Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Knead to Know:
Your Bread Baking Questions Answered

Susan's 'Perfect for Beginners' Farmhouse White Sandwich Bread

We love to hear your feedback about our recipes, and we enjoy answering the many bread baking questions you ask us. But since our (often longwinded) replies usually end up buried in the comments sections of past posts, we thought it would be more helpful to start turning them into their own little mini posts instead. And besides, we can never pass up the opportunity to use a good (bad?) bread pun. As always, we welcome your input! —Susan and Beth

Our first official Knead to Know question is about Susan's popular Farmhouse White andwich bread and comes from Shelby, who blogs at Eat Local Santa Fe:

I have a question. I made your bread today, and it is beautiful and it tastes great. But I am having a problem. I live at 7000 feet and have been experimenting with different breads and keep having the same problem. The breads come out looking great. They sound hollow when I tap them, but after they have cooled and I cut them open, they are almost too moist and gum up on the knife. What am I doing wrong? Do I need to increase the cooking time? Maybe the flour? Not sure. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Okay, Shelby, first a disclaimer—I have no high altitude baking experience. But my immediate thought when I read your comment was something I see you mentioned in your Farmhouse White blog post, and that is oven temperature. If all of your breads are turning out too moist inside, they simply may be underbaked. An inexpensive oven thermometer can be very helpful in this regard. What you assumed was 375 degrees might actually only be 325 or 350—and that can make a big difference.

Remember, too, that all ovens bake a little differently, so bread that bakes in 35 mintues in my 375-degree oven might take 40 (or even 30) in yours. The easiest thing to do is experiment. Turn up the heat. Or try baking your breads even longer than you already are. If you're baking more than one loaf at a time, pull one out when you think it's done, then let the other(s) bake longer and compare them.

Another question: Are you slicing into your breads straight from the oven? Once you take them out of the oven, the loaves actually continue to bake. Eating them right away can lead to gummy, undercooked interiors even if they look perfectly done on the outside. For most breads, it's best to let the loaves rest intact at least 40 minutes (which often seems like an interminable amount of time!) before slicing into them. And no, contrary to what Beth claims, tearing into the bread with your hands rather than using a knife still counts!

There are a few exceptions to this 40 minute rule—rolls can usually be eaten after just a few minutes (click here for all the roll recipes on A Year in Bread), as can my favorite Four Hour Parisian Daily Baguettes.

Shelby, we hope you'll let us know how things go with your breads. In the meantime, do any of you have other thoughts or ideas to add—or tips for baking bread at high altitudes?

© Copyright, the fun and floury bread baking blog where you have all of the questions, and while we definitely aren't yeasty know-it-alls, we do have some of the answers.


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Math is NOT hard! Adjusting yeast for slow rise bread.

Those of you who have read a few posts here may know that I am a huge fan of cold-fermentation. The long, slow process allows the flavor of the grain to fully develop and the ability to bake bread on my schedule, rather than the dough's, is extremely useful.

Most recipes can be made using this method, just start with cold ingredients and reduce the yeast a bit. Therein lies the rub, or the knead. How much do you reduce the yeast? What is 'a bit' anyway?

While wandering the tubes of the internet today, I stumbled across this post at The Fresh Loaf. It has an actual formula for calculating the amount of yeast you need when you adapt a recipe to the long, slow fermentation method.

The math of yeast

Using Susan's Farmhouse White Bread as an example, let's see how this works.

Her recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of yeast and 60-90 minutes of bulk fermentation, so let's start by converting the yeast to teaspoons: 6 teaspoons to be exact. We'll use 90 minutes, or 1.5 hours, since that's about what it takes when I make this bread. My typical long, slow rise time is 12 hours so that's what we'll use. Then we do the math, which gives us 3/4 teaspoon of yeast.


6 teaspoons of yeast X 1.5 hours
12 Hours

-- = 3/4 teaspoon

This looks about right, but I have to test the theory later this week. After I get to the store and buy some bread flour. Because I don't have any in this house. Whatever the heck is up with that. Bad breadie!

Theories are great and all, but we want to know about your real-life experiences trying this. If you adapt a recipe, please stop back and let us know how it worked.

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