Tuesday, August 11, 2015
BREAD--FRESH-BAKED TO PERFECTION
I love good bread like most of you do but even more so. Good bread and something equally good to go with it would be acceptable to me at three meals a day. Thankfully very nice bread is available to me since I bake my own, as I have for several decades. To me, bread baking is therapeutic, enjoyable and useful kitchen duty. But I do buy good sliced bread at the market for toast only. I hate to use my own for such lowly purpose as toast.
During the hot summer months I still bake fresh bread but switch to a small portable convection oven sitting on a garage shelf. Naturally, I prefer baking indoors in my large oven which can take to loaves at a time, while in the convection I do one loaf then a second when the first is done.
I start with a sponge (two cups bread flour, ½ teaspoon dry yeast and enough warm water to make a soft, sticky dough), cover my bowl and let the yeast do their work overnight or several days at room temperature. This sponge is very forgiving, the longer the yeast work it the more tart it becomes. You can let it sit even a couple of days without harm.
When I am ready to assemble the final bread dough, I add five more cups of flour, thus a total of seven cups is in the bowl. Of the five added cups, one to two cups are whole wheat flour—I find that with this much whole wheat the final bread is not heavy but has a nice hearty flavor. With seven cups of flour four and half teaspoons of salt is just right. The remaining ingredients are optional, although I always add two teaspoons of diastatic malt (the kind used by bakers, not the kind for brewers) that helps yeast work their magic. I may add three to four tablespoons caraway seeds or fennel seeds or coarsely cracked black peppercorns or anything else that I want to try for a change. I do not use sweeteners or oil as many bakers use.
Many, if not most, bread bakers start with a set volume of liquid to which they add the flour; I prefer a set amount of flour so I can arrive the exact final weight of bread.
Using an electric mixer with a kneading hook, I slowly add warm water to the dough until the consistency is just right—not sticky but not too stiff. I let this dough rise covered until nearly doubled at about 80 degrees (in my oven turning it on for two or three minutes will heat it to the right proofing temperature).
Punching the dough down, I have options. I can chill this dough in the refrigerator overnight and bake the bread next morning once it is shaped, warmed up and risen, or I can shape the dough into loaves, let them proof covered on cornmeal dusted baking sheets and bake them.
Before the oven, I give three diagonal slashes about half inch deep on top of the loaves with a serrated knife.
When the bread is baked (30 minutes in 400-degree oven), I let the loaves cool before I slice them, then double wrap the slices in plastic freezer bags for storage in the freezer. When retrieving a few slices, they taste almost like fresh-baked.
Seven cups flour yields 3 lb 3⅓ oz of bread—at fraction of the cost of store-bought and far fresher.
How much work?
o Preparing the sponge: 3 minutes
o Preparing the dough with all ingredients and kneading for 6 minutes: 10 minutes
o Proofing: no work time
o Shaping the dough: 4 minutes
o Slicing the bread and freezing: 4 minutes
Total work: 21 minutes.
- ▼ 2015 (20)