A Baker and her Toys:
Artisanal Loaf or plain old homemade loaf? Artisanal, of course! And you can be the artisan with just a little practice.
I began making bricks long ago in a kitchen far, far away. I was young but determined to master the pièce de résistance of many home bakers. Yeast would become my friend and I would be crowned Queen of the Perfect Loaf.
I purchased a grain mill, low protein wheat berries, and set to work grinding flour with which to make the perfect brick.*sigh*
Being a bit persistent in nature I made enough bricks to build my own ivy league culinary arts school. I carefully tested my yeast, milled my flour a bit finer, kneaded the dough twice as long as called for and still I produced brick after brick after sad brick.
I finally discovered the first secret of bread making quite by accident. Well risen, perfect crumbed bread requires a high protein wheat. My low protein flour was never going to produce the perfect loaf. Low protein flour may be used in cakes, biscuits, and pie pastry but never yeast bread. Bread (high protein) flour is optimal for bread making but All-Purpose flour will also produce a decent loaf. Low protein flour will never rise beyond a brick when combined with yeast.
The second great loaf making tip is to add a tablespoon or two of gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat. It develops only after water has been added to flour; 8-10 minutes of kneading develops the gluten into long, elastic strands necessary for a great crumb. The dough is then covered and set in a warm place so the gluten can relax and the dough rise. The first rise is then deflated, loaves are formed and allowed to rise again before baking.
There really is not much more to making a decent loaf of bread than that. Use a high protein flour, add gluten, knead 8-10 minutes and set the dough aside to relax and rise before shaping into loaves for a second rise. Bake, slice, butter generously, and sigh a long contented sigh of yum.
This basic loaf recipe is the one that I have been making for over 30 years. it is a no frills daily loaf that can be made with whole wheat or white flour. Just make sure your flour is high protein; low protein flour makes better bricks than loaves.
Congratulations. You are practically an artisan and will soon bake artisanal bread.
5-6 cups flour, whole wheat or white
1 rounded tablespoon yeast
¼ cup gluten*
2 cups warm water (110° to 115°)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons honey or sugar
2 teaspoons salt
* Gluten may be purchased in most bulk food sections of natural food stores or other larger grocery stores.
Place 3 cups flour into the mixer bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Add dry yeast and gluten. Pulse to mix well. Add warm water and mix for 1 minute. Turn off mixer and let dough sponge (rest) for 20 minutes.
Water temperature can make or break your bread making experience. It must be within the recommended temperature range of 110° to 115° F. If the water is too cold the yeast will not wake up and cause your bread to rise but if your water is too warm it will kill the yeast. Use an instant read thermometer to measure water temperature.
After your bread has sponged add honey or sugar, butter, and salt. Add 2 cups of flour. Turn stand mixer on to low and then high speed. The dough should largely come together in 3 -4 minutes. If it is too shaggy then add flour ¼ cup at a time until the dough just comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl. Knead 8 - 10 minutes.
Turn the dough out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured countertop. Knead by hand and add more flour tablespoon by tablespoon if the dough is still sticky. Knead and add flour until the dough no longer sticks to the countertop.
Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise 45 - 60 minutes or until double in size.
Deflate the dough by slipping your hands under the dough and gently lifting it out of the bowl. Place it on a lightly floured countertop and gently press it all over to remove any air pockets. Divide the dough in two and working with one piece at a time pat it into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle. Roll up the
rectangle, starting on the short end, into a very tight cylinder.
Pinch to seal the seams and ends, tuck the ends of the roll under to form a loaf and place in greased loaf pans. Cover the loaves loosely and place in a warm and draft-free area until doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.
While the loaves are rising preheat the oven to 350°. To test your loaves to make certain they are ready to bake use your fingers to make a SMALL indentation into the dough near the side of the pan. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready to bake. If the indentation disappears, the dough needs more rising time.
Bake risen loaves 35 minutes in preheated oven. Check bread after 20 minutes baking time. If it is browning quickly then loosely tent loaves and continue baking.
Immediately remove baked loaves from pans; let cool on wire racks.When still warm slice bread into thick pieces and slather on butter.