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Friday, June 1, 2012

bread tutorial and recipe

I've adapted this bread recipe and thought I might share, now that my adaptation has been tried and tested for a few years with success. This particular recipe started with my English granny, and then my dad has been making it for most of my life (possibly with a few tweaks himself), and now I've changed it slightly to produce a darker, denser, hard-to-flop sandwich loaf that kids love as well as adults. I had used the original recipe with brilliant success almost every week by hand during university...but then moved to Arizona, and the climate plus oven change was so drastic I seemed to lose my touch for about a year, especially during summer! Every loaf had a slight dip in the top and a slightly-too-crumbly center. I was not happy. So I did a fair bit of research, trial and error, not wanting to give up on my favorite bread recipe, and have finally found a method that works every time beautifully for me again. I am confident that it will still work just as well in damper climates, despite my tweaks for Arizona.

The method I detail here, with my improved recipe, can be done by hand just as well or better with good technique. I personally do all my own kneading totally by hand now, never with a mixer or (gasp!) bread machine -- even the words 'bread machine' leave an ugly taste in my mouth -- and I teach kneading by hand in my bread lessons. But since proper dough kneading is a dying art form, I am hedging the bet that most of my readers will not know, but will have a KitchenAid with bread hook, or the equivalent. The recipe will still work with a bread hook. Just be aware that you may still have to knead by hand a little before setting to rise. Try it and enjoy.

This shows what we call "the crumb". A fine crumb is evidence of a loaf well made, evenly shaped, that doesn't crumble too much when sliced and the texture inside the loaf is regular and without holes. A dense crumb is evidence of too little gluten binding. Correct the next batch by kneading longer and more steadily, and ensuring enough moisture is present in the dough. If it feels dry as you knead, wet your hands, not the dough, and knead the dampness in. A holey or uneven crumb is evidence of too much yeast, or of unabsorbed fats. Don't add extra fats after the first rise, not even to grease the bowl. Instead, dampen the bowl with water, if necessary. Holes only near the top third of the loaf are evidence of too long a rise after shaping the loaves. Reduce rise time in the next batch.
Makes 1 loaf.
20 min prep
60 ish min rise x2
10 mins 400 F, then 25 mins 340 F
Freezes well, in halves for small families if need be. Defrost on counter or in microwave.

Combine in mixer bowl -
3 c whole wheat or granary flour
(or blend white and wheat to total 3 c flours -- be aware that less whole wheat may require slightly less water)
You may use home milled 100% whole wheat. This still makes a beautiful loaf! I prefer to use 1/3rd hard white wheat and 2/3rds hard red wheat, for a sweet, nutty flavor, and plenty of natural gluten present in these grains. I have not required any of the additives, stabilizers or extra gluten I have read about in other blogs. I do not recommend using soft white wheat for bread baking as it contains significantly less natural gluten and does not proof as well. You may find with home milled whole grain flours that you require one Tbs more or less than a cup of water, due to the higher fiber content, but it seems to depend on the particular grain whether more or less is needed. Work patiently and slowly, adding little amounts of extra water as you need it rather than all at once. 

Add and stir in -
1/4 c (4 Tb) butter
1 tsp sea salt

You will also need 1 tsp good quality dried active yeast, and 1 c (8 oz) baby bath temperature water.

Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients+butter, and add yeast and water. You may add a few tablespoonfuls of raw honey as well. Let sit a few minutes until the yeast activates and starts to froth at the surface of the liquids. With a dough hook on your mixer, mix on a low speed (not going above medium, as this alters the temperature of the dough and can break forming gluten strands) for about 10 minutes, scraping flour from the sides of the bowl. Dough should form a smooth, even, almost honey-color lump around the dough hook.

If you prefer, you may use part orange juice in place of some of the water. Make sure it is not fridge cold, though! Orange juice can provide a few more natural sugars for yeast to latch onto and eat quickly, and so it can smooth the process for those just beginning the learning-curve of baking bread. The honey and blackstrap molasses do the same. I often make our regular bread without either juice or sweeteners. The trick is in knowing dough texture well, having good quality yeast, and having seen many loaves both succeed and fail and adapting my dough handling accordingly. The more you bake bread, the more you will gain an intuition in your fingertips for how each batch of dough will prove.

If dough is sticking a lot to the sides of the bowl, add a little more wholewheat flour by 1 tsp increments to the sides of the bowl if using a mixer, or to the board by hand, being careful not to add too much flour or dough will toughen.

To shape dough for rising, both in first and second stages (2nd rise is in loaves), you need to understand the importance of gluten. If you gently stretch a section of dough between your fingers, you will see spaghetti-like strands in the dough. This is the gluten binding. When you handle dough, it is important to leave as many of these strands intact as possible. Use your palms, the heel of the hand, and if you must use your fingers keep them tight and flat together in a paddle shape. Never poke the dough! To shape your desired lump of dough for each stage of rising, gently roll and knead against a faintly flour-dusted counter, using the hand heel, while pulling sides underneath. It should be smooth and unbroken on top once shaped, and may have several pleats or creases, a little like a wrapped gift, on the underside where it rests.

Carefully collect dough into a lump on the counter. Lightly rinse the inside of the bowl with hot water. It need not be clean of flour debris, just warmed and wet. Shape dough for rising, place in bowl, cover top of bowl with very damp cloth (I prefer a washcloth in dry AZ), and set in warm area to rise for 1hr. This rising step is called "proving" the dough. Do not grease the bowl as unblended fats may add holes to your finished bread. If your house or kitchen runs cool, or in the winter, you may place the rising bowl/tins over a heating pad on lowest setting. Yeast needs warmth. 80F is perfect. Liberally grease and flour one 8x4 bread tin per loaf. Crisco or bacon grease is better than butter for greasing, especially cheap butter which might still allow sticking.

Update! I've finally added, almost 2 years after the original tutorial, a quick video so you can see bread dough kneading in action.

Once dough is at least doubled in size, or has been rising undisturbed the bowl for not more than 60 minutes, uncover and deflate. "Punching down" dough is not a helpful term, as it implies a hard, swift action that breaks the gluten strands you have been so careful to encourage! Deflate the dough by pulling it gently but firmly away from the sides of the bowl and into one smooth lump again. Using the hand heel once more, knead your dough 5-10 minutes, until air is fully gone. Push dough away from the body with the hand heel of left hand, pull back with paddled fingers, repeat with the other hand. Kneading is a smooth, rhythmic action. Keep strokes steady. A key trick to kneading with ease is to put the weight of the push into your body, not your arm. Having an appropriate height on which to knead makes a big difference with this. Shorter women may find that a dining table is a better height than the kitchen counter. Good kneading is a light workout but should not feel strenuous. My  student who fastest learned good technique for kneading is a professional masseuse. Not surprisingly.

Divide dough into equal lumps, one for each loaf. (If you are new to this lesson and are making one loaf of bread, there is no need to divide. I usually double the above given recipe to make two loaves at a time.) Divide by pulling, not with a knife, so that the gluten breaks where it is naturally weakest and you do not sever stronger strands by force. Shape each loaf portion for rising into a smooth oblong loaf and place in your bread tin. To do this, smooth and fold edges of the dough to the underside, creating a round ball with an even top and crumpled underside in the same way as you shaped the dough for the first proof, and then roll or pat gently into an oblong shape to match the length of the bread tin before dropping it quickly in place. Rise until desired height, about 45 minutes, not exceeding 60 minutes. Well-shaped dough will form a smooth, even height over the top of the loaf. If it does not, do not deflate and reshape as yeast has a limited life, but take a little more care in shaping next time.

Bake loaves at 400F for 10 minutes, then turn down oven to 340F for 25 minutes. (If you are using an electric oven instead of gas or cast iron, bake at 400F for 8 minutes and turn down oven to 340 for 27 minutes.) Cool loaves on wire racks.

To tell if the loaf is cooked, do not poke as you would do a cake. It should appear golden brown on top. You may have been lucky or smooth-handed enough to achieve a second rise in the oven, with more loaf height than when you put it in. Tip out the hot loaf to cradle it in your cloth- or mitt-covered hand. Tap the underside of the loaf with your nail. It should be firm with a slight spring, and should have a dull ring to it as if you were tapping a wooden table the same way.

*please note: I buy my yeast as dried active, but not shelf stable, from Mount Hope local health food store. It keeps for months but in the fridge, not the cupboard. You can use shelf-stable yeast from the grocery store but remember it takes longer to activate (froth). When I was at college, there was no affordable health food store nearby but I did not prefer shelf-stable yeast, so I would buy a cheap block of fridge yeast from the supermarket baker. Many places offer this. It is worth checking.

**please note: It is NOT worth using cheap, bleached, low-grade flour. Never ever. You don't have to purchase the most expensive flour out there, but two things are worth noting. One, bleached white flour and many brands unbleached white flour are not exclusively wheat, which alters the gluten content (and therefore binding ability) of the dough. For this reason, do NOT make this bread from white flour alone unless you know for sure it is bread standard 9-13% protein and 100% wheat. However, this bread absolutely can be made with 100% wholewheat alone. Two, whole wheat flour is best when bought at the correct protein content, which is usually labelled on the shelf for bread baking. It is well worth the dollar or two more per 5lb bag than cheap wholewheat. Once again, if the protein is not sufficient in the flour, your dough will not bind and will then have trouble rising evenly. If you mill your own flours at home from whole grain wheat, your proteins will be ideal for bread, so don't worry!

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