), and has been kneaded for at least a good half an hour. That makes my arms tired.

So obviously, I highly recommend bread machines as a good way to take some of the work out of bread baking. Just please, don’t bake in the machine. Any machine worth anything will contain a dough cycle.

What you pay for when buying higher end machines:

• Dishwasher safe parts
• Closed mixing bowl (my first one was open, which meant liquids had to be carefully placed on top of the flour or they’d seep through)
• Better handles for mixing (one of the handles on mine is permanently stuck, but that’s fairly common). Cheap machines have one, better machines have at least two.
• Programs, both pre-set and custom – Mine has a bunch of pre-sets (wheat, white, sandwich, rye, etc), but they all refer to actual baking methods. I’ve programmed my own dough cycle that contains that extra rise I like, but I still mainly use the prebuilt dough cycle
• Timer – throw all the ingredients in before leaving for work, come home to either dough just finishing up, or a fresh baked loaf of bread. You’ll pay for the timer length, almost all machines have at least a 12 hr timer. Mine’s 24.
• Baking – both shape and how well it bakes. Cheap machines bake the dough upright, like a loaf standing on its end. Better machines will bake a longer loaf. I still have yet to find a machine that bakes as well as an oven, though, and any bread baked in a machine will still have the tell tale holes in it from the mixing hands.
• See through top and light, warning when to check your dough before the final rise. Both of these are nice since you’re really not supposed to ever open the machine until the final rise is done, you want that steam and heat in there to stay consistent. That said, you always have to check your dough before it’s done. A light and glass top allows you to do this without opening the machine. I find I can’t really see through the top of mine (despite the glass), so when it beeps, I open it anyway.

It’s really not worth laying out hundreds for a fancy machine until you’ve reached the limits of a basic. $20 will get you something decent enough. If you are looking for a higher end machine, research. Every machine out there is best at something, you want the one that fits your needs. Mine’s the best for dough, not so hot at baking, which is perfect for me.

Any yeast bread recipe can pretty much be shaped any way imaginable. Just please, please don’t bake it in a bread machine, as wonderful as bread machines are (I ADORE mine), use them for the dough cycle ONLY. It’ll only take you 5 extra minutes to shape and rise the bread yourself, but there truly is no comparison.

All that said, don’t ever make sourdough in a bread machine. Sourdough starter should not come into contact with any metal until baked (although that’s something of a debate – some say you can mix with metal, so on. I figure why risk it.). If you’re making sourdough, you’re gonna be spending a good half hour to an hour kneading it by hand. But that’s fun, right?

Want more baking posts? All posts tagged baking!

Dec 23 2007

If cooking is an art, baking is a science..

…quote from a King Arthur Flour catalog

The quote fit, since here’s where I get into the geeky, fun part of baking. The tweaking of the forumla that creates a basic bread to get what you want. Any loaf of bread can be made out of simply water, flour and salt, if you have enough time. The fun comes in turning those basic ingredients into the best loaf of bread ever, and understanding the science behind why each ingredient does what it does. I’ll leave the science out, but here are some good ingredient tips for any baker who wants to start playing with bread.

Don’t play until you are satisfied with a basic white and a basic wheat. Only then should you mess with ingredients, primarily by replacing one at a time to see what changes. Once you have THAT down – go nuts. :)

Part one of two of BamBam’s Bread tips. This had been intended for one entry, but, well, I rambled. Fancy that, me rambling.

– Yeast: Bread will not rise without something to start the process. Quick breads (carrot bread, etc) use baking soda and salt for this, but what I call “real” bread – the sandwich stuff, the rolls, etc – use yeast. Storebought yeast will never, ever be able to produce the same type of bread that a true starter can, but it is fine to use. Active dry yeast can be stored in the freezer, and if you have the time, it should be proofed – soaked in warm water for 10-15 minutes before you start mixing (unless using a bread machine). Take note, a typical yeast packet contains about 1/2 tsp more yeast then most recipes require.

A starter is live yeast (the frozen stuff is just the live stuff frozen, hence the “active”) that needs to be fed and maintained. It can be fun dealing with a starter, but also requires committment – an out of control starter can overflow a refrigerator, and a dead one can be the stinkiest thing you’ve ever smelled.

Bread can also be made without any starter – my two week amazing bread is an example – but it is using wild yeast picked up in the kitchen. ..and before you say “ew” to that, yeast is naturally in the air, everywhere. San Francisco Sourdough tastes, and acts like San Francisco sourdough because of the natural yeast in the region. One person making the same recipe with a homemade starter in two different parts of the world can end up with a very different bread. I think that’s neat. :)

To answer Dossy’s question from my last entry…I use storebought yeast (Red Star Active Dry) about 75% of the time, and a starter or do the two week thing with the rest. My starter is based on a SF Sourdough freeze-dried thing I reconstituted. I’d had my own back in Virginia, creating a starter really only involves mixing flour and water daily (fairly smelly and sticky flour and water), but it does take a while to get started, and I don’t feel like doing it yet.

– Flour: Another required ingredient. If making sandwiches, use unbleached all-purpose flour, it’ll make the bread a little denser. Use bread flour for fluffier bread. Wheat flour adds flavor, but also density. My favorite wheat bread recipe uses 2 1/2 cups whole wheat to 1/2 cup white bread flour. Nearly every whole wheat bread you buy in the store has some white flour in it, all whole wheat is tricky to do without a massive amount of everything else to make up for it. I’ll get it down some day.

– Sweetener: Not at all required. White sugar and honey are the standard options, but you can use fruit juice, brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk…anything you can think of. You’ll notice the difference in both the taste and crust. If you use real sugar, watch the top, can get very dark and can burn. Splenda is the only artificial sweetener that can be baked, and has no effect on the crust.

– Oil: Not at all required, but unless making french or sourdough bread, it’s probably best to use something, bread without some oil can get a little dense and tough. Oil also adds flavor and fluffiness – use lots of butter in dinner rolls.

– Liquids: Without a doubt, the trickiest part of baking bread is getting the liquid to flour ratio down right. You want your dough to be slightly tacky, but not sticky, and form a ball with a skin over the top that you can stretch, but not rip (the top “skin” helps the dough maintain its shape as it bakes). Bread should always be mixed, kneaded, then checked for consistency before the first rise – if necessary, add flour or water to get the dough to the right state. It is VERY easy to go too far in either direction, but just as easy to fix the problem – add more!

Any liquid added to the bread should be included in the calculation for how much water to use. So, if using an egg, just crack the egg into the measuring cup before measuring the rest of the liquid.

Not sure what’s inspired this need to share baking knowledge, but, it is definately something I enjoy blabbing about.

On to part two!

Dec 21 2007

How can a nation be great if the bread tastes like kleenex?

…quote from Julia Child

This recent article from the NY Times made me laugh.

As any true bread-lover will tell you (and I am a bread geek of the worst kind), whole wheat and whole grain bread is the only kind of bread worth eating. White bread is generally bland, over sweetened and buttered stuff left for dinner rolls, challah, and real traditional sourdough. Other than that?? Whole wheat/grain bread is healthier, ends up with a much better texture, and tastes about a billion times better. White bread’s also boring to play with as a baker. The fun comes in when I play with the other stuff.

King Arthur Flour (the god of all flour companies) has made white whole wheat bread for ages now. It�s not bad, although it still doesn’t act quite the same as real whole wheat. Still better than white bread, though, and marketed as a way to get the wonder bread generation eating whole wheat bread.

I love baking bread. To me, it�s a fun, enjoyable, edible hobby.

I still do buy bread on occasion, the best bread takes time and hours of love, and if I�m not going to do it right, I�d rather not do it. It�ll take me a minimum of 4 hours to bake a basic loaf from start to finish, but can take weeks if I really want to make that fantasy bread of every baker that crackles as it comes out of the oven. The perfect bread is crunchy on the outside, slightly dense, chewy on the inside with the big air bubbles that no storebought yeast will ever produce.

The ingredients in a basic loaf of bread are extremely simple. Some mix of different types of flour, and some mix of additional ingredients, depending on what I’m trying to get out of the bread (light and fluffy vs denser sandwich bread, etc). I�ll use butter or oil, eggs, powdered milk, but I rarely use sugar. If I’m making real, heavy whole wheat, I’ll add splenda, and dinner rolls just have to have a ton of sugar and butter, but other then that? The whole point of making bread at home is that it isn’t that icky sweet sticky storebought fluff balls they call bread.

That said, if someone is going to start baking bread for the first time, the transition is smoother if they use use some sort of sweetener, especially if they’re going to try to get kids to eat the bread. Just makes the transition a little easier, and after a while, you’ll find yourself making up your own recipes. Bread’s one of those great things you can throw half the refrigerator into. Even if you don’t make it part of the actual dough, you can always wrap dough around stuff and suddenly you’ve invented something.

Baking bread is easy, fun, and nowhere near as difficult as people think it is. It’s edible playdough. Beat that.

Below is my recipe for my simple version of whole wheat bread. It�s light, fluffy, has a crunchy crust, and tastes better then anything you�ll find in the store.

Ingredients:

2 tsp yeast
1 � cup white flour
1 � cup regular whole wheat flour
2 tbl honey
4 tbl butter, unsalted
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 egg
� tsp salt
1 � cup water

Mix, let rise (about an hour), pound down, let rise again (about 45 minutes), shape, let rise one last time (until dough has doubled). Bake for 30 � 40 minutes on 425 in a VERY well preheated oven. You’ll know the bread’s done if it sounds hollow when you thump on the bottom.

Once you get the hang of the basic recipe, you can mess with ingredients – the only way to truly “fail” at baking bread is to forget the yeast (or flour, obviously). Play with shaping the dough – any bread loaf can also be made as rolls, or braided, or whatever, and play with the baking temp and time. Ideally, bread should be baked in the hottest possible oven you can get for the shortest period of time.

I’ll write another entry with general tips tomorrow.

Have fun, and happy eating!!

(oh, and thanks for the unanimous recommendation on what host to use, that made my choice easy!)

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