Monday, December 29, 2008

Cooking the Wrong Way: Baking Bread

A housemate who was once a bread baker for a living told me that there was pretty much nothing I did right about baking bread and that he had no idea why my bread turned out at all. Despite the occasional screw up due to either distraction or a penchant for too much innovation, my bread usually turns out and most people who have had it, like it - or so they say.

I buy bread on rare occasions when my schedule gets packed up and there is no alternative. No fresh bread of mine. No bread I've frozen. No bread we've traded with Breadhead Brian for firewood. I bake four loaves once or twice a week, but that's because this three-person family can go through at least a loaf a day on most days.

What I like about my bread is that I've developed a way of doing it that takes very little kneading. This was not my innovation but advice from a friend of ours. Or maybe it was just what I wanted to hear.

For anyone tired of eating bread not made just the way YOU like it or tired of paying $2.00 a loaf for crap or $5.00 a loaf for the good stuff, here's my four-loaf recipe for you to improvise from. With improvisation as one of the goals here, not all measurements are exact.
In a big bowl ...

pour 1 pint warm water,
sprinkle in enough yeast to cover the surface (2 tsp, maybe),
then add whole wheat flour (three cups or so),
and mix with wooden spoon until it's a batter,
cover with a tea towel and

go do something else for an hour.

Next: add two quarts warm water (or water and milk if you have a milk surplus and want to add more calcium to the bread),

toss in your optional stuff now: toasted seeds, dried sifted nettles, kelp powder, oats, teff, semolina flour, olives .... When adding grains, other flours, etc., with no gluten, don't get too carried away. Anything more than two cups total will undermine the integrity of the bread and the loaves will want to fall apart. Maybe not the first day, but they will before you can finish them all.

Pour a generous handful of salt on top of this.

Then mix in whatever combinati0n of wheat and white flour you desire until you can't use the spoon anymore. Clean the spoon off with more flour. Thickly flour your countertop and plop the glop from the bowl onto the countertop. Keep adding enough flour fast enough so that the dough doesn't stick to anything - much. When you've added flour to the point where the dough is still elastic and just a bit tacky, scoop it up and plomp it back in the bowl. Cover again with a towel.

Go do something else for more than an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Now grease four breadpans with olive oil or the next best thing.
Scrape up any dough on the counter from before and lightly flour your surface again. Punch down the dough and then gently turn it out onto the counter. Slide your hand around in the bowl to scrape down the dough clinging to the bottom. Try not to the tear the gluey strands of gluten while doing this. Sprinkle enough flour over the dough and the counter and your hands to allow you reshape the dough into a big smooth pile without it sticking to anything. Get a big knife and divide the dough into four. Do a quick Play-Doh roll on each quarter to get it loaf shaped and to make sure you don't have any folds or giant bubbles in the loaf. Then place each quarter in its tin. Cover all the tins with a towel.

Go do something else for an hour ... or more, depending on how warm your house it.

When the dough is double in size, preheat the over to 350 degrees F.
When the oven is ready, bake for forty minutes or until the bread is golden-brown on all sides and sounds like a hollow-core door when you knock on the bottom and sides of it.

Place on rack to cool with the tea towel back on it. Freeze or refigerate some if you don't go through bread very fast.

More pictures of the process could be provided.

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