This class has ruined me and my 17 classmates forever for storebought bread. The stuff we’re turning out of the kitchen from 7am-noon on Thursdays and Fridays has a way of getting mouths watering all around our school. From the moment the elevator door opens onto the third floor, all you can smell is freshly baked bread. So so good. Yesterday, I took home 6 loaves (my friends are more than happy to eat fresh baked breads!!) and the rest of the 100+ loaves we didn’t take home go to the restaurant downstairs. Interested in trying to bake your own bread? From what i’ve learned, it’s not only very simple, but if you just abide by a few key rules, you’ll be baking fantastic homemade bread in no time.
Most important things to know:
1. It all starts with yeast. Make sure your yeast is fresh, and if you can get your hands on fresh yeast (looks kind of like a pound of butter but dark brown), it’s so much better and much easier to work with. Can be frozen for several months, so I’d recommend buying a block, chopping it into cubes of 10g each, and popping them in the freezer. With fresh yeast, you can use whatever temperature of water you like (not hot), and everything gets tossed into the mixer together. (You can usually just ask at a bakery if they’ll sell you a block – here, they cost about $2 for a pound at a bakery). No fresh yeast? No problem. Make sure the yeast you ARE using is fresh (it only lasts about 6 months). Make sure it is room temperature when you are ready to use it. Use it properly: some types of dry yeast are designed to be mixed right in with the flour (much easier), and some have to be dissolved in warm water to activate it. They say right on the package.
2. Use bread flour. Seriously, it makes all the difference in the world. Bread flour is a ‘hard’ flour, which develops it’s gluten much more strongly than all-purpose flour (which is a combo is hard flour and soft flour, which is apporopriate for cakes). In class, we rarely use AP flour, but like most people, kitchen space is at a premium so I use it at home. But, I do buy a small bag of bread flour (and pastry flour when baking a cake, since it produces a much more tender crumb).
3. Gluten is king. Gluten is formed by repeatedly kneading (with a machine and dough hook, or by hand with lots of elbow grease!!). Once it’s activated, the dough feels elastic-y and soft, and can be stretched a lot. Why is it important? As the dough bakes, the yeast releases carbon dioxide into the dough. This air has to go somewhere. Because gluten is stretchy, the air goes up, and the stretchy gluten stretches enough (aka rises) to allow the air to rise without escaping. Without gluten, you just get little air bubbles (like in a cake, sort of). With gluten, you get nice and high loaves. Without the proper flour, you won’t get gluten. Sooooo…..it’s quite important.
4. The process – simple. The process is the same – exactly the same – for every type. The two important things: dump everything into the bowl, add the liquid, but reserve about 10% of the water. Watch as it mixes. A bit of the flour is always slow to get picked up by the dough hook, so when most of it looks doughy and there is a bit of flour still in the bowl, then you slowly pour that remaining water down. Wait too long though, and the dough will slide around and get too wet. It’s pretty simple, but you do have to keep an eye on it. The other important thing is to let the dough rest properly. Usually an hour on the table (covered in saran wrap) right after mixing. Then cut it into portions, and let it rest for 10 min. Then punch it down, shape it, and let it proof (rise in a warm, moist place. I like to preheat my oven to it’s lowest temp, usually 150 degrees, and when i’m ready to let my dough proof, I turn it off, open the door to let almost all the heat escape. Put the bread in the just-warm oven (our proofers at school are around 85-100 degrees), and put a pan of hot water in the bottom for humidity.
5. Final touches go at the end. Only put the nice knife slash marks in the top of the loaves RIGHT before the oven. Not before.
It takes a bit of practice, but it is really so simple and tastes incredible. Right now I’m having a delish breakfast of multigrain sourdough we baked yesterday, with whole wheat flour, molasses, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, cracked wheat, and homemade sourdough starter (red grapes, water and flour, beaten together and fermented for a week. We grow it in our fridges at school!). So tasty! Take that, storebought bread.
If anyone decides to try baking some bread, let me know how it goes!
San Francisco Sourdough (with a cute decorative rose)
onion walnut loaves