Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's the Bread, Ma'am.

I've been baking bread for 35 years.  I started off doing all the kneading by hand.  Ooof, work.  Then along came the Kitchen Aid.  Ah, so much easier.  Then the food processor:  quick as a wink.  And then, the Hubbo, over my kvetching and grumbling, convinced me that we needed (!) a bread machine.  So I bought the Breadman, and the rest is history.  The thing kneads dough better than anything else I own, including my own hands.  Acts as a proofing box, and occasionally I even bake in it.  Not often; I like to play with the dough, but in summer who wants to heat up an oven, or when my day is too full, and we need bread.

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.

My proofing box, aka the microwave oven.  I heat up a bit of water to boiling, put the cup over to the side, and then put in the dough.  Close the door, and I have a warm, cozy spot for the second rise.  No, I don't use the microwave to actually rise it, I just use the thing as a warm place.  My house is much too cold for anything to rise in a reasonable amount of time.

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.
 Risen!  Not to worry about the messy look.  It's upside down.

Put my cookie sheet topped with my trusty parchment paper, which I will reuse until it literally falls apart, and then upend the dough.  Give it some nice slashes, and bake it until golden brown and crackling and wonderful.

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.


Kitten With a Whiplash said...

Thank you so much for the idea of using the microwave to rise the bread. My countertop over/breadmaker burnt out last year, so I pretty much stopped making bread. Love the kneading, but just couldn't handle the mixing part. I just got a new mixer with dough hooks, so I'm back in biz, and this idea will be a great help!

OfTroy said...

you can put 1 or 2 ice cubes into a disposable pan on the floor of the oven (Pre-heated oven) instead of spritzing.. for the crisp crust.

I don't bake much bread as a single person, but mmm, i want to right now!

Wall-to-wall books said...

The bread looks awesome!!!! But, I couldn't help noticing that the cloth in picture 5 would make real nice yarn colors!
A couple different tans and just a touch of that light turq. blue.

Scrabblequeen said...

Reading this at 8:30 am was not good for my day's plans! Now, I desperately want to bake bread and today I don't have time! Oh sure, I could use the machine, but after this, how?

Linda W said...

There's something reassuring about making bread. Like, if the whole world should fall apart, I could still feed us, like all of those women through the ages. I know that's silly, but there it is. Good idea about the microwave, although I can usually find a warm spot somewhere. I'm still using my ancient Kitchenaid and thinking how modern I am. LOL

kv said...

yes1 to the microwave as a warm plae....we do this too, and it works great.

DJNL said...

YUM!!! Baking bread is one of my favorite things to do and then eating it when it warm and the butter just melts right into but it is so good that you don't even need butter...if I wasn't so busy baking 18 different kinds of cookies for the Christmas Eve Tea at my home...I would bake bread tomorrow!!

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