Posts Tagged ‘bread’

h1

All My Bread Baking Secrets

November 16, 2013

Spoiler alert: This post contains secrets. More specifically, bread baking secrets.

As some of you already know, for many months now I’ve been making all my own bread at home from scratch. I’ve posted recipe after recipe after recipe for bread on this here blog, but I’ve never really posted an all-purpose beginner’s guide to baking bread. Granted, I’m still far from being a pro at this, but I have picked up many tricks over the months, and now I want to share those tricks with you.

A proviso: This guide is for making basic, everyday bread; it’s not a guide for making fantastic, artisanal bread. Now don’t get me wrong: artisanal bread is awesome, and completely within the average person’s means. However, it also takes a lot of precision, time, and equipment that the average home baker probably doesn’t (yet) have. (If you do want to get into artisanal baking, however, the best place I know of to start is Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.)

The fact is, if you’re just looking to bake just some good bread, rather than amazing bread, then baking bread is super easy, and fairly hard to screw up. Yes, you’ll have plenty of little mishaps along the way, but rarely will any of those mishaps make your end product wholly inedible. So here they are: all my essential tips and tricks to baking good, everyday sandwich or snacking bread at home!

My 5 Essential Basic Bread Baking Tips

To begin things, here are five basic yet absolutely essential tips that every home baker should know.

1. Give yourself four hours

Between kneading, rising, shaping, proofing, and baking, even your most basic bread will take you at least three hours, so I like to make sure I have at least four hours in my schedule whenever I’m baking bread. These won’t be four hours of active time, but they should be four hours where you’ll more or less be at home and by your kitchen.

2. Always use instant yeast

This is a simple trick that I’ve heard several pros recommend. Instant (or rapid-rise) yeast, unlike regular yeast, does not need to be proofed (that is, mixed with water) beforehand; rather, you just add it directly to the flour at the beginning, saving you time and effort. Plus, since instant yeast is essentially just more potent yeast, it only helps your breads rise better.

3. You can never overknead

…at least if you’re kneading by hand. This is not exactly true, but if you’re a novice baker, you’re in much greater risk of not kneading enough. Seriously, to overknead by hand would require you to be kneading for over 10, probably 15 minutes, and your hands are going to get tired long before that.

4. Be responsive

The real key in successfully baking bread at home is being attentive to how your dough is performing and reacting appropriately. Even beyond ingredient measurements, there are so many factors that will affect your dough—temperature, humidity, brand of flour, freshness of yeast, and so on—and because of this, you need to feel comfortable veering away from any recipe when things don’t look quite right. Basically, this means adding more flour when the dough is looking too wet and adding more water when the dough is looking to dry. With practice, you’ll soon develop a sense of when a dough just feels right.

5. Let your bread cool

One of the simplest mistakes novice bakers will make is not allowing a freshly baked loaf sufficient time to cool. A lot of internal baking will continue during cooling, and cutting your bread too early will disrupt that process and potentially result in a partially unbaked loaf. I usually give my bread about an hour; this will give it enough time to cool, but still leave it a bit warm for that delectable first bite.

My Basic Everyday Bread Recipe & Procedure

Now that you’ve got the basic tricks down, we’re ready to start making some bread!

Essentially, bread is just three things: flour, yeast, and water. To this you will sometimes add salt (for flavour), oil (for texture), and sugar (for flavour, and to react with the yeast). In this recipe, I will just be using flour, yeast, water, and salt. This recipe is still tasty and satisfying, though not perhaps extraordinary. However, from this basic recipe you’ll be able to go off and make all sorts of other breads by adding toppings, trying different flours, and so on. Anyway, without further ado, here we go!

1. Mix your dry ingredients: flour, yeast, and salt

Start with 3.5 cups of flour, 2 tsp of yeast, and 1 tsp salt. (You will probably need more flour as you’re kneading.) As for choice of flour, it’s up to you. However, some tips: If you want to make white bread, try to procure some bread flour, which has a higher gluten content and will form a much better dough. If you want to make wheat bread and are using normal whole wheat flour, you will probably want to use 50% whole wheat flour and 50% white or bread flour; normal wheat flour doesn’t usually work quite right. If you want to make wheat bread and are lucky enough to live in Ontario, try to procure some Red Fife flour, which can be used solely, without adding any white flour, and is naturally delicious to boot. And if you want to make a spelt bread, I’ve had luck using spelt flour alone.

2. Add your wet ingredient: water

You’ll want about 1.25 cups of lukewarm water. Throw this right into your flour mixture.

3. Start mixing things together

In the bowl, mix everything together with a rubber spatula or some such utensil. The goal here is not to get everything to come together but just to form a ball-ish mass with the majority of what you have, as pictured above.

4. Get your dough on the counter

The reason you don’t need to worry about getting everything mixed together perfectly in the previous step is because the real incorporation work happens on the countertop, not in the bowl. So once you’ve gotten a rough ball formed in your bowl, turn it upside down and dump in our your counter, scraping out the remaining bits of flour on top. Now the kneading begins…

5. Start kneading

Kneading, in simplest terms, is pressing your dough together—that is, more like working out a knot on someone’s back than giving someone a backrub. You really want to put all your arm muscle into this, and to do so for a while, at least 5 minutes, but likely closer to 10. A basic kneading procedure is to fold your lump of dough in half, press it in good, turn the lump 90 degrees, and then repeat the fold, press, turn sequence. As you go, continually incorporate those remaining bits of flour left over from the bowl, kneading your dough into them and pressing them in. The picture above shows a ball of dough about midway through the kneading process.

6. Finish kneading

Like I said above, kneading requires you to be responsive. As you knead, you’ll notice your dough changing feel. In the end, your dough should be tacky but not sticky. If it’s looking too sticky (if clumps of dough are continually sticking to your palms as you knead), throw a handful of flour on top and knead that in, repeating if necessary. If it’s feeling too dry, wet your hands and knead for a bit, repeating if necessary. Definitely be more cautious when adding water than flour, as doughs are much more sensitive to additions in water content. Once your dough looks something like the dough pictured above, you’re done!

7. Oil it up

Now you’re ready to take a break and let yeast do its magic. In preparation for your first rise, lightly oil a big bowl. What oil you use doesn’t really matter, but you should use a different bowl than the one you used for mixing, since you want the bowl to be clean and dry. Once your bowl is oiled, toss your ball of dough around in the bowl, getting oil on every part of its surface.

8. Let it rise

Now simply put a towel on top of that bowl and walk away. For about two hours.

9. Come back

After about two hours, your dough should’ve about doubled in size. Sometimes it’ll double in less time, sometimes it’ll take more, but two hours is generally a good benchmark. Now you’re ready to shape your dough and give it its second rise.

10. Punch it down, flatten it out

The first thing you want to do now is punch—literally punch—your dough down. Just slam your first straight down into your big risen dough. (For you keeners out there, punching your dough down gets the gas out, making for a dense loaf in the end; if you want an airier bread, you actually want to skip punching down and avoid handling your dough as much as you can in this step.) Next, dump your collapsed dough onto the counter and pat it down into a flat oblong rectangle, as pictured above.

11. Shaping!

There are countless options for shaping bread, but all of them have silly French names like boule or bâtard or baguette or couronne or épi or fendu or fougasse or tabatière or auvergnat. The dough you’ve made could be used to make any of these shapes, but I’m going to show you how to shape it into a bâtard, as it’s by far the simplest and seems to work well with this dough recipe. The shaping process proceeds into two simple folds—to begin, fold the long bottom side of your oblong up, letter-style, like so:

Press the seam lightly to create a seal. Next, fold the top side down in a similar fashion:

Pinch this seam well, and maybe neat up the ends, if necessary:

And believe it, that’s all there is to it! You’re already done.

12. Let it rise, again

Now your dough must go through its second rise, or what’s called proofing. The good news is that the second rise is much shorter than the first: I usually give my doughs about 45 minutes. If you’ve got a baking stone and peel, you’ll want to proof your dough on the peel; if you’ll be baking on a normal baking sheet, line the baking sheet with parchment paper and proof on that. In either case, spread a small amount of fine cornmeal or semolina flour below your dough. Cover with a towel and let rise.

Now’s also a good time to preheat your oven! Set it to 425 F. If you’ve got a baking stone, making sure you’re preheating that at the same time.

13. Come back, again—and bake!

After 45 minutes or so, your dough should’ve grown a bit; it needn’t, and probably shouldn’t be a full doubling this time. You’re now ready to bake! Before putting your dough in the oven, you may want to score, or slash, it. I usually don’t, but that’s because I haven’t found it necessary with the breads I’ve been making. If you wish to do so (it can often assist with the baking process), simply lightly run a serrated bread knife diagonally or laterally across the width of your dough; two or three slashes is good. Now put your dough in the oven, either directly by moving the baking sheet it was proofing on, or by shaking it from your peel to your baking stone.

Bake for 5 minutes at 425 F, and then lower the oven heat to 375 F and bake for another 35 minutes.

14. Take it out, let it cool

After 40 minutes of baking, your bread should be done. There are numerous pieces of wisdom I’ve been told for how to know when a loaf is baked, but anything short of an internal thermometer is not much more than an old wives’ tale, and I’ve just never really understood what it means for a loaf to “sound hollow” when you tap it and besides the loaf is like 400 degrees why do you want to touch that. Anyway, 40 minutes should be about good, though you could go a little longer if you want a darker crust.

Let your bread cool on a cooling rack (not as pictured) for about an hour. As I said above, it really is essential that you let your bread fully cool, as a lot of internal baking still goes on after it comes out of the oven.

15. Dig in!

After your loaf is cooled, you’re finally ready to slice it up, chow down, and enjoy! Congratulations!

My 3 Advanced Bread Baking Tips

As a short coda to this horribly long post, I wanted to leave you with three simple additions you can make to your kitchen if you’re looking to step up your bread baking production. You can still make totally delicious bread without these additions, as I indeed did for years, but now that I have them, I can really see what a world of difference they make.

1. Get a kitchen scale

I didn’t have one of these for years, but even for casual bread baking it makes things so much simpler. All dough formulas are actually calculated by weight, not volume, and with the varying densities and varieties of flour, measuring things out by cups is never a sure-fire way to go. All this means is that you’ll need to do some fiddling while kneading, adding a little flour or water when necessary. A basic kitchen scale alleviates this need, and lets you reliably mix up perfect doughs again and again.

If you have a kitchen scale, I’ll let you know that my magic by-weight bread formula is: 500 g flour, 2 tsp yeast, and 1 tsp salt for the dry ingredients, and 50 g wildflower honey with 250 g of water for the wet. Comes out perfect every time.

(And if you’re wondering why wildflower honey is appearing on a so-called “vegan” blog, that is definitely a story for another day.)

2. Get a baking stone

Baking stones really do make your breads bake better, providing hotter and more consistent heat to your bread throughout the baking process. It’s a simple, albeit heavy, purchase, but it’ll really step up the quality of your loaves. Plus, you can make pizzas on it too!

3. Get a peel

Actually, this is just an addendum to the last tip, because if you’re going to use a baking stone, you should really be using a baking peel as well. It’s simply the best way to transfer your dough to the stone; any other method will disrupt the dough too much. Plus, you can transfer pizzas with it too!

And that’s all for today, folks. Sorry that it took me three months from my last post to write this—but if you’ve read down this far, you probably can understand why.

Until we eat again,

Willie

Advertisements
h1

Anadama Bread

November 10, 2011

This weekend, yet again, I baked up another recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. It came out looking like this:

This beautiful little loaf is called Anadama Bread, and what makes it special is its use of cornmeal and molasses in combination with the standard flour, yeast, and water. I started this bread by making a cornmeal mush soaker (just a mix of equal parts cornmeal and water), which I let sit overnight, and then mixed into a dough the following morning, pouring a generous amount of molasses in at the last mixing stage. All in all it was a very fun and fairly easy process—though a little stickier than usual, what with all that molasses! However, I think what I like most about this bread is its name, which has a wonderful (though, like most wonderful things, probably apocryphal) origin story, that goes something like this:

A Rockport, Massachusetts man was upset with his wife, not only for leaving him, but also for leaving behind only a pot of cornmeal mush and some molasses. The angry husband tossed the mush and molasses together with some yeast and flour and muttered, “Anna, damn ‘er!” This was later amended by the more genteel local Yankees, as they retold the story, to anadama. (from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

You can decide for yourself whether to believe the story. Whatever the facts may be, one thing’s for sure: this is one tasty bread. The cornmeal brings an nice heartiness and grit to the crumb, and the molasses adds a wonderful aroma to every bite. The crust also turned out very well with this batch: crisp and crunchy, but at the same time light and yielding nicely to the softness inside.

If you don’t already own The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, you can easily find other recipes for Anadama Bread online. Join me next week when my bread baking adventures continue!

Until we eat again,

Willie

h1

Foc Yeah Focaccia Bread!

October 21, 2011

So this happened over the weekend:

Yes, yet again I spent my days off baking bread, this time tackling Peter Reinhart’s focaccia bread from The Break Baker’s Apprentice (could I possibly recommend this book any more?). The fun thing about focaccia (or at least this focaccia recipe, which is the first and only one I’ve tried), is that you shape it right in the pan, and that’s where the dough does most of its rising, like so:

This flat loaf, soaking in herb oil, actually sat in my fridge overnight before I put it in the oven. Then, after only twenty minutes, it was ready!

And oh how good it was. I was very impressed with this bread, and not just because it’s so full of oily, herby goodness. The crust came out superb, opening up to reveal and incredibly soft and melty crumb inside.

I could honestly eat this focaccia bread for every meal. Or just all the time without even stopping.

I don’t think I’d get fat. Why would I get fat?

Bread makes you fat??

(I hope someone got that.)

VeganMoFo #21/31

Until we eat again,

Willie

h1

Some Truly Wonder Bread

October 7, 2011

Have I mentioned that I really enjoy baking bread?

Oh yes that’s right, I have, and not just oncenot just twice, but again, and again, and again, and again. Nonetheless, it bears repeating: I really love baking bread. And I’ve been making a lot of it lately, and always with Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice as my trusty guide and companion. And this past week I made Italian bread—a double batch, no less!

One of things I love most about bread is the complexity of taste that you can get from the humblest of ingredients. There’s nothing fancy in this dough: it’s just a mixture of flour, yeast, water, salt, sugar, and oil. Yet in the right proportions and with the right techniques, these ingredients combine to make an amazing loaf in the end. Check out the crumb:

I think I really nailed the baking time with this one. The crust came out nicely crisp and crunchy, while the inner crumb was soft and chewy, while at the same time very dense and not at all flaky. I particularly enjoyed topping this bread off with some freshly made roasted garlic paste:

Can’t wait to make my next loaf!

VeganMoFo #7/31

Until we eat again,

Willie

h1

Farmers’ Market Profiles: St. John’s Bakery

October 2, 2011

Happy Sunday guys!

Today I’m here to introduce a new series on this blog: Farmers’ Market Profiles! As regular readers will already know, I love my local farmers’ markets. Toronto has an astounding number of them, including a handful that are open year-round, and I’m lucky enough to live close to three excellent ones: Trinity Bellwoods on Tuesdays, Dufferin Grove on Thursdays, and my personal favorite, The Stop’s Farmers’ Market at Wychwood Barns on Saturday mornings. Beyond providing me with some of the best produce money can buy, these markets also feature some unique and excellent local vendors. And so I thought it’d be a fun new series to feature some of the stands I particularly love, both to show you what you may be missing and to give them a little extra buzz.

And so, for my first Farmers’ Market Profile, I’m pleased today to feature St. John’s Bakery, which in my mind is without a doubt the best bakery in Toronto.

St. John’s is an artisan bakery run by the St. John the Compassionate Mission, located in Riverside but serving the whole city. The bakery opened up 10 or so years ago, after Fr. Roberto brought back a sourdough starter from the Brittany region of France, and that same starter still fuels the bakery’s loaves today. Fittingly, St. John’s specializes in sourdoughs, though they do offer a small assortment of other loaves and sweet breads as well. You may think that focusing on sourdoughs would be limiting, but that is not at all the case: St. John’s has a remarkable variety of loaves, almost all of which I’ve tried—and almost all of which are vegan, I might add (the only exception being the Walnut Raisin, if I’m remembering correctly (which includes honey)). For example, here we have their famed Olive Cilantro…

…followed by their Celtic Multigrain Demi (probably my personal fave)…

…next we have their Country Rye…

…here is their Maria (Italian-style) loaf…

…and finally, their baguettes!

St. John’s breads are available all over the city. I usually get them at The Stop’s Saturday morning farmers’ market at Wychwood Barns (at Christie & St. Clair, more or less), but you can also find them at several other markets (including Trinity Bellwoods and Evergreen Brickworks) and many local grocery stores and retailers (such as my nearby and beloved Fiesta Farms), as well as at a select few cafes and restaurants around the city (including my nearby and beloved Hub Coffee House & Locavorium). But I particularly like Saturday mornings at Wychwood, and largely because I love seeing and talking with this guy:

This is Corey, the amazingly friendly and knowledgeable baker on duty at The Stop’s market. He’s always there to help me come to a decision (which is not easy when all the breads are so good!), and really good at telling you what to expect from what you’re getting. And extra thanks today to Corey for chatting about St. John’s with me for this feature, and for allowing me to take all these photographs!

So there you go: St. John’s Bakery in a nutshell. Visit them yourself and try their breads—you won’t be disappointed.

VeganMoFo #2/31

Until we eat again,

Willie

h1

Wonderful Whole Wheat Bread

June 21, 2011

This was one amazing loaf of bread I baked today. Although I shouldn’t’ve expected anything less—this was Vegan Dad‘s recent whole wheat bread recipe, after all. Vegan Dad knows a ton about baking delicious bread and he’s never led me astray before. I especially liked this recipe because it was easy and straightforward, calling for only a handful of standard ingredients and not even all that much time. The finished loaf is very soft and springy, but keeps its integrity incredibly well, allowing it to be sliced thinly without falling apart. The taste is great, too, of course. Anyway, you should make it!

Vegan Dad’s post includes a very instructive recipe video which shows you how to make the bread. I really liked watching this, as I often feel a clueless when kneading and preparing bread dough, and being able to watch Vegan Dad’s technique gave me some helpful pointers. So you should definitely check that out too!

Finally, for those of you like me, who both only really need to make one loaf of bread at a time and only have one bread pan to bake in anyway, you may feel that Vegan Dad’s original two loaf recipe is a bit much. Also, for those of you like me, who still don’t own a kitchen scale, even though you know all bread baking ingredients should really be measured by weight and not by volume, you may feel a little lost by Vegan Dad’s provided ingredient list by weight. So for all you people, here’s an ingredient list by volume for only one loaf; you can still follow the recipe’s steps as they are in the video (except don’t cut the risen loaf in two, unless you want to make mini-loafs).

  • just under 2 cups hard whole wheat flour (more precisely, 1.9 cups)
  • 1/2 tbsp instant yeast
  • 9 fl oz warm soy milk
  • 1.25 cups white bread flour
  • 1 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp oil

Happy eating!

Until we eat again,

Willie

h1

Bannock (Canadian Skillet Bread)

June 15, 2011

Ahoy, readers!

Since moving to Canada two years ago, I have always been curious to learn more about Canadian cuisine. After being here for two years, I am still not convinced that there is such a thing as Canadian cuisine—and if there is, then I have no clue who eats it. Sure, there are a handful of signature Canadian dishes, many of which I’ve even recreated here on this blog, such as our recent vegan (gnocchi) poutine, vegan tourtière, and my very own vegan spin on Timbits. But I have yet to discover any sort of flavors or seasonings or culinary techniques that define Canadian cooking in the way other ethnic cuisines are identified. And unfortunately, I am not going to put an end to this ignorance today. However, I did recently discover a new Canadian dish which both tastes great and is easy to make, so I thought I’d at least share that with you!

The dish is bannock, a flat quick bread which is cooked by pan-frying a slab of dough in a skillet, somewhat like a pancake. I found out about this bread from watching this week’s episode of Top Chef Canada, where it popped up in chef Dale MacKay’s almost-winning dish representing the British Columbia Interior. Now a common Canadian campsite meal, the origins of bannock in fact trace back to the indigenous Aboriginal peoples of Canada—so that’s right, this bread is legit Canadian. But it makes sense why bannock would be popular in their cultures as well as among campers. In its simplest form, it requires only flour, salt, baking powder and water to make, about fifteen minutes to prepare, and no more than an open flame and a skillet to cook. Just mix together the ingredients to form a dough, throw it on a griddle, fry for ten to fifteen minutes, and you’re set! Sure, it’s not going to win any awards for style or composition, but for an effective and quick bread, it really can’t be beat, especially if you love that salt-and-baking-powder taste in breads and biscuits as much as I do. Plus, the recipe is easily modified to accommodate whatever other ingredients may be available as well.

For my first foray into bannock baking, I decided to follow this basic bannock recipe found on the webpage of the Government of British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests and Range—so that’s right, my bannock was extra legit Canadian. This webpage also includes many other bannock varieties, should you want to experiment. Other bannock recipes can of course be found around the internet as well, but once you get the basic idea of the dish, it’s really yours to mess with, and hard to mess up.

Aside from its history and ease to make, what I like about bannock is that it’s also the perfect summer bread, as there’s no need for an oven, so you can keep your kitchen cool while still enjoying some freshly cooked bread. This also makes it a really good breakfast bread to have in one’s cooking repertoire, especially given its short prep and cooking time.

So I hope you enjoyed learning about bannock! I promise you will also enjoy eating it as well, so give it a try the next time you’re hankering for some bread or biscuit. And please, if you can, help cure me of my ignorance of Canadian cuisine, and let me know if there are any other Canadian dishes that I need to try!

Until we eat again,

Willie

%d bloggers like this: