Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How I make Bread (French, 2/3 whole wheat; my standard recipe)

I am not explaining why, mostly. It would take too long. But this is my basic bread recipe at the moment.

For one batch (but I always make a double, even if it's only for one person):

1 t yeast (For most beginners, I recommend starting with 1 T; I explain this below)
1 c. water
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1-2 T olive oil

Combine the above ingredients. I usually use cold water. Let them sit for anywhere from ten minutes to a couple of hours (but you might want to make closer to ten minutes if you're using a whole tablespoon of yeast).


2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white flour

and knead it in. You don't have to knead it for any longer than it takes to get the flour in. Pour a little (one tablespoon or less) oil in the bottom of the bowl, roll the whole lump around in it, and then cover it with plastic wrap so that it doesn't get nasty-crusty while it rises. Let it sit for oh, about five or six or eight hours, maybe overnight. Punch it down. Let it rise again (covered, again, though oiling isn't usually necessary the second time), and punch it down again (or, you can skip this if you only want to take two days instead of three to make bread). At this point, form it into either one loaf or two, depending on your fancy.

Oil a cookie sheet or pan, or else use parchment paper (my preferred method) as your bottom layer instead of oil. Sprinkle it with a grainy product which in the U.S. is known by the brand name of Cream of Wheat, but in Australia is known as Farina or Semolina. Put the loaf on the prepared surface. Cover it with plastic wrap again and let it rise one last time.

When it is time to cook it: put one rack on the bottom position in the oven, and another in the middle. Put an empty Pyrex or other casserole-type pan on the bottom rack as the oven is preheating to 350 Celsius and then put a pot of water on to boil on top of the stove (today when I did this, the water boiled just as the oven finished preheating, so it worked out perfect). Pour the boiling water into the pan by pouring it through the higher rack (easier and safer than sliding the rack out and then back in again), and then immediately put the bread on the upper rack and close the oven. The steam gives the bread an AMAZING crusty French-bread texture. Cook it for approximately forty minutes, or until the crust looks the right shade of golden-brown.


In Utah, I keep all of the proportions the same except the flour, which I put less in of because the climate there is much drier, and therefore the flour there is much drier, and as it absorbs the water the bread itself becomes more dry and not as tasty.

I always eyeball the salt amount. As long as there is less than a whole teaspoon and more than half a teaspoon, it works out fine. Please, do not let me ever find you fiddling with a half teaspoon measure and a quarter-teaspoon measure on this, when there are better ways you could be using your time, such as doing practically anything else.

The yeast amount kind of doesn't matter so much. The original recipe called for a whole tablespoon, and if you choose to do that, your bread will be completely edible and even tasty, and will also probably take less than three days to be done. On the other hand, slower rising bread does taste better, to me, and that is why I do it the way I do it. I just wait for as many hours as it takes for the bread to be risen as much as it needs to be.

Another way to speed up the rising of your bread, if you want it to be ready to bake in, say, six hours from the time you started it: turn the oven on warm. Get the steam ready as directed for when you are actually going to bake it. When all is preheated and steamy, turn the oven off, put the bread dough in, and leave the oven door slightly ajar. Check it after a couple of hours, and then, say, every half hour after that (depending on how fast it seems to be rising).

This steaming method is 100% taken from the back of the Rhodes Rolls frozen bread dough package, except that they don't specify to use a pyrex pan and to preheat it with the oven. I like the pyrex because it is much less likely to tip than, say, a cake pan or a pie pan, and it is also much easier to clean hard water spots off of with some vinegar and/or scrubbie. In the past I tried other methods, but after discovering this one I have not gone back.

Julia Child's husband, Paul, used to put a red-hot brick in to a pan of water in her oven for her, and I once had a bishop who was teaching himself to make fancy French bread who tried using a regular rock, heated up on the stovetop; when one of his daughter's friends walked by and saw it, he shouted, "Emily, you dad's cookin' granite!" They also have extra-fancy steam injection ovens made specifically for this very purpose, but I don't even daydream about those. I'd like my own oven, first.

Also, you can pop loaves of not-quite-risen bread into the oven as it is preheating for baking, and let that heat finish rising (raising?) the bread at the same time it gets hot enough to bake it. I don't do this unless I have to, though, because the results are somewhat unreliable.

There are lots of random factors which influence how fast bread rises, so I have learned to just enjoy the time it takes. Bread, like washing machines and dishwashers, should be started and then left to work its magic on its own (if at all possible).

Fastest way to form loaves
(if you even care, since you already waited two days to get to this point):

set the lump on the table. Use a sharp knife to slash it lengthwise, top to bottom, with two parallel slashes, but only have the knife penetrate to about half of the thickness of the lump. Roll it out until the slashes are just interesting lines, rather than forming dramatic peaks and valleys. Leave it at least an inch thick, maybe more. Make sure that at least one measurement (I try to make it the top-to-bottom, but side-to-side or diagonal is fine) is as long as you want the finished loaf to be. Now, roll it up, starting with a side which is parallel to your desired-measurement side. For instance, if I've met my goal and made the top-to-bottom measurement the one which is the ideal length, I start rolling from one of the sides, so that my top-to-bottom measurement comes out as the longest one after I have finished rolling. Gosh, but this is complicated to explain. Let me know if you have any trouble or if (I hope) you come up with a better way to explain it.

At any rate, do not take too much trouble with the whole process, since the point in the first place is to save yourself trouble. When you are done rolling, you can turn the loaf right side up, meaning the seam is down, and you can tuck the ends under, and, if you are like me, it is one of the evenest-looking loaves you have formed in your entire life, AND it took less than 45 seconds to do (that is, if you didn't have to walk to the knife block and back to fetch the aforementioned sharp knife).

YUMMINESS ALERT: butter, applied as though the butter were sidewalk chalk and the bread were sidewalk and you were coloring the whole thing solid, is most delicious. Wait-- less pressure should be applied than if the butter were sidewalk chalk, but I think you'll be able to figure it out. Oil isn't bad either (use a pastry brush for this). I would do this after it finishes baking, because that is when it melts in nicely.

Health: This kind of bread is, as far as I can tell, one of the healthiest things possible to make, even if you do add the oil on top at the end, and this is because it is made with two-thirds whole wheat. By the way, I have experimented with 3/4 whole wheat, and while this is only a 1/12 proportion of difference, that much more whole wheat totally changes the texture of the bread; at that point, you need to start adding gluten back in (which you can buy at a grocery store or natural food store, but I have never bothered). Also, as no doubt most of my readers are aware, if you go from a mostly refined-starch diet to a more whole-grain-based diet, and especially if the change is sudden, the digestive system can rebel. These are my personal reasons for sticking to this particular proportion set (and besides which, it is pretty easy, since the original recipe measures the flour in exactly three cups).

There is only one problem with this. If anyone remembers my "food snob" posting, they will remember that I hate any but the freshest-ground whole wheat flour. Store bought pre-ground flour is often old enough that the oil is off-- or, that is my diagnosis; at any rate, it is awful-tasting, and it gives whole wheat in general an undeserved name for disgustingness. Therefore, when I am living in a household without a wheat grinder, I usually make my bread with two and a half cups of white flour, but put in a cup of overcooked brown basmati rice (organic, of course), and it adds a nice texture as well as being a whole grain. (Overcooked, because when it isn't then the grains that end up on the outside get hard enough that you worry your teeth are going to crack on them when you bite down). I reduce the water by half a cup as well, because the rice already has water in it. I think that's what I do. I am feeling unsure of my proportions. Sheesh! I will seek to clarify. Sometime. That's why I blogged this recipe today, with the whole wheat, because I made it (baked it) today and it was fresh in my memory, and I knew I wouldn't mess this version up. But at least you have this much for now, which is not inconsiderable.

Bon Appetit! Or, as they would say in Germany (where this recipe would not work, as far as I know, because their flour is different) Guten Appetit! If anyone makes this, please give me feedback so that may I know what I left out or garbled in the instructions. It is one thing to make bread that is darn good; it is another to describe what you have done in such a way that others can actually repeat what you do.

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