Monday, March 12, 2012

Bread: The Final Frontier

OK not really. But I have to admit I was a little intimidated. I mean, yeast? Rising dough? Kneading? Way more complicated than my usual cookie experiment.

To get it right, I knew I had to call in the big guns, which means my mom. I have such fond memories of freshly baked bread cooling on the kitchen counter, followed by days of crispy wheat toast, warm butter and fresh strawberry jam.

So I asked if she would help me recreate this memory so I could learn the magic of her ways. And it was a good thing I did! She share so many secrets that weren't included in the recipe. Unfortunately, a lot of her expertise comes from experience, like knowing the temperature of the water, or when the dough is ready. Time and trial, my friends!

So first the recipe. We got it from the Set for Life cookbook, which was co-authored by my mom's Aunt Jane. Of course, we took our own little spin on it, partially based on my mom's experiences, and partially based on what we had in the house.

Here's the basic recipe we used:

Whole Wheat Bread

9 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground if possible)
6 cups white flour
6 cups warm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey or sugar
2 tablespoons salt

Yeast mixture:
2 rounded tablespoons dry yeast (my mom swears by SAF -- she says the other brands don't work as well)

1/2 cup to 1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar

This recipe yielded 3 large loaves and 6 miniature loaves. You could definitely minimize it for a smaller batch.
Now for the magic. We ground the wheat on the spot. The flour was actually warm from the machine. Apparently the fresher the better when it comes to wheat. We also opted for a wheat/white mix, as 100% whole wheat is pretty dense. This keeps it a little lighter.

We put the wheat flour into the Bosch with the water, oil, honey and salt. In a separate bowl, we combined the yeast, about a cup of warm water and sugar. The temperature of the water is important -- my mom runs it under her wrist until it's warm but not hot. How do you know? I guess you just know. Mix up the ingredients and let the yeast mixture sit until it begins to bubble and foam. That's how you know it's working!

Once the yeast was ready, we added to the mixer and turned it on. Gradually, we added the 6 cups white flour. Add it a slow cup at a time, watching the dough carefully. The dough is ready when it begins scraping itself off the side of the bowl, and balling up in the center. The amount of flour will vary each time, so keep an eye on it.

Turn the oven on to 150 degrees or "warm." Grease up your bread pans, and prepare a flat surface with oil. Oil up your hands and grab a portion of dough large enough to fill the pan about halfway. If you roll the dough up like a little pillow, it will look much prettier when it bakes. My sister even drizzled some honey in the middle of her loaves. Once your loaves are ready, turn off the oven! I know -- what? Yes! You're just putting the loaves in to rise. Pretty quick in a nice warm oven.

Place the loaves evenly spaced in the oven, being sure they aren't touching each other or the side of the oven. Let them rise for 20-30 minutes, or until they have doubled in bulk.

Now turn up the heat! 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. When they are done and nicely brown on top, immediately remove the pans and let the loaves cool on a rack. If you like a soft crust, mist the tops of the loaves with water while they are still hot.

Strawberry jam: We basically followed the recipe inside the Sure-Jell box. We also used Ball brand pectin, because it has info about how you can use Splenda and doesn't require heat.

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