Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Baking Better Bread

Susan: Do some reading. Just don't overdo it. Pick one bread book and read it from cover to cover. If you like it and it makes sense to you, read it again. Then try a recipe. If you like the result (or if it came out terrible but you know it has potential), make it again. And again and again and again. It is better to make one bread twenty times than to make twenty breads one time.

Beth: Don't be afraid to experiment. Once you've learned to bake one kind, using the same recipe, reliably. Then try a recipe that has a significant difference from the first — like using a starter or additional ingredients. You can compare the results and learn how the changes in recipe/method change the resulting bread.

Kevin: Get several books. One author's way teaching may make more sense to you than another's — even though both authors know what they're talking about.

Beth: Try long cold fermentations. Almost any bread is improved by a long, cold bulk ferment. Sweet or enriched breads don't benefit as much, but still some. You may want to reduce the yeast (by 25-50%, maybe even a bit more) so be prepared to experiment.

Kevin: Parchment paper is more reliable than corn meal, flour, or both for releasing bread from the peel.

Susan: Start with the very best ingredients. When you are creating something with only four basic ingredients (flour, water, salt, yeast), the quality of those ingredients is crucial.

Beth: It is easier to handle slack doughs when they are cold.

Kevin: Use a baking stone (sometimes called a pizza stone). Stones are capable of absorbing a great deal of thermal energy and then giving it up slowly which means the bread cooks at a more consistent temperature. And give the oven and stone plenty of time to preheat — at least an hour.

Beth: If you want a rustic, open crumb with those marvelous large holes do not 'punch down the dough' after the first rise. Instead, turn it out on a floured surface and fold the dough into thirds, gently stretching when needed. You want to degas the bread as little as possible while still creating surface tension in the shaped loaf. A little practice will make it all fairly easy.

Beth: If dough springs back When you are shaping it, let it rest a few minutes to relax the gluten. You may need to repeat the stretch-rest cycle a few times to get the dough into the desired shape.

Susan: Use a sourdough starter or a sponge or a poolish or a lump of old dough. There are all different types of "starters." Some are made in a few hours, some in a few days, and some live in your fridge forever. Any kind of starter will vastly improve the crust, crumb, and flavor of your loaves.

Susan: Sprinkle in the flour and stir like crazy. When you are mixing up your dough, add only about a handful of flour at a time. Use your whole arm to stir, making wide sweeping motions. This will "whip" the dough and allow the gluten to develop.

Kevin: Never add all the flour in the beginning even if you're using a stand mixer. You can always add more flour if you need it.

Beth: Those thin plastic "cutting boards" that you can pick up in multi-packs for a few dollars are a baker's dream. I've been using mine as rolling surfaces lately. You can even stack them with dough on them for resting periods so you free up counter space. If you use them for rolling dough, remember the untextured side sticks less.

Susan: Give it a rest, then add the salt. This tip not only greatly improves nearly any type of bread, but it also allows you to decrease your kneading time (which improves the bread even more).

Beth: Pizza stones radiate heat that can be used to give rising bread a kickstart. Place a warm stone on the stove top with a rack on top of it, then set the dough on top of that to rise.

Kevin: The oven can be used to speed up the dough rise. In most ovens, the light will raise the temperature in the oven to around 75F (24C), which is perfect for raising bread.

Susan: Catch yourself a couche. A couche is a piece of heavy canvas that is dusted with flour and used to support freestanding loaves, such as rolls and baguettes, while they are proofing. The couche cradles the loaves, keeping them straight and preventing them from sticking together.

Susan: Make some steam. Steam slows crust formation, which allows for the best possible oven "spring." It also gelatinizes the starch on the surface of the bread so that it develops a thin, glossy, beautifully brown crust.

Note: You can read more detailed versions of Susan's tips at Farmgirl Fare.

Technorati: | | | | | |



Anonymous Jackie said...

Great tips! Thanks! My kitchen is currently being remodeled, but when it's done I plan on trying my hand at some bread, so thanks for the info!

5/10/2007 10:38 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Our plaesure.

5/10/2007 11:20 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I'm so glad I found this blog because I have been baking bread almost every week (more like every other) and so I'm having a really good time learning how to make different types of bread using the same basic recipe.

Random question: have any of you ever baked bread in a gas grill. Is it possible? (It's already starting to get hot out and I don't know if I'm going to want to heat up the kitchen so much this summer!)

5/10/2007 11:32 AM  
Anonymous farmgirl susan said...

Hi Jackie,
Remodeling your kitchen so you'll have a place to bake bread? You're a girl after my own heart! : )

Hi Lauren,
We're so glad you found this blog, too! While we use our outdoor propane grill all year round (yep, even when it's snowing), I've never tried--or even thought about--baking bread in it. I do know you can grill pizza, but I've never tried that either.

That said, summer has already started here, too, and I know just what you mean about not wanting to heat up the kitchen with the oven. But there's no way we'd last more than a day without homemade bread on hand! What I always do is bake two or three loaves of bread at a time and freeze the extras. Bread freezes beautifully, and making three loaves is hardly any more work than making one.

As summer approaches I try to bake extra bread and freeze it. I think I once was able to go at least a month in mid summer without having to bake bread!

One of the reasons I am able to do this is because we are spoiled and have several chest freezers (maily to hold all the lamb and beef we raise). I also freeze cookies and other desserts, and of course all sorts of veggies from the garden to feed us during the winter.

If you don't have much freezer space, I highly recommend investing in a chest freezer. You can get small ones that are a couple of cubic feet and I think around $100. That's what I originally started with. You can fit a lot of stuff in them, and they cost only a few dollars a month in electricity. The time and money you'll save being able to freeze things will make this investment pay for itself in no time.

I know I got a little sidetracked from your bread grilling question, but as you can see, I have this thing for freezing stuff. : )

5/10/2007 11:53 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Hi Susan,

Lately I've been baking a couple loaves at a time and freezing one. We don't eat a ton of bread, so one loaf usually manages to make it a whole week. That's why I bake bread about once every other week. I bake a lot of other yummy treats as well.

I have actually grilled pizza before. It works out pretty well and it's not too tough. The way I do it is to grill one side then flip it over, add the toppings and let that side cook and the cheese melt. The toughest part is getting all the toppings on and closing the grill so that the cheese can melt BEFORE the bottom burns!

5/10/2007 3:59 PM  
Blogger Joanna said...

Over at Farmgirl fare, Susan asked us to leave links to our posts about the no-knead bread ... I'm a little embarrassed to, because my love affair with it is largely over - but it's a quick and easy one to have in the repertoire, and it always gets eaten up double quick, AND if you're giving it to non-bloggers (well, yes, I do know some!) they are as amazed as we all were!

Love this great blog ... could you rename it two three or even four years in bread? You'll never cover it all in 12 posts each!

Best wishes,

5/11/2007 4:07 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

You're right about our not being able to cover everything, bu we can certainly get the basics out of the way in a year. Well, a baker's year (13 months). But given that we've all got other writing and blogging commitments (not to mention jobs), a year will probably as much as we can handle.

5/11/2007 8:00 AM  
Anonymous wildsheepchase said...

Okay, I have what will most certainly be awarded "The Stupid Question of the Month." You guys have been talking about parchment as an alternative to cornmeal, but...where do I get parchment? Is this special baking parchment? Do I need to go to The Paper Zone or Kitchen Kaboodle to get some?

(Before you're laughing so hard the tears are blurring your vision, I would just like to say that I'm new to this bread-baking thing, which kind of justifies my ignorance. But I am exactly one of the people you're trying to reach with this project, right?)

Also, I have to admit that two of the three no-knead recipes would require me to purchase equipment I don't have, and my budget doesn't allow that right now–I'm hoping to try Susan's soon, though.

5/12/2007 9:15 AM  
Blogger oopsydeb said...

Hi Wildsheepchase,
Have you looked at your grocery store for parchment paper? I can buy it at mine (not a fancy store at all). It's either by the saran wrap and aluminum foil or in the baking area near things like cupcake papers.

I've decided to rein in my special equipment purchases for now too, in part because I have a storage problem in my kitchen. That's why I'm not making english muffins this weekend. What piece of equipment do you need for Beth's bread? Is it the baking dish? If so, let folks know what you have and we might be able to help you identify an alternative.

I'm also new to bread baking. It seems like there are vets and newbies posting here and on the Flickr page. So far I'm feeling helped and not intimidated. I hope the same is true for you.

5/12/2007 10:14 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

What Ooosydeb said about finding parchment paper.

5/12/2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger lucette said...

I feel as if this is a class I'm attending--I'm already behind! I only made one kind of pizza dough. But I'm enjoying it immensely.

5/12/2007 11:29 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

There will be pop quiz sometime this week.

5/12/2007 12:20 PM  
Blogger ejm said...

The thing that I love about parchment paper is that it can be re-used 3 or 4 times. I also like that it can be bought in rolls so can be cut to the size I want.

in re: slack dough
An 8inch wide dough scraper with a comfortable handle is really great to help with kneading and moving slack dough into the proofing bowl.

I also read recently in "Piano Piano Pieno" by Susan McKenna Grant that wet hands are better than floured hands for stopping the dough from sticking. She's right!! And then there's even less temptation to add more flour so the dough stays nice and slack.


5/12/2007 1:30 PM  
Anonymous wildsheepchase said...

Oopsydeb, Kevin, et al-

Thanks for the tip about parchment paper. I won't be going to the grocery store for a few days (ingredients to make more PIZZA!), but my mother assures me she has seen it in the baking area, and it is common. You never notice the things you're not looking for, eh?

As for the equipment that I don't have that I was referring to, I don't have muffin rings or a dutch oven. Unless I'm waaaay misreading Beth's post, and a dutch oven is not required for her bread?

I also have a space/storage issue. The last eight months I've been trying to purge a lot of the "stuff" in my house, in an effort to feel like I'll be able to move someday. The most major new things to come in have been a baking stone and pastry scraper, which have both proven their worth many times over! And I got them for super-sale at a Farberware outlet store for about $15 total. Score!

5/13/2007 10:08 PM  
Blogger oopsydeb said...

Hi again wildsheepchase. I don't think Beth used a dutch oven for her bread. I believe she used a 2.5 qt calphalon sauce pan. What types of oven safe pots/casseroles/other do you have?

There are a few threads on chowhound that discuss various pots/vessels to use (one person used a flower pot!). Maybe that will help you.

On another thread someone mentioned that they put the bread directly on the stone and then covered it with something else.

5/14/2007 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't directly related to this post but I saw these cute "fresh baked" usb drives and they made me think of all of you here :)

Hope it's ok if I put this link here.

5/15/2007 9:54 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Those are fun.

5/16/2007 8:20 AM  
Blogger ejm said...

I don't think I would use a flower pot to bake bread. One doesn't know that the clay is food grade....

I haven't used my clay pot (unglazed inside and out) for bread baking but I have been told it works really well.


5/16/2007 2:31 PM  
Anonymous shannon said...

beth, can you elaborate on the "long cold fermatation?"
I will have an oven again someday, and I love Ferment...

5/17/2007 12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a great blog. I have not blogged before, but a friend introduced me to a bread sight & I eventually found my way here. I am pretty much obsessed with cookbooks, baking bread, and trying and revamping recipes- especially to try to make them taste like something I have tried from a bakery. My next objective- to be able to make a cinnamon bagel that tastes like Panera Breads cinnamon crunch bagel. I love to bake and try bread, but don't actually eat much (all those carbs-ouch)of it. But I tried the bagel of Panera's and I ate the whole thing (all 75g of carbs). Will treat myself after a long run. Sorry I digress. Anyway I am excited to follow the three bakers for the year of breadmaking. Will be interested in what is NEXT!!! Have already read some things on this blog that I will try. (pretty much make bread 4-5 times a week).

8/02/2007 6:31 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Welcome to the blog!

8/02/2007 6:46 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home