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Bread Making Notes

first published February 2001; last revised: October 2008

Three of the best reference books I've come across are The Italian Baker by Carol Field (published by Harper & Row), The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz (published by Ten Speed Press) and Artisan Baking Across America: The Breads, The Bakers, The Best Recipes by Maggie Glezer (published by Artisan Publishers)


equipment . flour weight equivalents . measuring abbreviations and conversions . quickbread techniques . yeastbread techniques . storage . flatbread techniques . recipes . resources

Equipment Used

A note about machines (or lack thereof): I do all of our bread preparation by hand. This is mostly because we don't have a mixer (nor the counterspace for one). But there is something very satisfying about doing everything by hand. There is the added bonus that it is almost impossible to overknead by hand. (I gather that the metal parts of machines can heat the dough as it is being machine-kneaded and easily cause overkneading.) Having said all that, I am not opposed to other people's use of machines for bread baking. Most bread baking books make provisions and offer advice on how to use machines while preparing the dough.

Here is the equipment that I use, with what I consider to be essential listed first.

Essential

Optional

for flatbreads:

footed wire rack tava


equipment . flour weight equivalents . measuring abbreviations and conversions . quickbread techniques . yeastbread techniques . storage . flatbread techniques . recipes . resources

Techniques for Quick Breads

Mix dry ingredients together in one bowl. Mix wet ingredients in another bowl. Stir wet and dry together in as few strokes as possible.


equipment . flour weight equivalents . measuring abbreviations and conversions . quickbread techniques . yeastbread techniques . storage . flatbread techniques . recipes . resources

Techniques for Yeast Breads

proofing the yeast . mixing . kneading . shaping . proofing the dough . baking

Water: Sometimes our tap water has a lot of chlorine in it especially during spring runoff times or after heavy rains. I read that one can remove the chlorine by boiling a kettle of water, pouring it into a jug and leaving it to stand uncovered overnight. I gather that the chlorine dissipates. Certainly, it doesn't smell as strongly of chlorine as it does when it comes straight out of the tap. When our tapwater has a heavy chlorine smell, I use the jug water for preparing bread dough.

revised October 2008: We have now installed a water filter on our tap and use filtered water directly from the tap.- October 2008

Milk: It used to be necessary to scald milk before using it in bread. The milk we buy has been heated to pasteurize it so the enzyme that hinders yeast from rising is already dealt with. Unless you are using unpasteurized milk, you needn't bother scalding the milk first.

proofing the yeast . mixing . kneading . shaping . proofing the dough . baking

Proofing the yeast: revised August 2003 If I know that the yeast is viable, I don't check it for foaming. I do rehydrate it though in about ¼ c of lukewarm water (I do the baby's bottle test on my wrist). I stir it into the water with a miniature whisk til it is creamy looking. I then add it to the rest of the ingredients. In the summertime, when the kitchen is very warm, I will use cold water to rehydrate the yeast. - August 2003

Any extra water added should be generally at room temperature or a little cooler. Under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Water from the hot water tap sits festering in your hot water tank, leaching copper, lead, zinc, solder, etc. etc from the tank walls... the higher temperature causes faster corrosion. Of course, saying that it is unsafe to use water from the hot water tap might be an urban myth, but why tempt fate? To get warm water, heat it in a kettle or microwave and add cold water until it is the correct temperature (use the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist - your fingers have no idea of temperature!)

If this is your first time using yeast and/or you are unsure whether the yeast is viable, let the small bowl of rehydrated yeast sit on the counter before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. After about 15 minutes, the yeast and water mixture should be quite foamy - if it is not after a period of 20 minutes have passed, either the yeast is dead or the water was too hot or far too cold. Check the due date on your yeast container. If the date hasn't passed, try again.

proofing the yeast . mixing . kneading . shaping . proofing the dough . baking

Stirring in the flour: (revised January 2002) After reading about "autolyse" in Maggie Glezer's wonderful book "Artisan Baking Across America", I gave that a try. It works very well and greatly reduces the amount of stirring required. I put all the water or milk, oil (if called for), the yeast and all but ½ c flour at once in the mixing bowl and stir it around quickly until all the flour has come in contact with the water. It looks very rough. I then cover the bowl with plastic and leave it for about ½ an hour. After that time, it's quite amazing how the dough has smoothed out. I then sprinkle the board with ¼ c flour (from that left over ½ c), turn the dough out and sprinkle the salt over the dough. If necessary, I use the remaining ¼ c in the course of kneading. - January 2002.

Here is what I did before reading Maggie Glezer's book: (This method works very well too) When I first started making bread, I wasn't mixing the flour enough into the liquid. But after reading Joe Ortiz's directions for mixing, I realized that it was a very good idea to add flour by ¼ cup intervals (instead of ½ to one cup at a time as I had done before) With each addition of flour, I stirred 50 times in the same direction (did the same direction really make a difference? I don't know... Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford recommend it and it made sense to me) before adding the next handful of flour. The dough was already quite silken by the time that all the flour was added. This drastically cut down on the amount of extra flour to be added while kneading.

proofing the yeast . mixing . kneading . shaping . proofing the dough . baking

Kneading a slack dough: Using a dough scraper (or spatula), scoop one part of the dough from the bottom and lift it onto the top. I press away and down lightly but firmly with the heel of my hand. I then scoop from another side of the dough and do the same thing. I make sure that the board stays empty of extra dough, scraping and composting any hard bits that stick to the board. Often, I pick the dough up and knead it in the air, to prevent myself from adding extra flour. Near the very end of the kneading, unless otherwise instructed, I make sure that there is a light dusting of flour under the dough. Eventually, the dough seems to sort of hold some shape and I can use my hand to lift and fold. At this point, I turn the dough a quarter turn each time I push away and down on the dough. I hand knead for 10 to 15 minutes.

With insanely slack doughs, I encorporate a method I learned from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking Across America. I've found that even after 15 minutes of squooshing the dough on the board (using a dough scraper to help me) it still stays pretty sloppy and sticky even though most of it pulls away from the board. After "kneading" for about 15 minutes without using any extra flour, I dump the mess into the rising bowl, cover it with one of those plastic shower hat things and leave it on the counter for 20 minutes. Then I lightly dust the board with a tiny amount of flour and carefully tip the still sloppy dough out. Using the bread scraper and trying not to disturb any bubbles, I fold the sloppy left side into the center, then the top into the center, then the right side, then the bottom. As I am lifting it into the bowl, I fold it in half once more. Cover and repeat in 20 minutes. I do this 3 times. It's usually not until the third time that the dough looks like the smooth soft pillow that people describe. The amount of dusting flour used in those three maneuvres is not more than a couple of tablespoons and probably much less (sorry, I've never actually measured). After the third time, I let it rise undisturbed.

proofing the yeast . mixing . kneading . shaping . proofing the dough . baking

First rise: Place the bowl at room temperature away from draughts. I've found out that it really isn't necessary to oil or flour the bowl. The bowl just has to be clean. When I turn the risen dough out to shape the bread, it is a very simple matter to use my fingers to get any dough that has adhered to the bowl. The dough just pulls cleanly away if I rub it with the side of my finger. A good way to tell if dough has doubled is to wet your finger and poke a hole in the top of the dough. If the hole fills up, it hasn't risen enough. If there is a whoosh of air and the dough deflates a little, it has risen too much. If the hole stays in exactly the same configuration and the dough remains otherwise intact, it is ju-u-st right.

proofing the yeast . mixing . kneading . shaping . proofing the dough . baking

Second rise: Do it at room temperature or a bit warmer. I very lightly flour a piece of plastic wrap and lay it over the rising dough. I then cover that with a clean tea towel.

Shaping: Sprinkle a tiny bit of flour on the work surface. Gently turn the dough out, disturbing it as little as possible. Carefully turn the dough out and lightly sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Gently spread the dough out (try not to disturb the bubbles). Fold the left side into the center, then the top, then the right side then the bottom.

For round loaves: continue to pull the dough underneath itself to form an even tight ball without actually deflating the dough. Place it seam side down on a parchment covered peel.

For baguette style loaves and bread baked in tins: roll up the dough from one side to make a tight cylinder without actually deflating the dough. Place it seam side down on a parchment covered peel or seam side down in a parchment lined bread tin. (If you wish to make a long baguette, allow the shaped cylinder to rest for about 15 minutes. Gently pull it to stretch it longer.)

If the dough is in a tin, I use one of those "shower hat" kind of covers instead of the tea towel. If the dough is very slack, I put the shaped loaf on parchment paper on the peel. With freeform loaves that hold their shape, I liberally dust the peel with cornmeal and put the shaped loaf directly on the peel. Leave until the dough is about doubled. To test, flour your finger and press gently on the edge of the dough - it should very slowly spring back. For comparison, try pressing early on to see how it quickly springs back when the dough has not risen enough. Just before the dough has risen to double the size, if the recipe calls for slashing, I slash the top of the baguettes with a very sharp knife at an almost horizontal angle. I slash the top of round loaves at a perpendicular angle. If the dough has risen to more than double, I do not slash.

round loaf slashing: round slashes


baguette slashing:  baguette slashes


proofing the yeast . mixing . kneading . shaping . proofing the dough . baking

Baking: I put a baking stone on the second shelf from the bottom of the oven and preheat the oven for half an hour at 50F higher than the recipe calls for. To achieve a crusty loaf, I place a broiling pan full of water on the bottom shelf of the oven. And JUST BEFORE baking, I liberally spray water on the top of the bread dough.

Transferring risen dough into the oven: And now for the trick of transferring the uncooked bread from board/tray to stone. Couragio! Some people say that one should sprinkle cornmeal on the stone but we haven't found that to be necessary. Put the far edge of the board/tray onto the stone and pull your hand back suddenly. The dough should slide onto the stone. Of course, if you are too vigorous, it might slide beyond the stone and onto the floor of the oven. (don't ask how I know this...) If it doesn't slide on the first jerk of you hand, don't despair. Just try again. You can use a spatula to try to push any parts that go past the stone. A word of caution: try to avoid experimentation with this jerking method when the board/tray is on the counter. Only the most dextrous person can catch floppy uncooked dough that is flying past the counter toward the floor. (again, please don't ask...)

At baking time, the bread goes directly on the stone and the temperature is immediately turned down to the temperature called for on the recipe. I take the tray of water out after 10 minutes and usually turn the bread around (uneven heat in the oven) after about 20 minutes of baking.

If I bake bread in a tin, I bake it on the second to the bottom shelf of the oven, added October 2008: unless the bread has a lot of sugar in it (cinnamon buns, Luciacats). For sweet bread, I use the upper most shelf. Dough that has a lot of sugar in it wants to burn on the bottom.

When the bread is done, turn off the oven. Put the finished bread back in the oven and leave with the door ajar for 5 or 10 minutes. Remove to cool upended on cooling racks.

Added October 2008 Allow just baked bread to cool completely on a well ventilated rack. Wait til the bread is cool before cutting it. It is still continuing to bake inside! If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after it has cooled completely. To reheat unsliced bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes. - October 2008


equipment . flour weight equivalents . measuring abbreviations and conversions . quickbread techniques . yeastbread techniques . storage . flatbread techniques . recipes . resources

Bread Storage

Uneaten bread should be stored at room temperature rather than refrigerated. (The refrigerator causes the bread to go stale faster.) Bread can also be stored in the freezer - double bagged airtight plastic. Take it out of the freezer and leave it in the bag until the bread has thawed. To reheat the bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the oven for ten minutes.


equipment . flour weight equivalents . measuring abbreviations and conversions . quickbread techniques . yeastbread techniques . storage . flatbread techniques . recipes . resources

Techniques for Flat Breads

Stirring in the flour: I've found that it is better to have a slightly wetter dough. I mix it in well with a fork, stirring in the same direction (does the same direction really make a difference? I don't know... Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford recommend it and it makes sense to me) several times to encorporate the flour well into the water and to develop the gluten.

Kneading: I often knead flatbread dough in the air to stop from adding too much extra flour. It seems to improve the texture if the dough is left to rest for longer than 1/2 an hour. I make sure that the bowl is covered with plastic wrap to keep the dough from drying out.

Rolling out the rounds: It is better not to stack uncooked bread rounds. They have a horrible tendency to stick together. It is preferrable to roll out a round, begin to cook it and roll out the next round as the first is being cooked. (Yes, two of us do this together to facilitate things.)

Cooking: Place the round of dough on the hot tava (griddle). As soon as you see little bubbles form, turn it over using tongs. As soon as there are little bubbles on the reverse side, lift the bread off the tava with the tongs and place it on the wire rack. It should puff up. Turn it over once or twice to ensure that it puffs up completely. Don't be worried to see a few dark brown spots on it. (If you are lucky enough to have a gas stove, you can hold the bread directly over the flame.) Put the finished bread on a serviette covered warm plate. Cover with a lid. It is perfectly alright to stack the finished breads.


equipment . flour weight equivalents . measuring abbreviations and conversions . quickbread techniques . yeastbread techniques . storage . flatbread techniques . recipes . resources

Resources:

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equipment . flour weight equivalents . measuring abbreviations and conversions . quickbread techniques . yeastbread techniques . storage . flatbread techniques . recipes . resources

Bread recipes:

Flatbread: Chapatis (tortillas) . Focaccia . Naan . Pita . Pizza dough
Gluten Free: Rice Flour
Quickbread, Biscuits and Muffins: Buttermilk Biscuits . Cheese Baking Powder Biscuits . Cornmeal Muffins (or Bread) . Popovers (Yorkshire Pudding) . Date Bread . Orange Date Muffins (or Bread) . Scones
Yeast Bread: Babas au Rhum . Cheesehorns . Cider Cheese . Corn . Focaccia . French Stick . Hot Cross Buns . Italian Country . Lucia Cats . Molasses Fennel . Multigrain . Naan . Pita . Pizza Dough . Poppy Seed . Raisin . Rice Flour (Gluten Free) . Rustic Boule . Rustic Couronne . Rustic French . Sandwich Bread or Hamburger Buns . Savarin Dough . Whole Wheat


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ejm (aka llizard) 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008
Toronto Ontario Canada

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