Mostly I use it to knead and proof for the first rise. Then the fun starts. I shape and get it ready for the final proof. Here it is, plopped into a heavily floured Brotform.
Here's the schmatta for covering it while in its second rise. It was once white. A kitchen towel much loved by me and given as part of my housekeeping set-up by my Gottselige Grandma. Over the years, the towel has so been impregnated with doughy flour and whatever, that it is now golden brown, and I can't wash it any more. Too much oil in it. But it is clean, and kept between risings in its own plastic bag.
Here's the dough, ready for the oven. Notice that nice dome on top; it has risen very nicely. OK, you can't really see it. Trust me, it's ready.
Sometimes, I spritz the oven with water every few seconds a couple of times if I want a very crisp crust. I used to use a pizza stone, but it is now in 3 parts, and forget it. Served fresh, the crust is nice and crisp, and the next day I toast it anyhow, so any lost crispness gets toasted into bready heaven.
I have been known to rise the bread forever in the chilly kitchen. But if I really want to retard the rising, then it goes into the refrigerator, where it can develop that complex flavor not found by regular warm rising. I like to retard my pizza dough, but in truth, I always forget to make it early in the day, so it just gets a normal treatment.
I love to make biga, and always add about 1/4 cup to the dough in the formation stage. Adds an undefinable flavor that is so good. I'm not found of sourdough breads, but I do like that fruity fermented flavor of a biga that's been doing its thing in the refrig for a couple of days. I use the 2-week biga recipe from Beth Hensperger's Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook, and I swear by it. I always pull off a little chunk of it to put into the next biga. Sort of my old dough method. I have a bunch of bread books, and love to read them. I don't weigh my ingredients; I'm just too casual for that, but the bread always turns out good, and that's the bottom line for me. And anyhow, I'm just baking a loaf at a time. I don't like very dark brown crusts; I like golden crusts. I love to smell the bread as its baking, and then take it out and admire it and then hear the crust crackling. And then, when I can't stand waiting another minute, I slice into it. It's always too warm; I need an electric carving knife and even then it doesn't want to slice perfectly. I should wait until it's totally cool, but it is irresistible.
And then we eat way too much of it. Fresh and plain the first day; toasted with a tad of butter or apricot preserves the next couple of days. I cut slices into croutons for the Hubbo to add to his salads. And then I repeat the process. I can easily make bread 3-4 times/week just for the two of us.
Bread is healthy, Atkins diet be damned. It's the staff of life. It comes from good wheat with rye or cornmeal or semolina, or whatever other grain you like. You can make whole wheat, regular wheat, combinations. I know what's in it. It's cheap. I mean, I can make a beautiful loaf of bread for a buck or a tad more! No preservatives, no weird junk, just good basic bread. And I get to repeat it over and over again. And I'm in touch with history that goes back to practically the beginning. What could be better? (OK, knitting is right up there too. Well, those ancients needed woolly clothing, no? It does get chilly at night.)
Kitten With a Whiplash - The truth is that I don't need a bread machine, but it is convenient. My Breadman with the wonky thingy in the middle, the one that holds the paddle, is dented and that thingy threatens to fall out. Do I need the top of the line Zo? Nah. I could just go back to the Kitchen Aid, but somehow this is so mindlessly perfect for kneading and first rising.
OfTroy - Yep, I've done the ice cube thing also. The trick is to remember to do it. Same with the spritzing. Go, bake a loaf of bread. Share half of it with a neighbor, and then bake more. Imagine: knitting happily while your bread is baking. The smell, the needles, the yarn. Talk about heaven. And then you get to hear it crackle when you take it out of the oven. And then you get to eat it. Nothing better.
Wall-to-wall books - If you could just see that disgusting-looking kitchen towel. Actually it's not dirty, just impregnated with years of flour and some oil. I tried bleaching it and washing in boiling water. Nope, it's way past that.
Scrabblequeen - It's so seductive, isn't it. And the best part is that I can do another one tomorrow, when I'll probably run out.