I love bread. I really really love bread. Especially still warm, buttered and sprinkled with a little salt. Mind you, I don’t stop there, give me dark dense rye bread as well, cold with salmon and cream cheese, or the white sliced supermarket kind, toasted, with strawberry jam. So you’d think by now that I would have attempted to make it, but I have been fabricating excuse after excuse: don’t have enough time, will be too difficult, what will I do with all that bread, the house is too cold for the yeast to rise, I don’t have a professional oven, pigs can’t fly…
Well, today was the day. I made simple white bread. A fantastic farmer/baker/all round foodie gave me this recipe and I am happy to say that the bread came out really well, apart from some slightly too-brown rolls, see below.
It does take a while, but you don’t knead (come on, it had to be done) that much hands-on time, more waiting while the dough is proofing several times. The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg is a most excellent reference and whilst its encyclopedic information on all things bread is too much to memorise, it’s gives a detailed explanation of what’s happening at each stage of the bread-making process.
The recipe is as follows: a one-step method to mix the yeast, sugar, warm milk, all purpose flour, butter and a little of the bread flour. You let this mixture rest in a warm place to get the yeast fermenting, then it’s knocked back a little, and the remaining bread flour and salt are added. Knead for about ten minutes until you have a soft but not-too-sticky dough. Once again, the dough is rested, this time until it doubles in volume (very good tip in the recipe about using a straight-edged container to do this in) and then the dough is portioned and panned. Lastly, the final proofing, and the bread goes into the oven.
I did use a baking stone, not to cook the bread directly on, but placed underneath the loaf pan and one of the baking sheets. Unfortunately, there was not enough room on the stone for all the bread, and since I wanted to cook it all at the same time, I had to put my rolls separately at the bottom of the oven. The undersides were almost-burned but I think that’s because I cooked them slightly too long.
The recipe is for three loaves, so you can either make them and freeze the surplus or make different shapes like I did. Use these times and temperatures for small rolls. I hope to have many more bread adventures with whole wheat, sourdough, baguette, challah and pumpernickel.
-If you have a cold kitchen, either increase proofing times (apparently this makes the bread even tastier) or cheat like I did and heat the oven ever so slightly and use that as your proofer. Also, warm the milk to 100 degrees Farenheit to help the yeast along, but don’t go warmer than.
-It’s a small thing but after the second proofing, once you are about to portion and shape your bread, do tap any large air bubbles out, so that you have no big air holes in the bread (a real pain in a sandwich situation).
-I’m not sure it’s wise to open the oven mid-cooking, but given that my bread rolls are not all the same golden brown, I would rotate the tray next time to get an even colour.
-Resist the urge to break into that hot fresh-from-the-oven bread, as you’ll interrupt the final cooking stage. I was amazed to learn that when you take the bread out of the oven the outside temperature can be double that on the inside. While the bread is cooling, moisture leaves from the inside and the temperature of the inside and outside starts to become equal. It’s this that makes the starches start to solidify.