Friday, February 12, 2010

Bread Baking: One Year Later

It was one year ago (plus a week, but I was too busy baking to edit photos and write), that I started making all of our bread at home. I started off with possibly the easiest bread making book techniques I'd ever run across from AB5M and produced some fantastic loaves. Yummy and easy, what more could you want?

Well, next thing I knew, I was trolling bread baking blogs and seeing some pretty amazing stuff. The book The Bread Baker's Apprentice kept getting mentioned and there was even a challenge that started last summer to bake every bread in the book. I'm not actually part of the challenge, but I am amused to think there are other people as crazy as I am that want to cook every bread in the book (I've made 12 out of the 43 breads in this book since I received it for Xmas. Some, even twice since they were sooo good!). The constant practice with AB5M and now the technical info and step by step photos of BBA have completely taken my bread baking skills to another level. The first 100 pages of Reinhart's book are worth the purchase price alone*. I learned a lot!

Which is how I went from simply stirring flour, water, salt and yeast together and letting it rise, to creating a biga and a soaker one day and then combining them and working on the dough the next day. From easy to almost silly levels of complexity (One day maybe I'll be almost as good as Steve from Breadcetera!). It's not that it's any harder. It's just a little more work.

But the bread! The bread!

The difference is amazing!

Mise en place for multigrain transitional (half wheat, half white) bread.
This recipe is from Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. I wanted to see how different the techniques are for whole grains vs. plain all-purpose flour. The answer is very!

The biga and soaker are made the day before you want to actually make the bread. This helps to get more flavor into the finished loaf, soften the grains and break out the sugars in the flour and grains.



The soaker is made up of buttermilk, whole wheat flour, oats, coarsely ground corn, finely ground flax seed and cooked brown rice. Or, whatever mixture you like.


The next day, the biga and soaker are mixed together with the remaining ingredients and kneaded together. I use my mixer for the majority of the work, but had to do a little hand kneading to get to the right texture here.

Smooth ball

Once it's all lovely and smooth, rounded and sexy, it's ready for rising.

Risen dough

Then, once doubled in size, it's time to de-gas it and get ready to form it into a loaf. That's right, de-gas, not punch down. Far too violent a thing for my bread.

Degassing dough

You don't really need to "punch" the dough and you don't need to roll it out with a pin. Instead, you can just gently stretch it into the shape you want with your hands. This way you'll get a nice open crumb when you're done.

Rolling up loaf

As for rolling up the loaf, the new technique I've learned it to fold it over, seal that edge, then again, sealing the edge each time. Don't worry about de-gassing the dough, it's going to have more time to rise again after it's formed.

Sealing the seam

Make sure to seal the seam well so it doesn't split open while baking. The seam always goes down into the pan.

Formed loaf

Roll the dough under your hands to even out the shape of the loaf, if you end up with one side slightly fatter than the other.

Poppy seed coated

For grins I decided to roll mine in some poppy seeds. I think if I'd washed the exterior with egg wash they've have stuck on better. Just rolling them in the seeds meant that after it was cooked they all just fell off as I sliced into the bread. Oh well!

Cresting the pan lip

Once the dough crests the lip of the pan, it's ready to go into the pre-heated oven (I probably should have let it rise a little higher here.). Oven spring is what we're looking for to make the bread even taller.

Slashing the dough

I like the idea of slashing the dough. Mostly it's for aesthetics. Sometimes it helps the bread to handle expansion without splitting on its own in unsavory ways in the oven. Each recipe is different.

Finished multigrain bread

Then, finally, when the bread is baked and then cooled for about 2 hours (You have to let the crumb set and the moisture inside the loaf equalize before slicing. Trust me, it's better this way. The other way will often get you gummy bread. A little waiting is worth it!), you are ready to finally taste it!

Multigrain bread crumb

Yes, that is an awful lot of work for a single loaf. However, once you've seen how it works, you can then fiddle with the recipe: doubling it, altering ingredients, lengthening the rise, etc. I like to make bread by following the exact recipe at least once and then fiddling with it after that. This way, if there's a failure, I know a little more about where that failure point may have been introduced. Also, it's not a bad idea to try a promising recipe 3 times before giving up on it.

I think that is the key thing I've learned over the last year: to not be afraid of yeasted doughs. All else fails, I can always try again.

I have to warn you, though. This bread baking becomes an obsession!

* Just in case you're wondering, I am not being compensated by anyone mentioned here. No, it's just me, buying yet more cookbooks and going a little crazy baking. But a yummy kind of crazy!


ellen said...

I'd love to do that! Apparently my great grandmother had a bread baking day one a week. She'd make enough for their family of 10. That'd be a lot of bread!

kimik said...


My first foray into the world of non-wheat baking was an epic failure! Oh, well, time to roll up the sleeves and quit whining about it.

Monica said...

Your bread is amazing. I want some.

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