Friday, June 21, 2013

Our Daily Bread

There was a time in my life, when I was very young, that I regularly made bread. Mom had an old 50's booklet from Fleischman Yeast called "When you bake with yeast" from which I learned the basics. But I was inspired to do more by a couple of visiting Quakers who used bread making as a focus activity for some kind of spiritual discussion. I no longer remember the discussions or context, but it was from Helen Stevenson that I learned about the sponge method and how flexible and forgiving bread dough can be. So in my student days, I often made Helen's bread.

The years passed, and I stopped baking bread, but I recently started again in response to a crie de coeur from my aunt. She was complaining about the disappointing quality of a regular loaf of bread (yes, even in Europe!). She doesn't have a bakery close by, so she buys it in the supermarket and although it's better than much North American bread, it is still pretty soft and squishy, and lacking in depth of flavour. And of course, there are specialty breads and some really good bakeries, but for your regular sandwich bread that needs to stay relatively fresh and tasty for several days, there is still nothing like a home-made loaf.

So I started baking bread again.
I vary the types of flour quite a bit, depending on what I have on hand, but the following recipe is becoming a reliable standard. It yields a springy sandwich bread with a medium crumb that keeps well for 3-5 days outside of the fridge. The rolled oats temper the whole wheat flavour, yielding a mellow loaf with a hint of sweetness that goes well with everything from aged Gouda cheese to cream cheese and strawberries.

All my old recipes call for using warm water, scalding and cooling the milk, and letting the dough rise in a warm place. This will reduce the time it takes the dough to rise, but it also reduces the time for flavour to develop so I just use room temperature water and milk out of the fridge. Except for the last rise, I actually pay little attention to whether I've let the dough rise for an hour, or twice that time. Rising time is very flexible and you can do other stuff or run errands in the mean time. If you think you'll be out for a long time, put the dough in the fridge to slow down the rising time.

Barbara's Sandwich Bread

Yield: 2 loaves
I use a mixer with dough hook to do most of the kneading, but if you don't have this, you can knead the dough by hand. It's what I used to do.

375 ml1.5 cupwater
2 tablespoons   brown sugar
7 grams2.5 teaspoonsyeast (active dry yeast or instant yeast)
60 grams   .5 cupall-purpose flour
70 grams.5 cupwhole wheat flour
90 grams1 cuprolled oats *

250 ml1 cupmilk
45 ml3 tablespoons    oil
2 tablespoonsbrown sugar
1 tablespoonsalt
120 grams1 cupall-purpose flour
435 grams3 cupswhole wheat flour

* I use quick rolled oats, which are cut, rather than old-fashioned rolled oats, which have larger flakes.
** Or substitute one or more other flours for some of the whole wheat flour. I've used spelt, rye, barley, and buckwheat in one or more combinations, and the result has always been good.
  1. If you are using active dry yeast, combine the water and sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand for 10 minutes until the yeast foams up. (If this doesn't happen, the yeast is old and inactive and you will have to get some new yeast and start again.) Add the flour and rolled oats.

    If you are using instant yeast, just mix all the sponge ingredients together.
  2. Beat the sponge ingredients together until smooth. I use the paddle of the mixer for about 2 minutes, but a wooden spoon is also fine. You just need to do it for a bit longer.
  3. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let stand for about an hour until the batter has at least doubled in bulk and has large bubbles on top.
  4. Stir in the milk, oil, sugar, and salt.
  5. Add the 4 cups of flour, and knead the dough for 6-10 minutes using the dough hook. I tend to knead it for 6 minutes with the machine and then knead it by hand for a few minutes to make sure it has the right texture and feel.

    To knead by hand, tip the dough onto an oiled surface and flour your hands. Stretch the dough, away from you, then fold it over toward you, and push it away with the heal of your hand. Turn the dough by a quarter and repeat. Gradually the dough will get stretchy and supple, until it has a relatively smooth but slightly tacky feel. It should spring back when you push a finger into it and should not stick and leave pieces of dough on the counter when you lift it up.
  6. Form the dough into a ball, return it to the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Let stand for at least an hour or until doubled in bulk. While the dough rises, grease two loaf pans.
  7. Punch the dough down and turn it out onto the counter. Divide it into two. Form each half into a rectangle that is approximately the length of your loaf pan. Fold the top edge into the middle, and then the bottom edge into the middle like a letter. Then turn each end over. Shape the loaf so that it will fit the baking tin and place it into the tin. (I usually divide the dough into 4 pieces, and form each quarter into a ball, then place two balls into each tin, but this is cosmetic; I just do it because it makes it easy to cut the baked bread in half  so that I can freeze it.)
  8. Cover the loaves loosely with a tea towel and let rise for at least a half hour until the dough domes above the tin by a small amount (about 1 cm). While the loaves rise, preheat the oven to 350F/190C.
  9. Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes. It should come out of the tin quite easily, and sound hollow when you tap the bottom. If it doesn't, bake it for a bit longer.

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