Friday, September 21, 2012

"A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou."

 -Omar Khayyam

Tomorrow is race day. THE race of our season. We are running a half marathon, and the weather is supposed to be cool and wet. 60% chance of rain and temps in the 40s. And I ask myself, "why?"

But, because I am a glutton for punishment, I am optimistically preparing for the race.

Race prep includes drinking plenty of fluids today. It includes going to bed reasonably early. It includes washing my running duds. And it most definitely includes carb consumption.

We will eat pasta for dinner, and bagels before the race. And I am eating bread today. Lots of bread. Oven fresh, crusty, homemade bread.

Panera speaks my love language. Ummm...I could eat there everyday. Not should-could.

bread bowls

I enjoy eating fresh bread, and I enjoy making it. I find that bread is easy to do right, and doesn't actually take much hands on time. Plus, playing with bread dough is like a grown up form of playing play dough.

I have been making bread since I was a teen. At home I would make at least 8 loaves of sandwich bread each week. Plus I would often make french bread, bagels, cinnamon rolls, or dinner rolls.

These days I make my family about 2-3 loaves of bread per week. All year long, except for the hottest days of summer.

I have also added pita bread to my repertoire. And I still make a lot of french bread and rolls.

Pita breads on the rise
My kids love bread baking day. They all clamor for a fresh roll, or a hunk cut off the loaf. It is awesome 20-30 minutes out of the oven. No butter or pb or jam or honey needed. Though they are great additions.

I enjoy the yeasty smell of bread. I like the feel of the soft dough in my hands being shaped to whatever I want.

Puffed and perfect pita
Bread making really is simple. I have heard many horror stories of bread bricks. But active dry yeast has helped a lot with that problem.

Here is the key to bread making...mix all your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, yeast) together in a big bowl, or mixer. Then, add your liquids (honey, milk, water, oil).

The water temperature is very important. You want hot tap water. Hot enough to still put your hand in without scalding. If you use milk, you will need to heat that. Oil is fine at room temp. It will lower you all around dough temp though, so remember that when getting your water.

Water too hot kills the yeast. Water too cold doesn't get it growing. 120 degrees F is right around the sweet spot.

Most breads have 4-5 key components-flour, liquid, sweetener, oil, salt, yeast.

Everyday fare
Flour is the foundation. You can use white, wheat, rye, or a whole lot of other kinds. Whole wheat flour needs more time than white to get its gluten working. If you are using other flours besides white, add them in the first step. Add your additional white later.

Sweeteners can be sugar, honey or molasses. Most breads, except a simple french baguette, use sugar. Some less, some more.

Oil can be vegetable oil, butter, margarine or shortening. I use oil for my sandwich bread. I use butter for the pita breads. Butter makes a softer dough.

Liquid is generally water or milk. Milk makes a denser loaf. Not dense-more dense than water.

Salt-is crucial. It gives your bread its flavor, and it retards the growth of the yeast. I know you want big loaves, but you don't want them that big. Especially not that big with no taste.

Yeast can be yeast, or a sour, or a combination of the two. Sours take a long time to rise on their own. But using a sour and yeast makes a very flavorful loaf.

Cinnamon Rolls-oh yeah!
In making bread, any kind of bread, you follow the same techniques and steps.

1)Measure 3-4 cups flour, plus rest of dry ingredients into big bowl, or mixer. Stir to combine.

2)Add liquids.

3)Stir until smooth. Then, if using a mixer with a dough hook, let it run on low for 3 minutes. If making by hand, let it sit for 3 minutes. The 3 minutes softens the yeast and gets the gluten working.

4)Work in as much of the rest of the flour as you can. Some doughs will be stiffer, some will be softer. You want it not to stick to your hands, but you don't want it bone dry. Moist, not sticky. You can always add more flour. It is not easy to add more liquid. (Kneading usually takes about 5 minutes with mixer, 8-10 minutes by hand)

To knead bread by hand, you make it into a ball. You then push down on it with the heels of your hands, rotate the dough a smidge, and repeat.

5)Let bread rise, in a warm, draft free spot, until it is doubled in size.(about 1 hour) Push (punch) the dough down to its original size, and let rise again.(about 30 minutes)

6)Divide the dough into the portions you are using. Let rest 10 minutes, then shape into loaves or rolls. Place in greased pans.

7)Let rise until doubled or more. Bake.

Here is a simple recipe to try...

French Bread
French Bread
7-8 cups white flour
1 T salt
2 T yeast (or 2 envelopes)
2-1/2 cups hot water

Mix 3 cups flour with dry ingredients. Add water. Stir until smooth. Rest or stir for 3 minutes. Add another 4 cups flour, and then more as needed to make a dry, stiff dough.

Let rise twice. Divide into 2 loaves. Rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile mix 1 tsp salt, and 3 Tbsp hot water.
Roll out bread jelly roll style-15 " long, 10 " wide. Roll up. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Make 4 artistic slashes through the top, about 1/4" deep. Repeat for other loaf. Brush with 1/3 of the salt water.

Let rise until doubled. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush with half remaining salt water just before placing in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and brush with remaining salt water. Bake another 10 minutes.

***The secret for amazing French Bread...brushing with salt water and baking at very high temps makes for a crusty loaf. And nice soft insides.

Bread for Thought

"Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and goodbread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard

“How can a nation be great if their bread tastes like kleenex?” - Julia Childs

“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” – Robert Browning

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” - M.F.K. Fischer

“With bread all sorrows are less” - Sancho Panza speaking to Dapple, his ass in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

“Give me yesterday’s Bread, this Day’s Flesh, and last Year’s Cider.” – Benjamin Franklin

Oh, and by the way, today marks my first blogiversary.=) Over 250 posts later, and here for the duration!

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