Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Baking Bread

Leslie asked me about my bread baking.  She knows I bake bread because she's having a give-away of one of her lovely knitted creations and I mentioned my Kitchen Aid mixer and King Arthur Flour baguette pan in my comment/entry.  So here is some bread talk.

I do like to make my family's bread, or most of it.  My baking is pretty straightforward:  loaves of bread. I have tried to make hamburger and hot dog buns, but that hasn't worked out for me.  I do make naan once in a while, with my husband's help.  And I may have made pita bread.  Did I ever make bagels?  Not sure, but we talk about it frequently.  Mostly it's simple loaves.

My flour choices are pretty simple too.  White bread flour (yes, I admit I use white flour), whole wheat, sometimes rye.  Sometimes I mix them, and sometimes I add other fun ingredients like oatmeal, other cereals, flax seed, wheat germ...  

Making bread is easy with the Kitchen Aid mixer.  I don't have to knead.  It would do my arms good to knead bread dough, but there just isn't the time.  Two minutes of kneading, or 15?  We'd never have bread if I had to knead it.  I suppose a bread machine would take even less of my time but that is one appliance I never felt a need for.

Most of my bread is based on the King Arthur Flour Hearth Bread recipe.  It's very simple (I actually have it memorized now) and can be adapted to other flours.  The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks) has a great bread-making tutorial that takes you through all the steps for making bread, and how to vary it. The recipe can also be found on their website, but for a beginner the instructions in the book can't be beat.

When I make baguettes, I use my wonderful baguette pan.  My husband gave this to me one Christmas or birthday years ago.  Ever since we moved from the San Francisco Bay Area 13 years ago, we have been searching for good bread, and I suppose that's when I started making our own. I haven't mastered sourdough yet, mostly because I don't want to deal with the starter, but I can make a pretty good crusty French bread using the KAF hearth bread recipe and this pan.

I keep experimenting with ways to make it more sour without using a starter that I have to tend. (My husband used to make a great sourdough with a starter, but he doesn't have time for that these days.) My latest method (which is not my invention) involves making a sponge and letting it sit overnight on the counter, or for a day or two in the refrigerator. The sponge is simply the water, yeast, and sugar called for in the recipe, plus 2 cups of the flour. I just put it in the mixer bowl, cover it, and let it sit overnight, then in the morning I proceed with the recipe. Usually I just make it plain; occasionally I toss some grated parmesan and black pepper into the dough when kneading it. After the first rise I form the loaves and ease them into the baguette pan. Sometimes, if I remember, I sprinkle some poppy and sesame seeds on the loaves just before putting them in the oven.

They are delicious and everyone wants to rip into one as soon as they're out of the oven. The baguettes are small so it's not too horrible if my family of 4 consumes one immediately. These also freeze well; I try to "bake ahead" sometimes and have a few in the freezer for days I just can't get the baking done.

For whole wheat bread, I follow the same basic recipe but use, well, whole wheat flour or a mixture of whole wheat and white (which makes it not whole wheat, right?). Occasionally I'll buy some white whole wheat flour but that's not so easy to find here yet and it's pretty expensive. This is when I add other grains to the bread.  Sometimes I soak a mixed-grain cereal like Bob's Red  Mill 8-Grain cereal in some water and add that.  I'm still messing around with that method.  The first time I tried it, I just tossed the dry cereal in with the flour but it came out a little too crunchy.  Better to soak it in hot water for a bit to soften up.  The trick here is getting the right proportion of "other" ingredients to flour, because they lack gluten and will weigh the bread down.  If it's used for morning toast, it will get eaten anyway... but I don't like heavy bread.  I add Bob's Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten flour to the dough when I use any grains other than white flour.  And I just use regular loaf pans when I make this bread, not the baguette pan.

Recently I tried the nine-grain bread recipe from The Il Fornaio Baking Book: Sweet and Savory Recipes from the Italian Kitchen which I have owned for years, but don't use often enough. That was a sentimental purchase as we used to go the restaurant when we lived in San Jose.  The biscotti recipe is wonderful. This uses cereal as noted above.  It also uses a very small amount of yeast so it takes longer to rise, but the flavor is wonderful.  The slower the rise, the more time the flavor has to develop!  But sometimes I am in a hurry.  When I make this again, I will add some of that gluten to make it a little lighter.

I also add the gluten to my rye bread to keep it from being heavy.  We love rye bread but I don't bake it often enough.  Remember party ryes? I loved it when my mother bought those little rye breads.  I used my baguette pan to make my own for our New Year's Day party.  They were perfect.  Oh, my rye bread recipe is also from King Arthur.

We sometimes talk about getting a grain mill to do our own flour, but that is for someday, maybe.  Right now I have neither the space to store one or the inclination to use one.  I buy my white all-purpose and bread flours in 25- or 50-pound bags at Costco.  If I could buy whole wheat flour like that, I would.  I like having a lot of flour, and store it in large buckets we bought years ago. Oh, I also buy a 2-pound bag of yeast at Costco and store it in the freezer.  I always have plenty of yeast.  I think I could be out of every other kind of food but could still make bread.

So that's my bread story. Anyone can make bread.  Get a basic cookbook from the library, or look at the KAF or Bob's Red Mill sites, and start.  You don't need a mixer, or fancy pans, just flour, yeast, water and salt (even the sugar is not necessary, though it does help the yeast grow). Strong arms are a plus, but this is a good way to get the kids involved. You can take turns!  Have a competition to see who can knead the longest!

What kind of bread do you like to bake?  Have a favorite baking website?  Let me know!


Sandy said...

My daughter bakes most of the bread around here but it's so basic that I thought I might start doing it myself. We've talked about getting one of those mixers, maybe now is the time. I do want a bread machine, but it seems like letting the mixer do the kneeding would be just as simple. I do want one of those baguette pans. I have no idea why we're still buying French bread. We use white flour too, though I would like to experiment with different types. So, you've inspired me to get into the kitchen!

wayside wanderer said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this! I love seeing the pan and especially that it can make three loafs. I know if I made bread it would disappear in a heart beat especially at the beginning. I am inspired to give this a try.

Marbel said...

This was fun to write so I was happy to do it. And if it inspires anyone to try baking bread, all the better!