Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It Practically Makes Itself

There's a lot of backoff on making bread these days. It's too time consuming, too hard, yada yada. Actually, the dough does most of the work. What really gives bread flavor is allowing plenty of fermentation time. When yeasts are turned loose on a nice meal like water and flour, they eat up the sugars. As we know from beer and wine making, well fed yeast makes gas. In bread, the gas expands the dough so it puffs up nicely. Another important component is gluten, which is formed from two proteins in flour. The addition of liquid and vigorous kneading develops the gluten, which is very elastic. It gives the dough the strength to stay risen after the yeast has done its thing.

My personal preference is to make sourdough bread. My current recipe takes about 36 hours to complete; I personally spend less than an hour working on it. There are only a few steps: 1) make a sponge, which consists of a little sourdough starter, water and flour. Mix it up, cover and let sit 12 hours. 2) mix the sponge with remaining ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook, kneading until smooth and elastic. 3) turn into a container, cover and let sit at least 8 hours. 4) pull dough out of container, gently press out gases, put back in container and refrigerate for up to 12 hours. 5) take out dough, divide into loaves and shape or use baskets, let sit for 2 hours. 6) bake. There's a lot of sitting around here; although even when it's sitting, the
dough is working. I must mention if you want to make this kind of artisan bread you really must invest in a baking stone. It will make a real difference in your crust, and of course it's a must for pizza.

If you are interested in baking your own bread, there are two books I personally own, use and recommend. The first is Breads from the La Brea Bakery, by Nancy Silverton. This book is mainly all about sourdough. She even tells you how to make your own starter. That's a recipe for misery; I bought mine from King Arthur Flour, but if you and I are on a first name basis I'll give
you some if you want to bring a jar. The other book I love is The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Both books have lots of detailed explanations which are especially helpful if you haven't been to baking school. E-cookbooks has great prices on cookbooks and they have all kinds of giveaways, based on your order size.

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