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Breadmaking adventures [Mar. 9th, 2011|12:41 pm]
So, my start date has, shall we say, "slid". As in, they're talking about putting me on a 1-3 week assignment. Which is okay - I think I was good with a few days of rest, though I *am* starting to champ at the bit here and there.

One of the things this has done is forced me to make bread. See, I don't want to not do stuff, and if I can't earn money, well, I've wanted to know more about breadmaking for a long time, so now's the time, right?

I've learned something. Kneading, one of the great mysteries of breadmaking, is over-rated. Really.

I don't mean that you can just not knead, though there's possibilities there, too - see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/24/dining/24curiousrex2.html (or http://www.formerchef.com/2010/03/09/healthy-bread-in-five-minutes-a-daywhole-grain-master-recipe/ if it's behind a login) (NB: haven't tried it yet, but I've found the recipe all over the web!) - but I was reading books and they all say wow, knead that bread dough until it's smooth and elastic.

Smooth means it's got a smooth textured surface - it's not all crater-y, grainy, etc.. Elastic means you can stretch it. Stick a finger in - do you break the surface, or does the dough stretch in with your finger?

I'm not sure I can get there... not the satiny smoothness I've seen some books describe. But I've gotten *partly* there. I've had bread that stretched more than it broke but never a dough that (as some people have said) could be stretched to translucent thinness. But here's a hint for you despairing bread makers who follow instructions too closely... the rising changes stuff.

While it's rising, the water permeates everything. There's probably a bit of Brownian motion causing a bit more mixing. If you've done some good kneading, you'll have developed the gluten and gotten a better loaf than you'd get without it. Even imperfect kneading seems, to my eyes, to be partially corrected during rising.

After that, well, everything else is easy.

Rising doesn't require actual *warmth*, but it does require a lack of cold. (Yes, I know, scientifically, that's nonsense. Bear with me.) Given the choice, better a slow rising in a slightly-too-cool area than too much warmth which can over-rise, or even kill yeast.

A second rise (or "resting" - I don't know if a rest is always 'just' resting or if it's partly rising) helps get you puffy enough for the oven. There will be (or may be) a bit more rising while it bakes, but once you're in the oven, you'll start killing the yeast, so there's not as much possible rising that can occur.

Oh, and the tapping for hollowness? It's actually pretty darn noticeable. But for a large-ish loaf, tap both top and bottom if you can. (So far, all of my bread has fallen right out of the loaf pan.)

From: kightp
2011-03-09 10:46 pm (UTC)
You are such a geek. And I mean that in the best possible way. (-:

But it's fun to observe from way over here, because it mirrors, in an Alice-through-the-looking-glass way, my own approach to computer stuff. It's not my primary skillset, nor the one in which I was trained, but I want to know how and why it all works, not just sit here stabbing at keys and clicking the mouse.

It's as if we come at things from opposite directions, but with the same essential curiosity. Which would explain rather a lot, actually.

You might want a copy of On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. On the Kindle, of course. It's just *full* of geeky, scientific detail about why ingredients behave the way they do.

Meanwhile: Mmmmm, bread. There's a reason they call it the Staff of Life.
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[User Picture]From: fourgates
2011-03-10 12:36 am (UTC)
You have encapsulated all I know about making bread. I tend to let the machine do it now though.

I think that satiny smoothness thing is a product of white flour. If you're using other grain mixes you won't get that.

Regarding the kneading thing: I recall a time in college when some housemates were making whole-wheat bread. They kneaded it excessively, to the point that they activated the yeast enough that it went anaerobic and started excreting ethanol. The whole house smelled like beer. The bread was also super-dense in the end.
Another friend years later recommended considering the kneading a way to make sure the wet/dry mix is balanced and sufficiently blended, and nothing more -- the quicker the better.
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[User Picture]From: essaying
2011-03-11 12:48 am (UTC)
Were they using sourdough starter? That's *supposed* to smell like sourdough. When I do sourdough, the house smells like a brewery.

As for kneading: when I do it by hand, I settle for dough that springs back when I poke it. When I let the KitchenAid do the work, I insist on the "windowpane test."

And as for rising: far, far better to rise longer at relatively warm temps than to raise the temp and rush the bread - which means it's not building a strong enough structure to support its own weight, and may collapse during baking and be ruined. (Not that it's possible for fresh bread ever to be really ruined, mind you - even when it's bad it's good.) I find that rising mine for three or four hours on a countertop in my kitchen, which is usually about 72 degrees, gives me a good stretchy chewy bread - not too fluffy, not too dense.

Also, consider starting about half to two-thirds of your flour with your water the night before, and letting it preferment. Hugely improves both texture & flavor.
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[User Picture]From: suzilem
2011-03-10 04:39 am (UTC)
rising? If it's a cold and drafty day, put a microwaveable mug of water in the microwave and bring it almost to a boil. Put bowl/pan of dough in oven with mug of hot water. Do not turn on microwave, merely close door and watch bread rise in nice warm, draft-free, humid environment. (this because nobody has pilot lights on ovens where bread used to rise forty years ago) :-)
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[User Picture]From: wyang
2011-03-15 12:12 am (UTC)

"Rising" in the refrigerator

From one bread geek to another...

A few years ago, I got a really great book that I received as a gift. _The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread_ by Peter Reinhart: it covered covered a variety of breadmaking techniques in enough depth to really improve my bread baking work.

"Baking great bread really comes down to one skill: how to manipulate time and temperature to control outcomes."
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