Monday, October 26, 2009

Homemade Bread Baking 101

I have been grinding grain and making whole wheat bread for 15 years and throughout the years I have learned many, many lessons. I believe these tips will work for bread no matter whether you use freshly ground flour or store bought flour but the comment I get over and over is "how do I make my whole wheat bread less of a brick" so the emphasis will be on helping with whole wheat breads.

A few beginning pointers to help you no matter which recipe you use:

1. Allow the yeast to grow with 1/3 - 1/2 of the flour before adding other ingredients
2. Don't add the other ingredients until the sponge has fallen
3. Don't add the oil, honey and salt directly to the yeast mixture - buffer with more flour
4. Use the window test to determine if the dough has been kneaded sufficiently
5. Use the log method to shape the loaf
6. Use a thermometer to test for doneness

4 Loaves of Whole Wheat Bread
(Note: If you are using anything other than a Bosch Universal to knead your bread cut the amounts in half to make 2 loaves instead of 4.)

Put 6 cups of flour, 5 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of instant yeast in a mixing bowl. Mix for a couple of minutes to incorporate. Shut the mixer off and let the yeast grow in the flour and water mixture (sponge) for at least 30 minutes but I have found that if you leave it until it begins to "fall" then the yeast is ready to jump into action and you will get a lighter loaf. Here you can see the dough at full rise in the bowl
In the second picture, hopefully you can see that once the yeast has expired the sponge will deflate.

Once this occurs I add another 6 cups of flour and make sure that all the sponge is covered by the flour to buffer the yeast from the rest of the ingredients. Salt, oil and honey mixed directly with the yeast can cause the barrier of the yeast cells to break and the yeast dehydrates and dies.

I then add 2/3 up honey, 2/3 cup olive oil and 4 ts Celtic sea salt and mix just to incorporate. Add more flour and mix very briefly until you can see that the sides of the bowl are being cleaned up. I usually use around 14 cups of flour total but that will change with the weather. If it is raining I use more. Also the type of flour you use will make a big difference. This takes practice to know just when the dough had had enough flour added but the more you make bread, the keener your intuition will become.

Once I have the correct amount of flour in the mix I knead on med for a full 10 minutes. I then take out a small amount of dough, about the size of walnut, and work it a bit to stretch it out. This is called "making a window" and you should be able to see the strands of gluten developed and the dough will not break. This is your sign that the bread has been sufficiently kneaded. If you try to stretch the dough and it breaks, continue to knead for a couple minutes and try again.Oil a straight sided container with oil and place your dough into the container to rise. A container with marking is best so that you can tell when it has doubled in size. When the dough has doubled punch it down a let it rest for approximately 10 minutes. This makes shaping the dough easier. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and cover with a towel.

When shaping a bread loaf I like to flatten the dough with my hand into a long rectangle and roll the dough into a log. I think this makes for the lightest loaf. It is important to seal the edges by pinching the seams. Place seam side down in an oiled pan.

Allow the bread to rise to about 1 1/2 times its size or until the top of the bread is even with the top of the pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for about 30 minutes. The best way to know if your bread is done is to insert a thermometer. The bread is ready when you get a reading of 190-200 F.

Turn the loaf out onto a rack and allow to cool. Cutting the bread while it is hot is not recommended as it ruins the texture of the bread and is not good for the tummy either!

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