Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bake Bread

It’s generally accepted in this part of the world that resolutions—big plans to eat healthier, be more organized, volunteer more, and so on—are made on January 1st. When I was growing up, that never quite felt right to me. I don’t think I’m alone in the feeling that September was a more appropriate time to be making changes: after a summer of fun and freedom, September meant back to school, a perfect time to vow to quit procrastinating, do extra credit work this year, and get involved in that drama club I’m always saying I want to join. Even as I grew older and summers meant getting a job and working most of the hot hours away, September was always a time for a new beginning, an opportunity to resolve to do better and to be better. Today, I’m still going to school, and will be starting up again in a week. As I mentioned in my last post, I have had an eventful summer: I planned a wedding, had a wedding, and now I’m married! I do feel a little like a new person, and so the start of this school year seems an especially appropriate time to start making promises to myself (and now, to you) about how I’m going to be a better new me. I won’t bore you with the list, but I do have one that seems relevant enough to share: bake more bread.
By making my own bread, I will know exactly what is going into my bread (you can never really be sure with a lot of the breads you can buy at the grocery store today—most are full of suspicious-sounding preservatives). Also, baking bread is fun—at least, I think it is. I love the multi-step process of making bread, from mixing, to proofing, to forming, to baking. I love learning about the process of feeding starters, building gluten, and fermenting dough. I also love how the bread-making process always holds a certain level of uncertainty, and how one can never learn everything there is to know about bread. Finally, making more bread gives me an excuse to use some of the wonderful wedding gifts Andrew and I received, notably my KitchenAid Professional 5 Plus Series 5-Quart Bowl Stand Mixer.
I am in love.

To kick off my new life as a regular bread baker, I decided to make a loaf of whole wheat French bread. It’s a basic, straight-forward bread, and seemed like a good starting point. One of the keys successful bread is accurate measuring and, whenever possible using weight measurements rather than volume measurements. Weights are far more accurate, whereas volumes can have some variations.
This dough can be mixed using the straight dough method, which essentially means tossing everything into a bowl and mixing it up—sort of. The rest of the process is your basic knead, ferment, make-up, rest, and bake. If you make bread already, you know the drill. If not, I’ve explained the process in detail below, with pictures.

At the end of the process, you have yourself a beautiful, simple loaf of bread, the kitchen smells amazing, and you have (I hope) passed a relaxing bread-baking afternoon.
Some resolutions are easy to keep.

Whole Wheat French Bread
From Professional Baking 5th Edition by Wayne Gisslen
Makes one 1 lb. loaf

0.5 lb. water
0.4 oz fresh yeast, or 0.2 oz active dry yeast
6 oz whole wheat flour
8 oz bread flour or all-purpose flour
0.3 oz salt
0.07 oz malt syrup or honey
0.3 oz sugar
0.3 oz shortening

First, if using fresh or active dry yeast, dissolve the yeast in warm (100 F-105 F) water.
Then, combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of the mixer. Pour the water and yeast mixture over that, and add the remaining ingredients.
To start the mixing process, use the paddle attachment on mixer to form a somewhat uniform dough.
Once the dough starts to come together, switch to the dough hook. With the hook, mix the dough on second speed for about 10 minutes—until the dough is smooth and elastic. Since this is a whole wheat dough, you won’t be able to get a great window, but it should be done once the dough is quite elastic and doesn’t break quickly when stretched.
Ferment (rise) the dough in an oiled bowl, covered lightly in plastic wrap, for about two hours (at room temperature), until it has doubled in size.
On a clean, floured surface, flatten the relaxed dough into an oval about the length that the loaf will be, using hands and/or a rolling pin.
Then, roll the loaf up tightly, and seal the seam is well.
Flip the loaf over so that it lies seam-side down. Tuck in the ends, and then roll the loaf under the palms of your hands to even out the shape. Place the loaf on a cornmeal-dusted baking pan to proof until it has doubled in size again (the loaf should be covered during proofing).
Before going into the oven, brush the loaf with water, then give it diagonal slashes along the top (this will create a more evenly-shaped loaf).
Bake the loaf at 425 F for around 20 minutes, with steam for the first 10 minutes. “With steam” means exactly what it sounds like: there should be steam in the oven during the start of the baking process, moisture in the air to keep the dough from drying out too quickly. There are a couple of ways this can be done. The way I chose is to place a dish with hot water on the bottom tray in the oven, while placing the tray with the bread above it. This way is simple, and works great.
Another option is to spray water into the oven every two or three minutes using a spray bottle. This way involves less dishes and less moving trays around in the oven, but it also involves a lot of opening and closing of the oven door, which means your oven temperature will not stay consistent.

Once the first 10 minutes are up, the water tray should be removed from the oven, and then baking continues until the crust has a rich, deep brown color.

1 comment:

  1. That looks soooo good! I wish I was there to share it with you!!