03/17/11

Rain, Stoves and Bread

Today I saw rain for the first time this year. Every year the long Manitoba winter sets in and I miss the rain. I don’t know what it is, but something about rain seems to make a promise. Promises that spring will finally come, that all shall renew. Promises that new things will grow (I can’t wait to grow my first garden!) and that all of the sand and silt of winter will be washed away. Every rain drop whispers change.

Change, a new season, a new year of blogging (happy blog birthday to you Funky Kitchen!), it’s time for me to conquer one of my fears. It’s one that a lot of people seem to have: bread making. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the cost effectiveness of baking your own bread, and to be completely honest, I’m just a little bit jealous of those people in my life who bake their own too. Those yeasty beasties in the packet won’t scare me anymore. The bread in my house is going to be baked in my own oven. And now that the apartment sized, burns everything, does not come to temperature reliably oven has been overthrown by a much more lovely one that is yet to burn anything, I’ve got enough bolstered courage to embark on my bread journey.

Advice I’ve garnered so far from bread baking friends, relatives, books and the internet: Start with a basic bread so that you can get to know the bread making process in its simplest form; you need to get to know your dough. The dough, when it has been kneaded enough, should feel elastic, smooth and soft, kind of like skin. If your bread over-rises, punch it down and let it rise again. It won’t take too long. Let it rise in a warm place, but not too breezy, you don’t want to form a hard skin on your dough. Use warm water to bloom the yeast, warm enough that it feels warm on the inside of your wrist but not hot. Bread dough should be warm, and it will be warm from the water you use with the yeast. The yeast will multiply better in a warm climate, and so, when you are done kneading, take the bowl you will let your bread rise in and run it under hot water. The warm bowl will give you a slightly quicker rise, just remember to dry the bowl off with a tea towel.

A lot of debate seems to be going on about metal bowls, whether or not they are okay to use for bread making. Some people swear by them, some people say never to do it. What do you think?

French Bread

(a halved recipe adapted from a recipe by Jenn Hall on AllRecipes)
Ingredients

8 grams of active dry yeast

1 Cup warm water

3 Cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

Directions
  • Bloom the yeast in the warm water.
  • Mix the yeast mixture with 1 cup of flour and half the salt, beat the heck out of it. This is the sponge. Let the sponge sit until it starts looking bubbly like pancake batter, it is then that you are ready to move on.
  • Incorporate the rest of the flour and salt, and then knead. I was using a mixer, with the dough hook attachment, so I left it to knead just about 5 minutes. If you are hand kneading (fold dough in half, squish, quarter turn and repeat) it should take between 8 and 10 minutes.
  • Shape the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl (see warm bowl hint above). Cover with a moist tea towel and allow it to rise until it doubles in size.
  • Uncover the risen dough and punch it down, whap! Form it into a loaf, tapered at the ends. Cover and allow to rise until doubled again.
  • Cut 3 or 4 diagonal gashes across the top of the bread, about half an inch deep.
  • Bake in a 375 ° F oven for 20 minutes. Then, brush the loaf with water, and return to the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

There is not much that is better than eating warm fresh bread slathered with butter (Mister agrees). So worth the work. Overall success: the bread did get a little over risen during the second rise, and fell slightly when the cuts were made across the top. The loaf was, therefore, a little bit denser than I would have ultimately wished it to be. Still, though, for a first try it was a great success!