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Question to Good Bread Bakers

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Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby Lily » Wed Oct 05, 2011 10:59 pm

I'm learning how to bake my own bread, for many reasons. I make a wonderful pizza dough but have a problem baking bread for sandwiches. Many recipes state 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast. When I made my pizza dough I let the yeast "bloom" in warm liquid with sugar and/or honey and I'm easily using twice as much yeast. The bread dough recipes don't ask for the "blooming" step. My first loaf of bread tasted wonderful but it didn't rise to the size of a sandwich loaf. I set the dough in a draft-free area, in a metal bowl, wrapped with plastic wrap and covered with a kitchen towel. After it rose for 2.5 hours, it clearly was not double the recipe, but I punched it down and put in in the Pyrex bread pan to cover and rise another hour. Not much in terms of rising but, like I said, it tasted great. It's a whole wheat bread recipe from Mark Bittman.

My questions are: do you "bloom" the yeast before mixing in the dry and other bread ingredients? Is a metal bowl too cold for rising? Is it better to use the metal bread loaf pans or are my Pyrex bread pans okay? For flour I'm using Whole wheat flour, unbleached white flour and oat flour (roughly 1/2 cup replacement of the white flour).

Any suggestions would be appreciated.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby kurt_w » Thu Oct 06, 2011 7:24 am

Oy. Getting bread to come out well consistently is a very tricky thing. It's so sensitive to subtle variations in temperature, humidity, and ingredients...

I make essentially all the bread consumed in our household, from dinner rolls and fancy specialty breads when we have company, to the sandwich loaves made 3x weekly. I figure I'm saving somewhere around $300-$400 per year, and getting much better tasting bread, compared to buying it at the store.

BUT ... the thing is that I use a bread machine (Zo), either to prepare the dough (for fancy breads) or to do the whole process (for regular sandwich bread). Even with the bread machine, I find that I need to keep it in different parts of the house in summer vs winter, because the bread is so temperature sensitive.

This won't be particularly helpful to those who like to do their baking by hand, but ... Here's my list of ingredients for sandwich bread:

    10 oz tap water, warmed for 1 minute in microwave
    2 cups King Arthur bread flour (see below)
    1.5 cups whole wheat flour (see below)
    1 Tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
    2.5 tsp SAF instant yeast (see below)
    2 Tbsp butter
    1 tsp salt (or a bit less, actually)

I've made literally hundreds of loaves using that recipe, and it almost always comes out great. The rest of my family likes a very soft loaf with almost no crust, so I take it out of the bread machine ~20 minutes before the baking would normally be done.

The choice of flour makes a huge, huge difference. Back in Madison we used to get huge bags of bulk flour through some kind of neighborhood buying club (I can't remember what it was). I also used to use the "Dakota Maid" bread machine flour that we'd get at Kohl's. But for the past 5 years or so I've used only King Arthur flour, which is infinitely better than anything else I've tried:

Image

I really love that flour. Any time I try using something else in its place, the bread doesn't rise as well, and I apologize to the bread machine for my apostasy and go back to KA.

The choice of whole wheat flour is a bit more open. The three kinds I've used the most are Arrowhead Mills stone-ground whole wheat flour, King Arthur white whole wheat flour, or King Arthur premium whole wheat flour:

Image Image Image

I like the slightly rougher texture of the Arrowhead Mills stone-ground flour. Everybody else prefers the King Arthur white whole wheat flour, which makes a loaf that looks, feels, and tastes like the best white bread in spite of being 40% whole wheat. Go figure.

The yeast is also a kind of big deal. If you bake a lot, there's nothing better than the 16-oz packages of SAF instant yeast:

Image

It's better than other brands, and much cheaper, too. I get it for about $4.50, which is less than the 4-oz jars of other brands, so on a per-ounce basis it's about 1/5 of the cost. I open the packet, transfer a few weeks' supply into a smaller container, keep the small container in the fridge, and keep the rest of the original packet in the freezer.

OK, so none of that actually addresses Lily's questions ... I don't often make bread completely by hand any more, ever since we got the first bread machine 10 years ago. But when I do, yes, I do let the yeast spend some time in the warm water first. The pyrex-vs-metal issue shouldn't have much impact on the rising, just on how soft or tough the crust is (pyrex should give a softer crust).

How warm is the area where you're letting the dough rise? Draft-free is good, but warm and draft-free is better. I put the dough in a metal bowl, cover it with either a cloth or plastic sheet, and then stick it in the pre-warmed oven (before making the dough I turn the oven on briefly, then off again after just a short while -- you don't want it to get hot enough to bake the dough, just to let the dough feel nice and tropically warm). Periodically I'll re-warm the oven during the rising process (but be careful to remember to turn it off again quickly).

If you like fresh bread, consider investing in a good bread machine (it's worth paying more for a good one, if you'll use it regularly -- mine paid for itself in about 6 months). I can't tell you how great it is to wake up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning to a loaf of perfect, warm, fresh bread that baked itself overnight.

The one caveat about that -- if you live in an apartment, or a small house, and you want to use the bread machine overnight, it may wake you up at 3 am with the thump-thump-thump noise of the paddles kneading the dough. During the summer, I keep the bread machine in the basement, where I can't hear it. But in winter, I need to move it to a warmer room, and if I'm not sleeping soundly enough, the noise can be a problem. (To be fair, I'm a naturally light sleeper; Ms Kurt has no problem sleeping through the noise of the bread machine.)
Last edited by kurt_w on Sun Sep 07, 2014 8:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby kiwiwannabe » Thu Oct 06, 2011 9:21 am

We use the sponge method as spelled out in the Tassajara bread book. You can get a copy at the library. It is similar to what you use for pizza dough. You have to play with the amount of yeast, depending on how heavy the flours/grains are that you are using, and how humid and warm it is.

Until you've tried a recipe several times, it's hard to know how foolproof it is. You will have some good loaves and some bad loaves, and then you need to figure out what you did differently or what conditions were different to make the good loaf come out so much better. Then you have to replicate those steps or conditions. It's very scientific!

Your ingredients need to be fresh and at room temperature or above. Your liquids should be at least at 90 degrees F when you start mixing things into them, and you should maintain the dough at around 70-80 degrees while it is rising, with absolutely no drafts. The relative humidity inside the bowl must be around 50%, so you have to find the part of the house that holds humidity best.

In the winter, if your house is colder than 70, you need to heat up the oven and then turn it off as Kurt says or find somewhere that holds the heat and humidity.

Once you get your system as perfect as is possible, you will be more consistent. Until then, you should accept the failures as lessons learned and try, try again. Don't give up - the good loaves are really worth the effort!
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby Galoot » Thu Oct 06, 2011 10:04 am

I also find that method...sponge worthy. :lol:

I didn't learn it from the Tassajara book, but from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, by Mollie Katzen (Moosewood author). I've used that recipe for nearly 30 years, for everything from pizza dough to dinner rolls to sandwich loaves, and it works every time.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby fennel » Thu Oct 06, 2011 10:40 am

Galoot wrote:I also find that method...sponge worthy. :lol:

I didn't learn it from the Tassajara book, but from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, by Mollie Katzen (Moosewood author). I've used that recipe for nearly 30 years, for everything from pizza dough to dinner rolls to sandwich loaves, and it works every time.
I can second that. And if you grind your own, the flour will be warmed and ready for the sponge. Listen for the telltale "thwap" when you deflate the sponge.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby city2countrygal » Thu Oct 06, 2011 10:47 am

I have to agree with the other posters on letting your bread dough rise in a pre-warmed oven. Once I saw or read that setting it to 400 degrees and letting it pre-heat for 1 min. is ideal. That has worked for me, but it probably depends on your oven.

Because you are not getting the rise you want, it sounds like your yeast is old. I like kurt_w's method of storing yeast and will probably try that. I usually add about 1 extra tsp. of yeast for a double batch of bread.

My second suggestion is to make sure your are sifting your flour and combining your flours well.

I don't get the love of the bread machine on this subject either. Maybe they have gotten better in the last 5-10 years, but I have gone thru about 3 bread machines in college, using only the dough cycle (I never actually bake it in the machine), until I finally bought a kitchen aid stand mixer. I love it! It kneads the dough for me like a bread machine does, but it's so much more versitile. It is an investment, but well worth it. I work that thing, making double batches, and I've had it for more than 5 years. I'm amazed I have not blown the motor yet!

Image

I also heat up my metal kitchen aid bowl before I add ingredients to it. And I bloom my yeast when I make bread or pizza dough.

One question for you, Lily, when you make your pizza crust, do you get the bubbles in it when it bakes? I love those bubbles. I can tell my yeast is fresh if I have those.

One last tip from me: I freeze a lot of my bread. Even if I buy a loaf at the store or bakery, I'll freeze half and take it out a week later and it tastes like fresh baked bread.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby peripat » Thu Oct 06, 2011 11:08 am

I haven't managed to make good bread using instant yeast, so went back to the old stuff & you have to let that bloom. The recipe above is pretty much what I use but I also use scalded milk rather than water, honey rather than sugar and never sift my flour. Whole wheat bread just does not rise as much as mostly white bread.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby city2countrygal » Thu Oct 06, 2011 11:12 am

peripat wrote:never sift my flour.


Why not? Just curious.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby kurt_w » Thu Oct 06, 2011 12:15 pm

city2countrygal wrote:I don't get the love of the bread machine on this subject either.


Well, a mixer's a good alternative, too. I know a couple of people who do that.

I love the bread machine because I can take 5 minutes just before bedtime, throw some ingredients in the pan, set the timer ... and wake up to a loaf of warm, delicious, high-quality bread.

It's true that there are a lot of bad bread machines out there, and there are a lot of people who never really develop a rapport with their bread machine and thus don't end up using it all that often. It's also true that mixing dough by hand, or with a mixer, is fun!

But ... I have very little time. I work way more than 40 hours a week, I've got my share of the child care, housework, and gardening to do, I've got a book manuscript to work on, town committee meetings to attend, and a handful of amateur athletic and musical activities. Without the bread machine, I'd probably make bread basically ... never. With it, I make all our own bread.

That's why I love it.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby kurt_w » Thu Oct 06, 2011 12:25 pm

Semi-off-topic question for this thread:

Anyone make their own yogurt?
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby fennel » Thu Oct 06, 2011 12:48 pm

kurt_w wrote:Semi-off-topic question for this thread:

Anyone make their own yogurt?

It's been years. We used to get gallons of fresh goat's milk, scald it, then add bulgaricus and acidophilus before letting it "yog" in the heat of a summer attic. (Around 125℉, if I remember.) What a treat that was.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby Detritus » Thu Oct 06, 2011 1:16 pm

kurt_w wrote:Semi-off-topic question for this thread:

Anyone make their own yogurt?

Yep. As fennel says. If you don't have an attic, wrap the bowl in a towel and put in a slightly warm (but no longer running) oven. I always tell people to start the first batch with a generous spoon of their favorite unflavored yogurt (with live culture, of course). But if you want to start with pristine baccilli, go wild.

Lately I've been making my own soymilk. Wow, I thought I hated the stuff, but after having fresh hot soymilk one Sunday at Yen Ching, I was hooked. It tastes, I would conservatively say, exactly nothing like the stuff they sell in the stores. Plus making your own is cheeeeep.
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby city2countrygal » Thu Oct 06, 2011 1:43 pm

kurt_w wrote:Anyone make their own yogurt?


Yes, I have made it using store-bought yogurt as a starter, and I recently found a starter packet at the co-op in Janesville, although I have not used it yet.

I got the maker for x-mas last year. I'm addicted to kitchen gadgets and appliances. EuroCuisine is the brand I have, and it has 6 or so nice glass jars that you cook and store the yogurt in.

Image

The first time I made it, I burnt the milk on the stove top, you have to heat it to 200 degrees, so now I microwave the milk to reach that temp. Then add in the starter yogurt (about 1 cup I think) to the hot milk, I like to use greek yogurt, nice and thick, and then pour the milk/yogurt mixture in the glass jars and plug it in and let it go for about 4 hours. Then refrigerate for 8 hours and you are done. It's great! The machine is about $30, and if I run out of yogurt before my next trip to the store, I just make some with my last cup of yogurt and some milk. Handy and convenient for yogurt lovers!
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby peripat » Thu Oct 06, 2011 2:35 pm

I don't sift the flour because it doesn't seem to make any difference-I just use regular unbleached flour. (Cakes now- you really need to sift the flour)
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Re: Question to Good Bread Bakers

Postby kurt_w » Thu Oct 06, 2011 3:23 pm

On the bread thing, I don't sift my flour because, as peripat says, it doesn't seem to matter much. But I'd definitely recommend using a really good flour.

As for yogurt, I don't make it that often (too much time/trouble/mess), but when I do, I make as large a batch as possible on the stovetop, put it in quart-size mason jars, and then let them sit overnight in a couple of coolers filled with hot water.

Detritus, that's cool that you've been making your own soymilk. I don't drink it, but others in my family do. Got a recipe, or a pointer to a good one somewhere online?
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