Friday, June 26, 2009

Wheat Bread

So, I decided that in an effort to be a better mother and wife, (my husband LOVES homemade bread, and he takes such good care of me that he deserves it!) and to have more nutritious food around for my family, that I would venture out into the world of bread-baking. To be honest, the reason I had never done it before was because I was intimidated! Everyone makes it sound like an art that has to be perfected over time. It just sounded plain exhausting. But I thought I better give it a go, so I pulled out my Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking and tried this recipe. It turned out fabulous the first time! And it seemed so easy! Now, I'm not saying that those who make this an art form can't make better, but for a busy mom, I think this is more than good enough for now. My husband loved it!! He's quite picky about homemade bread, because he doesn't like the "yeasty" taste that some breads have, but this bread had great flavor.
So here's the recipe:
2 pkg. active dry yeast, (one package is about 2 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 c. warm water
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar or honey
3 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. hot water
1/4 c. butter
4 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
2 3/4 to 3 3/4 c. all purpose flour

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, (105 to 115 degrees). In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, salt, hot water and butter; cool slightly. To cooled mixture, add 3 c. whole wheat flour. Blend at low speed until moistened; beat 3 minutes at medium speed. Add remaining whole wheat flour and dissolved yeast; mix well. By hand, stir in an additional 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour until dough pulls cleanly away from sides of bowl.

On floured surface, knead in 1/2 to 1 c. all purpose flour until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10-15 minutes. Place dough in greased bowl; cover loosely with plastic wrap and cloth towel. Let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size, about 30-45 min.

Generously grease two 8x4 or 9x5, (I used 9x5) loaf pans. Punch dough down several times to remove all air bubbles. Divide dough into 2 parts; shape into loaves. Place in greased pans. Cover; let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size, about 30-45 min.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Uncover dough. Bake 30 min. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake an additional 10-15 min. or until loaves sound hollow when lightly tapped. Immediately remove from pans; cool on wire racks.

A few things I learned; I read a few chapters from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and while I don't pretend to understand most of what she said, (and her recipes were definitely above my level!) I picked up a few things that helped.

1. Kneading too much flour into the dough is a no-no, (you're supposed to try and stay toward the lower end of the measurements given) and it's tempting when that stuff is sticking to your hands! So instead of coating my hands and the counter with flour, and adding more every time it felt sticky, I coated the counter and my hands with cooking spray, and just reapplied every time I felt the need to add more flour. This definitely made the dough easier to handle, and it was perfectly "smooth and elastic" without using the full amount of flour.
2. Also, if I understood correctly, the temperature at which the bread rises has more to do with the actual temperature of the bread, not the room. She recommended a slower rise than a faster one, because the longer the yeast has to do it's job, the more it will get used up and the better the bread will taste, without that yeasty tang. The yeast and action of the kneading already heat up your dough to about 75 degrees. Before I read this, I had tried another recipe and was all worried about the fact that my kitchen was only about 70 degrees, and the recipe said that it needed to rise, "in a warm place, about 80-85 degrees". A tip given was to heat the oven to 400, let it stay there for one minute, turn it off and then put your bread in to rise. Needless to say, my bread rose too fast and too much and I didn't know how to salvage it. Rose suggests that merely turning on your oven light creates enough warmth for the bread to rise, and I actually just let this batch rise on the counter, and it still rose in the said amount of time with no problems. Don't roast yourself out trying to get your bread to rise. Time will do it.
3. (This tip is complements of my Pillsbury cookbook, as are those that follow) For bread that starts to brown too quickly on top, cover with foil during baking, (I always have this problem, is my oven too hot, or are my pans too cheap?)
4. Butter brushed on the bread immediately after baking makes a deliciously yummy soft crust.
5. And finally for those of you amateur bread makers like me that have no idea how to tell if the dough has doubled, poke your fingers in, (lightly!) and the indentation will remain without springing back.
That's my two cents, any other tips from more seasoned bread makers?

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