|left: Ciabatta, Sourdough Bread stuffed with blue cheese and walnuts; right: Pain à l’Ancienne|
Since I came to the United States from Europe I have faced a lot of cultural differences, but the most shocking one was the way of making and eating the bread. From the beginning I refused to eat regular sandwich bread and I still don’t use it. Thankfully, very soon I discovered “artisan bread” and I stuck to it.
I know it is difficult for Americans to imagine that my family back in Europe used to buy two big loaves of bread every day. But, in that part of the world this is the staple, people are crazy for good bread and pastry. Here, where I live I have just a few options (Panera Bread, Whole Foods, some French and Italian places)... when I go to my closest supermarket, in their bread and pastry department, I become deeply depressed. My options are bad and expensive too.
To be honest it bothered me a lot until the day when I decided to make bread on my own. Fortunately, I picked one of the best books about bread making “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” of Peter Reinhart and ever since then I have learned to produce very nice bread. I invested in a few things and it was worth it. Before I post some of the best recipes from that book, I want to put down all basic things to make great bread. Although they may look complicated they are not. Keep in mind to make good things you always have to put some time and effort.
- Use instant yeast. It’s more concentrated, easy to use because instant yeast can be added directly to flour, whereas active dry yeast needs to be dissolved in warm water before mixed with flour. I bought mine online... ½ pound of yeast stored in the fridge can last for long time.
- Use a kitchen scale, always. Remember baking is based on precision. You can find a good digital scale for $20.
- Use flour of good quality. I prefer King Arthur brand. For most breads that I make I use Unbleached All Purpose Flour, Whole Wheat Flour and Unbleached Bread Flour that has a high percentage of gluten.
- Use bottled water. You don’t want chlorine from the tap water to mess up your bread.
- Buy a baking stone. It looks like a big tile without glaze on the top. Stone retains heat much more effectively and makes bread evenly baked with a crispier crust. But, you can always use a baking pan with parchment paper.
- Try to find a Pizza Peel - great tool for transferring bread to the baking stone in the oven.
- Should have metal pastry scraper, metal mixing bowl, work counter, thermometers, electrical mixer, scoring blade or serrated knife, steaming devices (plant mister and additional pan with water), cooling rack.
|left: Pain de Campagne, Sourdough Bread; right: French bread, Foaccacia with wild mushrooms, caramelized onion, olives and herbs|
In bread making process you should know a couple other things:
- Sift the flour before using. It adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter bread.
- Dough should be fermented and proofed at room temperature, not in a warm place. Slower is better.
- Make starter dough the day before, leave it in the fridge overnight.
- If you use barley malt (usually half a tablespoon) it will promote better color in the crust.
- Some of the breads don’t use yeast for leavening, but bacteria (wild yeast). For example Sourdough Bread, Miche, Pumpernickel Bread, etc. Actually, you can cultivate that starter by yourself. More about it in future posts.
The stages of the bread makings:
- Mise en place – prepare all ingredients before you start to work or be well organized.
- Mixing – you can use electrical mixer, food processor or hand kneading which I prefer.
- Primary fermentation – this is very important stage. Yeast, temperature and length of fermentation affect a lot final outcome.
- Punching down – releasing some gases from the dough and allowing gluten to rest.
- Dividing - dividing the dough into appropriate sizes and weights.
- Rounding – initial shaping, usually into a ball or torpedo.
- Benching - intermediate proofing.
- Shaping and panning - giving dough its final shape.
- Proofing – final fermentation.
- Baking – all stages will be specially described in the following recipes, but I would like here to give all details about this phase. It is very important to follow all steps in order to get bread just like one from the fancy bakery. Since professional ovens have steam generators we have to create similar conditions with regular home ovens. There are two ways to do it. One is to use the baking stone, and another one is to apply the double-steaming technique in the very beginning of baking process. Steam is good because it creates an attractive glaze or shine to the bread. Also, it gives the bread additional time to spring in the oven. To create steam you have to place empty pan on the highest rack in the oven while it is preheating. When bread is placed in the oven, pour a cup of hot water into the pan. Then, you need a plant mister. Fill it with water and spray the back walls and sides of the oven, avoid spraying the bread. After spraying, close the door and wait for 30 seconds, and repeat spraying two times more with a break of 30 seconds. Oven should be preheated to the highest possible temperature (550F) and when you finish spraying you have to decrease temperature to 450F or 425F. If your oven doesn’t heat evenly you should rotate bread loaves halfway through the bake time. The best way to control your oven is to know internal bread temperature by using an instant-read thermometer.
- Cooling – resting the bread after baking... it is still cooking.
- Storing and eating – the best part.
|Work counter; Final fermentation; Loaves on the pizza peel ready to got to the oven|
This post is a very helpful introduction to my following posts with great recipes for making popular breads such as:
- Pain à l’Ancienne
- French Baguette
- Pain de Campagne
- Sourdough Bread
- Italian Bread
- Pane Siciliano
- Multigrain Bread
- Pizza Napoletana
- Bread with Olives