Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Homemade Bread

Is there anything more inviting than the smell of homemade bread baking? I love the aroma that wafts through the house about 15 minutes after I place bread loaves in the oven to bake.

Making bread is not an exact science; as a rule there is no right or wrong. I prefer to think of it as an art form, where each loaf is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Once you become accustomed to the basic practices involved in bread making, you'll probably find yourself baking quite often!

Here are my personal pointers and observations for making a successful loaf of bread

  • All ingredients should be at room temperature.

  • Yeast should be fresh (check the expiration date before using.) Yeast will not proof if the temperature of the liquid added is too cold or too hot. I use the inside of my wrist (an area that's sensitive to hot and cold) for testing the temperature of the liquid; it should be no hotter than what you would give a baby. Yeast requires a warm, damp environment to proof as well as the addition of food (honey or sugar.) Proofing yeast is like watching a chemistry experiment; ingredients reacting to other ingredients. The process takes about 5-10 minutes and the result should be a foamy and/or bubbly mixture.

  • Dough can be quite temperamental and typically performs according to the weather conditions in your kitchen. Humidity makes for stickier dough which means you’ll need to add more flour while kneading; colder/dryer conditions will require less flour during this process. When adding flour during the kneading process, measurements are not exact; add flour until you have smooth, elastic dough to work with. You will find many techniques for kneading dough; the perfect technique is the one that works best for you.

  • Most bread dough requires at least two risings. During this process, dough should be in a warm environment, free of cold drafts. On top of a warm radiator, near something warming on the stove or on a warm day, in natural sunlight. Rising times vary; on average, expect about one hour per rising.

  • After a rising, you will always be asked to “punch down” the dough. Punching down is not so much about the act of punching as it is about the act of flattening. Using your fist or outstretched hand, push down the dough in order to deflate it.

Multi-Grain Bread

This is a delicious loaf that is wonderful as a bread for just about any kind of sandwich. It's marvelous as well simply toasted and spread with butter and jam.

2 packages active dry yeast
½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar

In a large bowl, proof yeast with warm water and sugar.

1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup cornmeal

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cornmeal; lower heat to a simmer and cook for 1 minute, stirring vigorously. Cool mixture for 5 minutes then transfer to bowl with yeast mixture. Stir until well combined.

2 teaspoons salt
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup spelt flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
4-5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface

Canola oil for mixing bowl

Add salt, water, honey, spelt and whole wheat flour; stir until well combined. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, transfer to a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl; add dough and turn to coat all surfaces. Cover with kitchen towel and let dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until double in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down, cut in half and shape into 2 rounds. Place each in a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan; cover both pans with a kitchen towel and let dough rise until double in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425°. Bake loaves for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 350° and bake an additional 20-25 minutes or until loaves are light brown and sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing. Yield: Two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaves.