Bread Making Tutorial

>> Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm warning you this post is insanely long. But if you're struggling to make good homemade bread, go with me on a journey. It'll be worth it!

Okie dokie, so this is NOT about "use my recipe and have perfect bread" or "do it this way or your bread is el crapola." No, no my friends. If there is one "truth" here at Diet Coke Heaven it is "I know there are many ways to do all things."

BUT! I do make a freaking great loaf of bread. *TOOT* (That was me horn-tooting myself.) However I have also made some spectacular disasters that were not fit for human consumption. Trial and error. My mother taught me how to make bread, and to her disdain, I acted like it was murder being made to knead and knead and knead. I was "too cool" for domestic arts when I was a youth. However, when I left home, and later got married, I discovered that homemade foods bring happiness and comfort. So, I took up bread-making again.

So, here we go, how to make bread, ala Morgan, ala her mommy (with more pictures than I knew what to do with).

 Regardless of your recipe, YEAST is the key to the whole "Bread that is bread" thing. Yeast is a living thing and if you kill it, you kill your bread. Don't kill your yeast. It wants to live. It's too young to die.
How do you NOT kill yeast? Two ways.

1. WATER TEMPERATURE. Too cold? No fermentation, no rising bread. Too hot? Dead. Same issue as too cold. WARM WATER is key. Your recipe probably alludes to this one way or another. Just know, if it's hot to the touch, the water is too hot. If it doesn't make you feel like you're in a bath or shower when you stick your hand in it, it's too cold.

2. FEED YOUR YEAST. Yeast likes warm, sugary sweet things. So, DON'T add salt to water and yeast. If your recipe doesn't call for an early sugar (like as you mix your water and yeast together and let it sit) consider adding some sugar or honey. It will NOT hurt it, and it WILL help it. My particular recipe calls for water, dried milk and sugar all to be mixed with the yeast. Then you let it sit and "burp and fart" as I heard someone once describe yeast-goings on. This just means you want your yeast to grow and bubble forth. If after 10 minutes, you can't VISIBLY see change in your water/yeast/sugar mixture, you've killed it. Try again. (I killed my yeast last week and had to start all over. Sad day.) Better to discover you've killed it BEFORE you bake it then later though.

Mmkay. Still with me?

So, after you feed your little yeast-lings and get them all agoin' you need to create a dough from all that ferment-y-good-ness. ENTER FLOUR!

A sidenote: I don't use any kind of "yeast enhancers" at all. The reason I make bread rather than buy it is to keep it simple. If you want to use them, more power to you. I do believe that if you just treat your bread nice, it'll rise up really pretty without artificial helpers. 

See? Dough with just a bit of flour (also called a "sponge")

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Left to rise 1 hour. Nice active yeast = BUBBLES!

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Flour comes in MANY varieties. You can even buy fancy-schmancy bread flours. If you like them, then great! But regular old flour works fine too. I use several different kinds. I rarely make an entirely "white" batch of bread. Okay, read that, NEVER. But that's me. This week's? 3/4 wheat, 1/4 white. Why? Cuz that's what I had.

Don't be afraid of wheat. It can taste delicious! I promise!

Flour and kneading go hand in hand. Too much flour? Heavy, crumbly, not so great tasting bread. Too little flour? Blob-o-dough that very marginally resembles bread.

The magic? Add a bit as you go.

So now, KNEADING!

I used to be a real pansy about kneading. It hurts! It takes so long! TEN MINUTES??? So I'd skimp and then I would wonder why my bread was dense. NOT ENOUGH KNEADING. Kneading is not for the weak and weary. But you're not afraid! RIGHT?? Right.

Here we go.
Stir in a few cups as you go. Stir for as long as you are able.
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Gradually keep adding flour as you stir. It will get thicker and thicker.
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Time to dive in with our hands!
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Don't be afraid. Grip the bowl with your non-dominant hand.
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With your dominant hand, dig down into the dough right along the edge of the bowl, at about 12:00 on a clock. (Bowls are round, just like clocks.) USE YOUR MUSCLES! Don't be wimpy.
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And fold it over.
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Spin the bowl a bit, and do it again. Make sure when you dig, you're digging down deep and pulling the sticky stuff AWAY from the side and bottom of the bowl. You basically scrape the sides of the bowl with your finger nails. Nice, huh?
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And fold it over again.
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Getting it? Spin, dig and fold. Spin, dig and fold. It's fun! All the while adding bits of flour to cut down on the sticky. SLOW on the flour.

Every now and again, I'll do some mid-cycle punch down, just to keep it interesting.
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Your hand SHOULD look like this:
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Don't fret. It won't be like that forever.
Cuz you keep adding flour.
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See how I'm NOT measuring? I'm just dumping a handful in at a time, and spinning, digging and folding.
Look! It's becoming dough, not gook!
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See? It's sticking to itself more and to you less!
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Once it starts to stick to itself, it's time to STOP spinning, digging and folding and start punching and pushing and pulling with BOTH hands.
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It's going to fight back. Show it who's boss. You really have to get in there. I'll still spin, dig and fold here too, just with two hands.
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HARK! Bread dough! As you gradually add flour, you'll notice your hands start to look like this:
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Once your hands look like this, stop adding flour. There is plenty. Anymore and your loaves will be bricks.

This is a good thing! Beat it up some more. It'll want to stop sticking to itself and maintain it's own shape. DON'T LET IT! Force it all together. Spin, dig and fold like there's no tomorrow. DON'T GIVE UP!
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See how I have to get ON TOP of the dough?
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If you're short and the counter is not high enough for you to get above the dough, do this at the table.

Lookit! A lump of bread dough! You've made it 10-ish minutes! Congrats!

If it's NOT smooth all over, or if it still sticks really badly to your hands, it's not done, regardless of what the clock says. KEEP GOING. It will smooth over.
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It sticks to itself! It is a lump! Hallejuah!
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Hello, Baby! How are you?
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Admire your work. You earned it! You're exhausted and your arms are shaky. But you fought bread dough and you won.

Back to YEAST. It needs to be WARM! Let your bread dough rise in a nice warm spot, covered. I turn my oven on 200-250 and let it stick on the stove top. It works.
BEFORE the 1 hour rise time:
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AFTER:
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Punch that baby down and let it rise for another hour (I'd recommend this regardless of what your recipe says...) Punching down bread dough is a delight. REALLY. I mean it.
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After the second hour of rising, punch it down AGAIN!
Then shape it into loaves, and leave on the stove top for 30 minutes- 1 hour. Until it rises up real nice and fills the loaf pans. I err on the side of an hour, to make sure the loaves are big and full. Once you BAKE the bread, the yeast gives up the ghost and it will NOT RISE more. It'll fluff a bit, but rising has to happen BEFORE you bake.
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Bake until the crust is DARK BROWN. NOT GOLDEN. Golden will have doughy centers. Think of how DARK the crust is on Wonder Bread. WHITE WHITE WHITE on the inside and DARK DARK DARK on the outside.

I like to butter the tops the MOMENT they come out of the oven. And enjoy.
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This fine morning, I am enjoying it toasted with fat free cream cheese and brown sugar. DIVINE!

Don't let this freak you out. If it helps you can NOT over work bread dough. Pastries are finicky and you can over mix them, not bread. You can play with it until you get it right. It's VERY forgiving. It'll bounce right back. So find a recipe you think you might like, and go for it. DON'T BE AFRAID!

4 comments:

TJDKG February 27, 2010 at 4:36 PM  

and what is that recipe my dear?

Meaghan March 23, 2010 at 1:58 PM  

I agree! Would you mind sharing your wonderful recipe with your dear readers? I really want to try this out (especially since I know first-hand how delicious your mother's bread is. I still have dreams about it). Pretty please?

Anonymous,  July 26, 2010 at 12:07 PM  

What !! No recipe !! Come on !! We need it !!

Anonymous,  May 5, 2011 at 7:34 AM  

I tried this method out with a whole wheat multigrain recipe and my bread turned out perfectly. Tall, fluffy, beautiful loaves. This was the first time I've succeeded at making multigrain bread. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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