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The Staff of Life - A Primer on Baking Bread

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    Posted: 10 January 2013 at 15:00

Part 1:

 

When Ron recently asked me to prepare a bread baking primer for FotW members I had to give it considerable thought. We are a diverse group, with all levels of experience in the kitchen. So the question became, how to arrange such a primer to achieve the greatest good.

 

I finally decided that most members are like me; primarily cooks, rather than bakers. When it comes to bread, they are casual bakers who merely want to serve homemade bread, and, maybe, improve their baking skills somewhat.

 

The whole point of this primer, seems to me, should be to help you make a better loaf of bread. I believe that’s all most of us want.

 

So for this to work, we have to follow the KISS principle---Keep It Simple, Stupid. Basically this means reducing the technical aspects to their minimum.

 

Not necessarily an easy task. The foodie revolution, overall, has been a good thing for the culinary world. Baking is a perfect example. Techniques and methods that, in the past, were strictly the provenance of professionals are now common knowledge. Tips for improving one’s bread baking are readily shared via the internet, books, and magazine articles. And an incredible number of breads, once confined to small regions of the world, are now being baked globally.

 

That’s the good part. The downside is that foodies tend to fall in love with jargon, and the technical aspects of food. To some degree there is a little snobbishness about this. After all, if you use the special language of the trade, that establishes your expertise, whether you actually have any or not.

 

A classic example is the word “autolyse” (which, btw, many of them pronounce incorrectly). Autolyse refers to a resting period given the dough. Technically, it promotes full hydration of the flour, and enhances certain enzyme action that improves the flavor and texture of the finished bread.

 

Older bread recipes merely said something like, “let the dough rest 10-15 minutes…..” To the casual baker, that’s all that’s needed. “Resting the dough” is a lot easier to understand, and certainly more non-intimidating, then something like, “French fold the dough and let it autolyse 15 minutes.”

 

And that, I believe, is the key. Far too much of today’s  bread-baking literature is intimidating and overly complex. It’s as if the authors have set out to confuse and obfuscate what is, at base, a simple process.

 

Gluten development is a good case. Gluten is, basically, the glue that holds bread together. But do you really have to know the chemical reaction that causes two particular proteins to combine and produce a third one? I think not. Your concern is how to control gluten so as to produce the best bread.

 

And, of course, all that technical stuff is available for those who are interested.  Boy oh boy is it available. So, whenever possible, I will simplify things as much as possible.

 

Before going any further, perhaps we should discuss my qualifications---such as they are---for writing this primer.

 

Until about four years ago I was a casual bread maker at best. I’m a cook, after all, not a baker. I didn’t understand the process of making bread, and, therefore, was afraid of it. When I did, on rare occasion, bake a loaf I would follow the recipe slavishly. And I never made anything that wasn’t a same-day, single-rise bread. That is, you mix the ingredients, let the dough rise (which, for the jargon deprived, is called “proofing” in the literature), put it in a pan, give it a second rise, and bake. Indeed, if you suggested, back then, that I would blithely discuss breads that took three days to make, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy.

 

Sometimes, using the same recipe, this produced a superlative loaf. Sometimes a mediocre one. And sometimes one that was barely edible. This made it even more confusing, and I was less likely to bake because of it.

 

Sound familiar?

 

Then, for no special reason I can recall, I was bitten by the bread making bug. I read everything I could find about it---probably 20 or more books---hung out at bread baking web sites, and turned-too becoming a baker. Even considered taking a class with one of the authorities, but it was cost prohibitive.

 

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, right? From hardly ever baking bread, I was suddenly baking at least once a week, more usually two or three times. That schedule continues today. I own all sorts of specialty equipment, or multipurpose gear that was acquired specifically to help me become a better bread maker. I even adapt and modify recipes, just as I do with savory dishes.

 

I figure, at the rate I’m going, in another ten or 15 years I can call myself a baker.

 

Essentially, this primer will cover some of the things I’ve learned in the past four years.

 

Proviso: There are many paths leading to the end of a journey. This is, perhaps, more true about bread baking that any other aspect of the culinary crafts. So what we’ll be talking about are the ways that work for me; the methods I’ve found most useful; the information that has proven valuable to me. But I am most certainly not providing them as the only way. Or even suggesting they are the best way. They merely recount, by and large, the path that I’ve followed.

 

Hopefully, other members who have followed other paths will chime in, and together we’ll figure out who shaved the barber.

 

Before actually getting started I want to dispose of the single biggest myth about baking. You hear it time after time. Bread making is more scientific, more precise, than cooking.

 

In a word, nonsense! Bread making merely requires an understanding of how certain ingredients interact with each other. This is the same principle that applies to braising a roast or making a sauce.

 

If there was so little room for movement, if bread making is so precise, then riddle me this: why are there so many recipes for bread? And how are new breads developed?

 

Recently we had a discussion about weight vs volume measuring of flour that may provide insights http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/bread-making-volume-vs-weight_topic3047.html. While I personally do weigh ingredients, as we discussed there, a scale is not the necessary item current literature indicates. Given the environmental factors that influence ingredients, weighing is neither more nor less precise than volume measurements.

 

Until the 1990s, all American, and some other, bread recipes were based on volume measurements. Bread making books either used volume, or expressed amounts in volume with weight given in parenthesis. When it came to recipes in magazines and newspapers, I don’t recall ever seeing weights given until about that time.

 

Is it merely coincidence that the dates coincide with the start of the foodie revolution?

 

 Be that as it may, the simple fact is, thousands and thousands of good, serviceable loaves have been baked using volume measurements. If you are not making your own bread because you don’t own a scale, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.

 

As it turns out, volume measurement has not been abandoned, even by very serious bread authorities. Experts such as Dan Leader and Peter Reinhart give their formulae in terms of both volume and weight. Interestingly, they both list volume first, followed by weight. Treuille & Ferrigno (Ultimate Bread) give everything in volume, with nary a scale in sight.

 

Alford & Duguid (Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas) and Greg Patent (A Baker’s Odyssey) share one thing in common: In both cases their recipes were collected, first hand, from around the world. Not from professional bakers, but from home cooks and housewives. In other words, the way real people make their breads. Guess what? Neither book---both of which contain recipes for exceptional breads---mentions weight.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-scales. As mentioned above, I’m one of those who do weigh ingredients. What I’m saying is, don’t let the lack of a scale deter you from baking.  

 

Something else that can be intimidating is the overuse of the word “artisanal.” Sure, I realize it’s the buzz word for many things. But frankly, despite having made hundreds of loaves of bread, rolls, etc., I’m not sure what artisanal really means. It seems to apply to any bread other than the typical soft white bread, baked in a pan, so favored by Americans. All of the other recipes, shapes, and methods that have been used, sometimes for centuries, seems to fall into the artisanal rubric.

 

So do yourself a favor. Forget that word. If you’re going to bake bread your goal should be to make the best loaf that you can. Hell, if all you want is Wonder bread, it’s cheaper, easier, and less expensive to just go out and buy it. If you want bread that’s different from that, then just make it, and don’t worry about whether or not it’s artisanal.

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Great effort! I look forward to more.

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TU Brook for all ur time producing such an informative feature.
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Part 2:

 

I promised, in part one of this primer, to keep technical terms and jargon to a minimum. But there are some terms we have to all understand, if for no other reason than to communicate. In each case, when I use them, I’ll define the term. At least the first time I use it, at any rate.

 

Bread is made, primarily, from four ingredients: Flour, yeast (or other leavening), salt, and water. Other ingredients are sometimes added, either for flavor, or to achieve a desired goal, such as keeping quality, softness, crust formation, etc. We’ll be looking at these ingredients in more depth. But first, some pointers and general discussion.

 

-Bread is divided into three categories, which give you a clue as to its properties:

 

1. Lean bread (also called basic bread, and, sometimes, rustic bread). This refers to breads made only with the four basic ingredients. Upwards of 90% of breads, worldwide, fall into this category, varying only by the quantity and quality of each ingredient, and how it is risen, shaped and baked.

 

2. Enriched breads. These are breads that include other ingredients, such as oils, eggs, dairy, sweeteners, and so on to achieve a desired goal. A sub-category of enriched breads is a group called celebration breads, which are associated with particular holidays or events. They almost always include sweeteners, and often fruits and/or nuts.

 

3. Rich breads. The least common breads, these are made with oils making up 20% or more of the dough. If you’re a beginner you don’t have to worry about them, because they require special handling techniques that you won’t be involved with.

 

-The single best way of improving your bread making skills is to throw your clock away. Good bread takes time. The more time you invest, the better the bread will be. Certainly, if you set your dough in a warm place, and let it rise for an hour (as many recipes direct), you’ll produce a more than adequate loaf. If you set the same dough in a cool place, however, and let it take longer to rise, it will be better. Ultimately, if you use retarded fermentation techniques (which we’ll discuss later on) you’ll produce the best possible bread from that recipe.

 

-The best breads result from the highest quality ingredients. Ultimately, this means choosing the right flour. And that, by and large, means not choosing the big, national brands. Used to be you didn’t have much choice; it was Pillsbury or nothing. But that’s no longer true. Most supermarkets carry brands such as King Arthur, Bob’s Red Mill, Weisenberger Mill, and flours from other small, specialty mills. Or you can order on-line, although the postage can as much as double the cost.

     You often read that stone-ground flour is better. To a certain degree that’s true. But the degradation caused by huge, high-speed roller mills is much less evident in the flours produced by small mills, because they do not heat up as much. The fact is, Weisenberger and King Arthur, among others, now use roller mills.

     If you have access to stone-ground flours, then certainly use them. If not, just opt for a smaller brand and you’ll do just fine.

    Once you’ve found a flour you’re happy with, stick with it. Different brands do have different characteristics, and you won’t get consistent results if you keep changing around.

     When I first got serious about bread making I used King Arthur exclusively. Then I realized that, while my back was turned, they’d gone and put a 150 year old mill almost in my backyard, and switched to Weisenberger. I had to modify practically all my bread recipes due to changing flours.

 

-Bread dough is, first and foremost, a tactile experience. While there are all sorts of methods used to determine if a dough is ready, your fingers are the best tool. That’s why hand kneading is preferred---the dough will tell you, through your hands, when it’s ready. Once you know, through experience, what a good dough feels like, the rest is easy.

     For many of us, full kneading by hand is difficult. There’s nothing wrong with using a stand mixer. But, if possible, hand knead at least the final minute or two, so you develop a feel for what the dough should be like.

     Most of the time (not always), a dough should be slightly tacky, but not sticky. That’s the “smooth, shiny” goal so often found in recipes.

     If you opt for a stand mixer, cut the recommended kneading time in half. That is, if the recipe says to knead for ten minutes, run the mixer for five.

 

-In practical terms, yeast is interchangeable. Technically, there is a difference in fresh, active dry, and instant yeast, having to do with the percentage of live cells found in each. But in practice, one cake of fresh yeast equals one envelope of active dry or instant; equals two teaspoons of bulk. They are not used the same way, however.

     Fresh yeast is hardly used anymore except by commercial bakeries. You won’t find it at the supermarket. It is 300 times less potent than instant yeast, has to be activated (variously called proofing or blooming) in warm water with sugar added, and has virtually no shelf life. Even refrigerated it will only last about two weeks at full strength.

     Active dry yeast, until the advent of bread machines, was the most familiar form. It has to be bloomed, with or without the addition of sugar, and is added as part of the liquid ingredients. Refrigerated or frozen it will last seemingly forever.

     Instant yeast (aka rapid rise, fast rising, bread machine) has 25% more active cells than active dry, and, like active dry, lasts two days longer than forever when refrigerated or frozen. It does not require blooming, and is added as part of the dry ingredients.

     When it comes to yeast, less is more, particular when using advanced techniques like preferments and retarded fermentation.

 

-Water can have a significant effect on how the dough forms, and on final texture and taste of the dough. Generally speaking, tap water is not the best choice, because it can lead to inconsistent results. As with flours, if you opt to use bottled water, use the same brand all the time. But if you choose to use tap water, well, there are no dough police around to tell you not to.

 

-All salt is not the same when compared by weight. Due to its shape (flakes, crystals, cubes), different types of salt have different densities. Table salt, for instance, “weighs more” than kosher salt. Different forms of sea salt have greater or lesser salinity, volume for volume. Here, again, the solution is consistency. Use the same type of salt each time, and your results will be consistent.

     One of the big controversies among bread bakers is when to add the salt. In theory, particularly when using instant, salt can negatively affect yeast activity. But as somebody once said, in theory, theory and reality are the same. In reality, they’re not.

     In my experience, it doesn’t matter whether you add the salt sooner, as part of the dry ingredients, or later, once the dough starts to form. Try it both ways, and see for yourself.

 

-All doughs benefit from a rest period before rising. Whether you knead by hand or by machine, try letting the dough rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Then knead for another minute or two before setting it to rise.

     This assures that all the flour particles are fully hydrated, and, to a certain degree, assures that the yeast is equally mixed through the dough.

     If you want to carry this to the ultimate, French fold the dough before setting it to rise. That’s just a fancy way of explaining a particular configuration. To do it, pat the dough into a square. Fold it in thirds, the way you’d fold a letter. Then fold that rectangle in thirds, the same way.

 

-“Punching down” is an expression, not an actual direction. Once you’ve proofed the dough you do not want to handle it that roughly. Deflate it by pressing down on it, rather than punching, retaining as much of the trapped gasses as possible. Handle it the same way when shaping the loaves.

 

-The wetter the dough, the less likely it is suitable for a free-standing loaf. To understand this, we have to get into some of the technical stuff.

     Although often presented as recipes, dough is actually constructed based on a formula. Flour is always considered 100%, and the other ingredients expressed as a proportion of that. If you look at advanced baking books you’ll notice that the total is, therefore, always considerably more than 100%. Formulae are used so that bakers can easily maintain the proper proportions when multiplying quantities.

     Lean breads typically run 65-70% liquid content. That is, by weight, the water will be 65% of the flour. Such breads can be baked either contained or free standing.

     Doughs like focaccia (with about 85% moisture), because they have much higher liquid percentages, cannot support themselves, even with good gluten development. They always have to be either supported, or used to make flat breads.

 

-If you’re using volume measurements, ignore the above. While it’s true that formulae are necessary for mass baking, the same isn’t true for the home baker. It’s one thing if you’re making 200 loaves at one time, something else again if you’re merely doubling or even trebling a recipe.

     Again, the theory is that the proportions do not stay true when multiplying by volume. But for the few loaves you’re likely to make at any one time, it hardly matters. You’ll be adjusting with flour or water, as the case may be, anyway.

 

-Every bread dough can be  improved by a second rise. While you can skip this step, you’ll find that a second rise does improve the flavor, and sometimes the texture, of the bread. Sure, it takes extra time. But the results are worthwhile.

 

 Now comes more technical talk. You can skip this section if you like. To understand why dough improves with a second rise you have to understand how yeast grows. When first encountering moisture, the yeast wakes up and starts to feed and multiply. Initially it rather quickly consumes the sugars in the flour, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide as by-products. The alcohol helps flavor the dough, and the carbon dioxide, trapped between the strands of gluten, causes the dough to rise.

     You can stop there. But if the dough goes through a second rise the action is much slower. The yeast, along with enzymes, converts starches to sugar, and then eats them. This slower process has a distinct effect on the texture and final flavor of the dough. In fact, the slower the rise the better, which is the whole philosophy behind retarded fermentation.

     So, while a single rise can produce a good tasting bread, a double rise produces a great one. All with no other effort on your part except allowing more time.

 

As noted, flour is the most important component of a bread dough. And there’s a lot to be said about it. So we’ll look at flours more closely in the next installment.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 January 2013 at 05:00
I have found Bottled Mineral Still Water to work out best. Press & no punch ! Glad u covered topic so thoroughly.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 January 2013 at 09:15

Brook,

Thanks for taking the time to put all this down, and for putting out such an easy-reading, informative primer on something that I think everyone should learn how to do, if they don't know already. Even if someone has been baking bread a long time, there is some very good information here, and I especially appreciate the elimination/explanations of the "jargon."
 
Keep up the great work, and thanks again!
 
Ron
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Thanks, Ron.
 
I intend keeping it going as long as there's interest shown. My gameplan is to post a new installment every day or two.
 
I'm particularly hopeful that other members will, between my posts, add their comments, experiences, and other ways of accomplishing the same task.
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Well then, let me start.

I don't always make bread, but when I do I make "no knead" bread. Just a lean bread as you described it, at 74% hydration with an 18 hour room temperature rise. Baked at a high oven temp in a preheated, heavy covered vessel for the first part and uncovered to finish. I use a thermometer to tell me when it's done. Makes a crusty boule with a nice yeasty taste. If I get the punch down part right, the crumb is excellent. That doesn't always happen.

Now, if I could just find an economical way to slice a loaf into very even, sandwich thickness slices I would be happy. I'm using a 10", very sharp and thin bladed filet knife and it cuts slices as well I can control it. I haven't been happy with the serrated knives I've used.


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"No-knead" breads hit the modern culinary world a few years ago and became all the rage. But there's nothing new about them. At least as far back as the 18th century some breads were made that way. Sally Lunn and Miss Bowdoin's come immediately to mind.
 
What the modern versions bring to the table is the delayed fermentation; 18-24 hours of rising.
 
Most of the recipes I've seen for modern ones call for mixing, proofing, and baking in a cast-iron kettle.
 
I did get a PM asking if I'd explain some of the terms in your post. So here goes:
 
1. .....74% hydration. Hydration is merely the way moisture content is expressed in a bread formula. In this case it means that the liquid is equal to 78% of the flour, by weight. Heavily hydrated doughs have to be enclosed in a container, because they cannot support themselves.
 
2. ....the crumb...... Personally I'd have thought this one to be self-evident. But maybe not. A finished bread consists of two parts; the outer, harder "skin," which is called the crust, and the soft, inner part, which is the crumb.
 
3. Makes a crusty boule...... Technically you haven't used this term quite correctly. Boule translates as "ball," and refers to a free-standing bread shape in which the dough is shaped into a slightly flattened ball. If you look at the cover of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, the young lady is holding a boule. A rather large one, it's true.
 
Slicing bread evenly is, perhaps, the biggest bug-a-boo home bakers face. For starters, a bread knife really does make a difference. I use  a ten inch model, because, in my experience, the longer the blade (and the wider) the easier it is to control. This is the only serrated knife I own. Trouble with a filet knife is it's width. Thin blades have a tendency to wander, no matter how sharp they are. If nothing else, you might have better luck with your chef's knife.
 
One possible problem using bread knives is that most of them only cut in one direction. Sawing back and forth usually results in a poor slice. They also should cut cleanly with very little downward pressure.
 
I can tell you how to build a jig for cutting equal-sized slices. It only works for sandwich-loaf shaped breads, but you might be able to modify it for other shapes. If you're interested, let me know and I'll post instructions.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 January 2013 at 17:07
Well, I created a post of about 400 words and when I tried to post it I got an "access denied" message and all my work was gone... My internet connection failed...

To recap:

I weigh, do math and measure temperature when I make bread and ferment things.
Converting percentages to volumes results in odd and unwieldy measures.
I don't do this often enough to get an instinctual feel for it. I could obtain this with constant repetition and reinforcement.
Sure Brook, tell me how to make even slices.

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It's really quite simple, Rod.
 
You'll need some 1 x 6 or 1 x 8 dimensional lumber (depends on the size of the loaf pans) and some dowel rods. Quarter inch will do, but thicker is probably better.
 
Start by cutting a base plate several inches longer that the longest bread you'll be baking. On one end, screw & glue an end plate, about six inches high. This will serve as a stopper.
 
Next, determine how wide you want the slices. Let's say 3/8th inch. Measure 3/8th inch from the inside of the stopper, on each side of the base plate. Drill a 1/4 inch hole, aligning the bit so it's forwardmost edge is on the mark. Glue a six-inch rod into each hole.
 
To use, put the loaf on the base plate and push it against the stopper. Then, using the dowels as a guide, cut through the bread. Remove the slice and repeat.
 
You could set this up to cut different sized slices. In that case, drill a series of holes at the spacing you want. You can then either put in a group of dowels, or, if you'd rather, just use one set. Do not glue them in place, because you'll be shifting them to the various holes.
 
I'm thinking you could adapt this by making the base plate and stopper wide enough to accomodate the bread you are making. This wouldn't work for me, because I make so many different sizes and shapes. But for you, only making the one bread, it's probably doable.
 
If your no-knead is, say, ten inches in diameter, then the base and stopper should be 11 inches, and the dowels slightly higher than the bread's loft.
 
Keep in mind that the dowels should surround and cradle the bread, but not press in on it. So leave enough slack to accomplish that.
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Part 3

 

Most of the time, when we say “flour,” we’re talking about white wheat flour. For the time being, that’s what we’ll confine ourselves to discussing.

 

Flour is made by milling (i.e., grinding) wheat berries, which are the seeds of the wheat plant. Each seed consists of three parts: the outer husk, called the bran; an inner kernel, called the germ; and the bulk of the seed, surrounding the germ, called the endosperm. If the seed were planted, the endosperm provides food for the growing plant until the roots take over that job.

     Clear flour, which we use most of the time, consists of flour that has been sifted to remove most of the bran and germ. Whole wheat flour, on the other hand, uses the entire berry.

    

Flour is classified, in North America, by its hardness---which merely means how much gluten-forming protein it contains. In general, flour is broken down into four classifications:

 

-Cake and pastry flour. This is made from soft wheat, and has the lowest protein content of all, ranging from 6-7% for cake flour, up to 9.5% for pastry flour. They are used for baked goods that require tenderness rather than strength, such as cakes and biscuits. It is not suitable for making yeast breads.

 

-All-purpose flour. This is a combination of pastry flour and bread flour. While it is suitable for making bread, it doesn’t work as well as straight bread flour. More than any other type, all-purpose flour varies from mill to mill, so if you find one you’re happy with, stay with it. On average, all-purpose flour ranges from about 9- 11% protein content.

 

-Bread flour. As the name implies, this is the first choice for yeast breads. Milled from hard winter wheat, it has a protein content ranging from 11-14%.

 

-High gluten flour. This is a specialty product whose protein content can be as high as 16%. It is rarely used alone, but, for some breads, is added to bread flour for the extra protein.

 

Why the concern with protein levels? Quite simply, gluten, the building block of bread, results when certain wheat proteins combine when mixed with water and agitated. The better the gluten development, the higher the bread will rise, and the lighter the crumb will be.

 

Note that I specified “North America.” In Europe flours are classified other ways, often numerically. Quite frequently they are categorized by how finely they are ground, rather than from the source of the flour.

 

All flours types are available either bleached or unbleached. With bleached flour, certain chemicals are used to remove the beta carotene naturally found in wheat. This affects both the color and flavor of the final product. But there’s also a beneficial enzyme reaction with beta carotene. So, in general, unbleached flour makes a better tasting bread.

 

We can see from this that unbleached bread flour should be your preferred choice. But if the only thing available is all-purpose bleached flour, don’t let that stop you. Maybe your final bread won’t be the best. But it will still be better than store bought.

 

Breads made with 100% whole wheat flour (as with all whole-grain flours) tend to be heavy, compact, and rather chewy. So initially you want to avoid such breads, as they require special handling techniques.

 

If you’re concerned about missing out on the health benefits, you can replace up to 25% of the flour with whole wheat with no ill effects. Some authorities say up to 50%. In my experience, that high a proportion puts you into the special handling requirements of whole grain flours.

 

Wheat flour sometimes contains additives that help with the baking process. Ash, for instance, in various amounts contributes to oven spring---the final rising of the dough once it’s in the oven. Some mills, like King Arthur,  automatically include ash, but most don’t. For the home baker ash content isn’t something to worry about, except when it affects final results if you change flours.

 

There are all sorts of flours other than those made from wheat; in both whole grain and sifted forms. Rye is the most familiar, but other include barley, buckwheat, chickpea, corn, oat, potato, soy, spelt, and rice. While all of these, alone or in combination, are useful in making great breads, they either lack, or have low levels of  the gluten-forming proteins found in wheat. Using them alone requires special handling or they typically produce compact, heavy, bricks. As with whole wheat, however, they can be added, in various amounts, to wheat flour to produce light, airy, high-rising breads. Until you have some baking time under your belt, however, I would not add more than 25% of them unless the recipe specifies otherwise.

 

If you get passionate about bread making, and do it often, it pays to buy it in bulk if you can. I get both my all-purpose and bread flours direct from Weisenberger Mill, for instance, in 25-pound bags. There’s a considerable savings when buying that way.

 

But you don’t want that much flour sitting around at ambient temperature for the time it takes you to use it up. Not to worry. You can freeze it. Just transfer the flour to moisture proof containers (like zipper bags) and pop them in the freezer until needed. Make sure, however, that when you remove one that it comes to room temperature before you open the container. This is to prevent condensation from forming inside.

 
Even in small amounts, if you’re storing whole grain flours for any length of time they should be kept in the fridge, because once ground the oils in the bran and germ can turn rancid.

 

Flours are affected by environmental conditions such as heat and, especially, humidity. It’s incredible how much moisture flour can absorb on a rainy day, for instance. If a recipe that worked perfectly one day suddenly needs the addition of a lot more flour, that’s probably the reason.

 

In theory, one of the reasons for using weight measurements, is to level that playing field. But does it work in reality? Sometimes. And sometimes not. The basic question is: how much does flour weigh? I once made a chart tracking the reported weight of flour. It ranged from 4 ounces per cup to as high as 5 ½ ounces, depending on authority cited. One source actually said 4.5-5 ounces per cup. 

 

To my mind, that’s no more precise than volume measuring.

 

Once you develop a feel for what a dough should be like, you’ll adjust for the differences by adding more flour or more water as the case can be. And the only way to learn about dough is to make some. So, in the next installment, we’ll bake a loaf of bread.

 

 


 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 January 2013 at 09:32

Brook. Good Afternoon.

 
One of my fave country French breads requires a starter as follows:
 
1 cup warm bottled water ( 105 farenheit - to 115 degrees farenheit )
1 tblsp. honey
1 envelope dry yeast
1 cup Rye flour
1 cup + 1 tblsp. bread flour
 
THE BREAD RECIPE
 
2 1/4 cups warm water 105 to 115 degrees farenheit
1 envelope dry yeast
6 cups sifted bread flour
3/4 cup Rye flour
1 1/2 tsps. fine grain sea salt
 
It is gorgeous however, very laborious ... This recipe was given to me by a 4th generation French bread baker in Provençe in a tiny village called Cavaillon.
 
Are there any short cuts to produce such a stunning pale brown bread with this profile ?
 
DESCRIPTION:  A THICK LOAF WITH CRISP EXTERIOR AND A BEAUTIFUL WHOLE WHEAT FINE GOLDEN INTERIOR ... NOT A BAGUETTE IN SHAPE ... THEY CALL IT COUNTRY BREAD; PAIN DE CAMPAGNE ... RUSTIC APPEARANCE AND DIVINE ...
 
THANKS IN ADVANCE,
MARGI.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 January 2013 at 10:17
115F tends to push the safe limits. So it's better to shoot for the lower figure. Basically, 90-105 is the accepted range. Water hotter than 115 will kill the yeast.
 
The loaf you presented is what we call a transitional loaf. That means it uses some whole-grain flour, but there's still enough white flour to assure gluten development. One of my planned installments will deal specifically with transitional breads.
 
Shortcuts? I don't think so. The hallmark of French breads is that they take time and effort. That's why bagettes are so appealing to everyone. They're lean breads, using just the four basic ingredients. How the dough is prepared, however, and the shaping and baking, is what provides it's incredible taste appeal.
 
The starter in your recipe is a rye poolish; a pre-ferment that is made the day before it is used. Unusual in a French bread, because they more often use a pate fermentee, or, sometimes, a biga. The difference between the three is strictly the proportion of liquid to dry ingredients. That's another subject we'll deal in later on.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 January 2013 at 10:23
Brook,
 
Thanks alot for the temperature correction on the hot water, and the details on this specific recipe.
It turns out a wonderful light golden brown bread with a lovely profile ...
 
Yes, I agree working on this bread in two days, would be a great suggestion.
 
It is a rustic looking very thick loaf; not a baguette. The name in French is COUNTRY BREAD OR
PAIN DE CAMPAGNE.
 
Thanks for your knowledge and advice.
Margi.
 
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Part 4:

 

OK, enough of this idle chatter. Let’s bake bread.

 

Much of the modern literature presents the 12 steps to making bread. I’m going to skip that. Instead, we’ll learn them, as well as other techniques, as we go along. It’s a lot less overwhelming that way.

 

As you progress with your bread making you’ll discover that any lean dough (and most enriched ones) is very versatile. You can bake them in pans, shape them into large free-standing loaves, or divide them into buns. But you have to walk before you can run. So we’ll start by making a plain single-rise white bread, baked in loaf pans.

 

Neither this, nor any other home-baked white bread will resemble the Wonder types found at the market. One reason being that the grocery-store bread doesn’t not use a real leavening. Instead, the dough is whipped to incorporate air, and it’s those bubbles that make the holes in the crust.

 

In this, and with all other recipes, we’ll presume that flour weighs 4.5 ounces per cup. If you have to add a bit more or less to form a perfect dough that’s perfectly alright. If you need to make significant changes to the amount of flour then you’ll have to adjust for the brand you are using.

 

One cautionary note. The following will make a bread that might be saltier than you are used to. You might want to cut back. You can use as little as 2 teaspoons---which is more common.

 

Plain White Bread

 

6 cups (27 oz) unbleached bread flour

1 tbls salt

1 envelope (2 tsp) active dry or instant yeast

2 cups (16 oz) warm water

2 bread pans

 

If using active dry yeast, bloom it in ¼ cup of the water. If using instant, combine it with the flour and yeast.

 

Make a sponge: If using active dry yeast, combine 51/2 cups of the flour with the other salt in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the wet ingredients. Carefully draw down flour from the sides, mixing it to create a thick batter in the well. Sprinkle the batter with a little flour. Let this sit about 20 minutes until it is aerated and frothy.

 

Gradually mix in the balance of the flour to create the dough. If too dry, add a little water, a tablespoonful at a time. If too moist, slowly add flour, a tablespoonful at a time, combining each addition well. Some authorities insist that all mixing should be done in the same direction, to better develop the gluten strands. I’ve not found it makes much difference.

 

Note: Making a sponge is not absolutely necessary. But considering the contribution it makes to the final bread, it’s well worth taking the extra time.

     If using instant yeast, skip the sponge stage.

 

Finding your own way: If you use a stand mixer, the choices are to start with the paddle, for mixing, then switch to the dough hook for kneading; or just using the dough hook for the whole process. While some are comfortable just with the dough hook, I find it takes longer to mix, and doesn’t do as good a job. So I use both.

 

Knead the dough, ten minutes by hand or five minutes by stand mixer. Although hand kneading can be physically demanding, it isn’t difficult. Form the dough into a ball and place it on a lightly floured surface. Using the ball of your hand, push the dough forward, starting at about the equator. Make a quarter turn, fold the kneaded flap over the top, and do it again. And again.

 

As you knead the dough will become smooth, elastic, and somewhat shiny. Make any adjustments by adding very small amounts of flour or water as necessary. The final dough will be slightly tacky, but not sticky.

 

Form the dough into a ball and set it to rest, covered, on a slightly floured work surface, for ten minutes. Meanwhile, wash and dry the mixing bowl, and oil it lightly. Any oil will work---butter, lard, vegetable oil or what-have-you. Nowadays most bread makers use spray oils.

 

Transfer the dough to the bowl and roll it to coat all surfaces with the oil. This will prevent it from forming a tough skin. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic film, and set it in a draft-free location to rise until doubled in bulk.

 

At best, any time-to-rise figure is a rough guideline at best. Temperature, humidity, and other factors will affect how fast this happens. In general 1-2 hours will suffice.

 

You can take that “double in bulk” instruction with a grain of salt as well. Many, perhaps most, people cannot accurately judge when that has happened. But there’s no need to worry, as there is a precise method of telling when the dough is ready. Stick your finger into it, to about the first joint. If the depression fills back in, the dough is not ready. If the depression remains unchanged, or only slightly fills, it is.

 

Punch down the dough: As noted earlier, this is more an expression than an actual instruction. Instead, press down on the dough, to gently collapse it. It helps if you lift it from the edges as you press down on the center.

 

With your second attempt at this bread, repeat the rising process. Again, a second rise isn’t absolutely needed. But this will give you an opportunity to see the textural and taste differences it can make.

 

While this is happening, lightly grease the baking pans and dust them with cornmeal or semolina.

 

Shape the dough:  You can, if you want, just pat and stretch the dough until it fits. But this leads to inconsistent rising and misshapen loaves.

     To do it correctly (and why wouldn’t you?) divide the dough in half. On your work surface, stretch and pat the dough into a rectangular shape a couple of inches longer than the pan. Starting at the far edge, fold the dough into the center, pinching it slightly to seal. Then lift the near edge and fold it over. All of this is precisely like folding a letter.

     For the most even rising, and crust formation, you want to tighten the surface. Using the flat of your hand, draw the top of the dough down towards the far side, tucking it under about halfway. Really try to develop a feel for this, because all great breads depend on improving the surface tension that way.

     At this point you have a dough log longer than the pan and as wide, or slightly narrower, than its width. Fold the ends down, in equal amounts from each side, and tuck them under so the log is the same length as the pan. Carefully lift the dough and place it in the bottom of the pan, pressing it to completely fit as necessary.

     Why this step? In the oven bread naturally rises more in the center than at the edges. To a certain degree this doming is a good thing. But to prevent the bread from over-rising in the center, you increases the mass at the ends.

   Repeat the shaping with the second half.

     Cover the pans and set them in a draft-free location to rise. This will usually take about half the time of the first proofing.

    

Preheat the oven: While the bread is rising, preheat the oven to 450F. Frankly, I’m appalled at some of the instructions given for this. One book talks about preheating 15 minutes before baking. Hmmmph! Not in any oven I know. Allow 45 minutes to an hour to properly preheat, especially if you’re using a baking stone.

 

Finding your own way: Do you really need a baking stone in your oven? The simple answer is “no.” Will a stone help you bake better bread? Absolutely! Here’s why:

    The thermostats in modern ovens work by recycling on and off. When the oven reaches the set temperature it turns off. At a certain point, as the oven cools, the oven turns itself on again. In a well-working oven, this cycling takes place over a 25 degree range. But don’t count on it happening even within that range. Most ovens don’t.

     The more mass there is inside an oven the less frequently it cycles. Something like a stone holds the heat, keeping it near the target longer, and cooling much slower. If you used four stones to build an internal hearth it would hardly cool at all, and some home bakers do exactly that.

     Later on, as you progress to free-standing loaves, you’ll find that many of them are baked directly on the stone.

     But preheating the stone takes time.

 

Bake the bread: When the loaves have risen, dust them lightly with flour. Then, with a very sharp knife or one-edged razor blade, make a slash, about half an inch deep, down the center.

     Put the pans on the center shelf of the oven and bake 15 minutes. Rotate them 180 degrees, lower the heat to 400F, and bake another 10-15 minutes until done.

     The dough will rise some more in the oven.  FWIW, the additional rise that takes place when heat hits the dough is called “oven spring.”

 

     To test if a bread is fully cooked, remove it from the pan and tap the bottom. You should get a hollow sound. If not, return the loaves to the oven for another five minutes.

     Alternatively, use a probe thermometer inserted into the center of the bread. Bread is fully baked at 190-210F.

 

Cool the bread: Transfer the breads to wire racks and let them cool completely. Despite the romantic myth, it is never a good idea to slice or tear hot bread.

 

Enjoy! You’ve just made your first loaf of bread.

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 January 2013 at 08:44

Part 5:

 

Margi’s French country bread, http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/pan-de-campagne-de-provene_topic3095.html above, is an example of a transitional bread. With those, some of the sifted flour is replaced by another type; usually a whole grain flour such as whole wheat, rye, or corn.

 

European members should be cautious of the term corn flour. In America, it’s actually a flour, ground from the whole corn kernel. In Europe it refers to what is called “corn starch” in the U.S. In this primer we’ll always call it cornmeal so there is no confusion.

 

At any rate, transitional breads provide the texture, flavor, and health benefits of whole grain breads, without the special handling hassles inherent in using them exclusively. The white flour component provides the gluten otherwise missing.

 

Transitional breads, per se, are no more difficult to make than plain white bread. One difference, however, is that they usually are free-standing loaves. Which means we’ll learn shaping techniques as we go along.

 

For openers, we’ll make Broa, which is a Portuguese corn bread. Most American corn breads use baking powder and baking soda as the leavening. But there are yeasted corn breads found all over Europe.

 

This one originated in northern Portugal, but quickly spread through the country. It’s now found everywhere, differing only in the  proportions of wheat to corn. And, with apologies to our members in Rhode Island and the American South, yellow cornmeal should be used, because the color is important.

 

Broa

 

2 tsp dry active or instant yeast

½ cup +2 tbls (5 oz) warm milk

¼ cup water (2 oz)

1 1/2 cups (7 oz) yellow cornmeal

2 cups (9 oz) unbleached bread flour

2 tsp salt

1 tbls olive oil

 

Sprinkle active dry yeast into the milk in a small bowl. Let it stand until frothy. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, bread flour, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the bloomed yeast and the olive oil.

 

Alternatively, combine instant yeast with the cornmeal, bread flour, and salt. Add the milk and about half the water. Mix to form a firm, relatively moist dough, adding more of the water if necessary. Mix in the olive oil.

 

Knead the dough, about ten minutes by hand or five minutes with a stand mixer.

 

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set in a draft-free location until doubled in bulk. This will take about 1 ½ to 2 hours.

 

Punch down the dough, form it into a ball, and set to rise a second time.

 

Punch down the dough, form it into a ball, and let it rest on your work surface, covered, ten minutes.

 

Form the dough into a boule, which simply means round: Start with a hand-shaped ball. Set this on your work surface. Using the flat of your hands, cup and pat the dough from both sides while you simultaneously turn it clockwise. This will give you the basic round shape. Then tighten the surface tension by using the flat of your hands to draw down the dough, tucking it underneath. Keep turning the dough as you do this, or you’ll lose the round shape.

 

You’ve just created the start of a boule.

 

Gently turn the dough and seal the bottom seam by pinching it together. Set the dough, seam side down, on a baking sheet that’s been dusted with cornmeal or semolina. Cover and let rise in a draft-free location until doubled in bulk.

 
Finding your own way: There are numerous ways of making baking pans non-stick, so far as dough is concerned. The simplest is to just dust it with cornmeal or semolina. Or you can lightly grease it first, and then dust it. One alternative is to line the pan with parchment paper, and then dust it or not as you prefer. Or you can merely use a silpat. The all work.
     In my experience, whatever method you choose, you should always at least sprinkle some cornmeal or semolina. This not only prevents the bread from sticking, it eliminates any chance of it picking up foreign flavors. 
 

Preheat the oven to 400F.

 

Dust the loaf with cornmeal and bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Finished bread should sound hollow it you tap the bottom.

 

Transfer bread to a wire rack and let cool.

 

In France, they tend to call any bread not a baguette a Pain de Campagne---which loosely translates as “country bread.”  Most often they’re formed in the shape of a torpedo, called a batard. Think of the generic Italian bread sold in America and you’ll get the idea.

 

Margi’s version uses a pre-ferment, a technique I will be discussing, in detail, in the future. But her instructions are so clear, you might take a stab had her transitional version. Here’s how to shape it:

 

 Lay the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Press and stretch it into a rectangle, with the long ends front and back. Size will be determined by the amount of dough, and how long or wide you prefer the bread to be. I use width as the determining factor. When elongated dough doubles it only slightly lengthens. Most of the movement goes upwards and sideways. Once you’ve made a few batards you’ll develop a feel for how large the dough rectangle should be.

 

Now, starting from the far edge, fold the dough to the middle of the rectangle, pinching it to seal. Then fold the bottom over that. We’ve done this before, and it’s no different than folding a letter.

 

Tighten the surface tension, just as you did with a boule. Transfer the dough to a baking pan, dusted with cornmeal or semolina, seam side down. Cover and let rise.

 

If you’re not happy with the finished size you can adjust it by rolling the whole thing under your hands. This will lengthen and thin the batard.

 

Pain de Campagne is perfect for sub rolls. To make them, divide the dough into six equally sized pieces. Then fold and roll each of them as above, making the finished bun about six inches long. You’ll have to adjust the baking time if you do this. With Margi’s recipe I’d start by baking 20 minutes. If they don’t sound hollow when the bottoms are tapped, return them for five minutes more.

 

Although transitional breads are usually free standing there’s no reason you can’t make sandwich loaves with them. My Oatmeal Pain de Mie http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/oatmeal-pain-de-mie_topic1774.html?KW=oatmeal+bread is a good example. If you don’t have a Pullman loaf pan, no problems. Just use two standard loaf pans instead.

 

Note that this bread specifically uses instant yeast, so no sponge is necessary. If you use active dry yeast you should be able to adjust by following the standard sponging technique.

 

Oatmeal Pain De Mie

 

5 cups (22.5 oz) unbleached bread flour

1 1/3 cups (5.6 oz) rolled oats

14.5 oz lukewarm milk

3 tbls butter, softened

4 tbls honey

3 tsp instant yeast

2 tsp salt

 

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixer bowl, using the paddle. Add the butter, milk, and honey, stirring until well combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead five minutes, adjusting flour or liquid as necessary. (if making this by hand, knead 8-10 minutes)

 

Turn dough out on a lightly greased work surface and French fold it. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic film, and let sit 1 hour. French fold again and let rest 15 minutes.

 

Repeat for a second rise.

 

Form dough into a log and transfer to a pain de mie (pullman) pan. Cover loosely with plastic film. Let dough rise until one inch from top, put cover in place, and let rise another ten minutes.

 

Bake in preheated 350F oven for 35 minutes. Remove cover and if necessary let bake five minutes more to brown top crust and assure bread is cooked through. Internal temperature should be about 200F.

 

Transfer bread to a rack and let cool.

 

 


 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 January 2013 at 09:06

Brook,

Baker Roger Auzet, is a 4th generation baker in a tiny village called Cavaillon, Provençe, France. He had given me the great rustic loaf recipe Pain de  Campagne or Country Bread, as we raved about it at his family Boulangerie ( Bakery ) ... Truly a treat ...
 
Thanks for your interest and for publishing the lovely mention in your very exemplary and informative Bread Primer Series.
 
Appreciate it and good luck with your French Country Rye and Wheat Bread ... Look very forward to hearing ur results ...
 
Marge.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 January 2013 at 09:12
 
Brook,
 
Country breads in France range from rectangular, log, square, round, spheres, logs with pointy endings, and every shape imaginable a creative Baker can do to please his customers and visitors ... HERE IS THE WAY I PREPARE IT ...
 
 
PAIN DE CAMPAGNE DE PROVENÇE
 
 
photo courtesy:  www.la-cachina.com
 
Kind regards,
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 January 2013 at 10:32
Thanks Brook, awesome tutorial you've got going here.

Can you explain this part a little more? I'm having trouble picturing it in my head.

Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:

For the most even rising, and crust formation, you want to tighten the surface. Using the flat of your hand, draw the top of the dough down towards the far side, tucking it under about halfway.


Thanks!
Mike
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