My Best Bread
I like this technique for a couple
reasons: first, it uses an overnight rise that augments the flavor. The
difference in taste between an overnight rise and a two-hour rise is like
the difference between a pasty tasteless whitebread and your grandmother's
best cheesecake: there's just no comparison. Second, the interlude between
the preparation of the dough and the actual baking splits the cleanup
workload in half, so (perhaps just by an illusion) it seems to take considerably
less effort than any other method that I've tried.
This isn't so much about a particular type of bread (and it's a far stretch away from being a recipe); it is rather about the process of breadmaking. The quantity of ingredients tend to "work themselves out" as the method unfolds since breadmaking is about the right stickiness and "doughiness" you end up gradually adding sufficient flour to make everything copasetic. The actual variety of bread you bake depends upon what you add along the way (the list to "choose your bread" is a bit further down) but the basic method stays the same.
A coffee mug
Always keep the following ingredients in stock:
I make my own Yeast Cakes, here's how:
In the morning refrigerate the yeast cakes. This recipe makes 6 yeast cakes; the next day take a knife and slice the mixture in an asterisk pattern to make six wedges. The yeast cakes will keep in the refrigerator for a week; after that it is best to freeze them — they keep for a couple of months in the freezer.
Here We Go!
The actual amount of effort-time required to make this
bread is around an hour, including clean-up. Wall time though is a full
day (24 hours); if you want your bread for Sunday morning then start on
Take a coffee mug and fill it half way with water; microwave
briefly (the water should be 90F warm: in my microwave this takes 20 seconds).
Add a Tbl of sugar and a yeast cake and stir to dissolve the yeast. If
the water fails to bubble after a couple of minutes then your yeast is
dead as a doornail. If your yeast is alive then we're making a "sponge"
next — this is a gooey flour-based foundation that furnishes the yeast
with a head-start.
Place a cup of flour into the smaller plastic bowl with
the yeasty water and stir thoroughly. Add a tsp of flour at a time while
continuing to stir until the mixture is thick but not yet pulling away
from the sides. Cover lightly. The sponge needs to sit for a half hour
or so while the yeast grows — it is happiest in a warm water bath, so
take the larger plastic bowl and heat some water to around 95F to 115F.
Rest the bowl with the sponge mixture inside the warm water bowl.
In around a half hour see how your sponge is doing . . . it should have almost doubled in size, but if it is lazy then rewarm the bath water and allow it more time. Patience here pays off extra; a nice vigorous sponge makes the kneading friendlier.
Optional Ingredients (choose your bread)
Olives and Dill (*) (a)
Mixing and Kneading
Once your sponge is ready take a large glass bowl
and add a couple cups of flour and either a tsp of salt (a above) or a
Tbl of sugar (b above) or both (a, b) and any dry spice indicated by (*).
Stir the dry ingredients. Take your coffee mug and fill it half way with
dry milk and then half way with cold water; stir (making half a mug of
cold milk). Place in the microwave and heat until the milk bubbles up
to the top of the mug (about a minute and a half in my microwave). Stir
in a couple of ice cubes; after they melt stir in either an egg (if that
was the bread you chose) or water to fill the mug.
Dump and clean scoop the sponge into the dry ingredients
and give it a brief stir. Now add your mug of liquid to the dry ingredients
and stir thoroughly — the dough should be quite tacky. If it is too runny
add some more flour a Tbl at a time. Flour your kneading surface and don't
be timid: use lots and lots of flour. This is also the point where your
kitchen and your clothes will get "dusted" — it's smart to
clear off the chotchkas and don an old shirt or an apron. My method differs
from other's in that they only lightly dust their hands and board with
flour while kneading; I start instead with a "wet" dough and
allow it to absorb as much flour in the kneading process as it desires.
When you finish kneading you can put the leftover flour in a plastic container
for the next time you bake; flour is a kitchen recyclable and there's
no need to be shy here. Scoop the dough onto the kneading surface and
sprinkle a generous amount of flour on top of it. Knead for seven minutes,
at least. Kneading is very therapeutic when done properly; if you need
some pointers visit:
Extra ingredients from above that weren't (*)
dry spices (Olives, Raisins and Sugar, Cheese and Jalapenos, Brown Sugar
and Cinnamon, White Onions, or Yam and Pumpkin Spice) need to be added
at this point by creating a dough roll. Make sure you still have plenty
of flour on the kneading surface and press your dough flat to around a
half-inch thickness. Spread the additional ingredients atop the dough,
roll the dough up (only once!), and then knead lightly for another minute
or so. Don't worry if your additional ingredients clump together or fall
out of the ends. Avoid the urge to flatten and roll again as your bread
will come out too tough and chewy. The dough doesn't mind being pushed
around and pressed in, as in kneading, but it screams and hollers when
you stretch it.
That's pretty much all of the work, outside of
cleaning up. Now of course your dough needs to rise: it develops the most
taste with a slow rise in the refrigerator. Take one of your plastic bags
and poke holes in the bottom; you need maybe half a dozen small holes
— basically an escape for the extra carbon-dioxide that the yeast exhales.
Then take a Tbl of oil in your hands and rub it over the insides of the
bottom of the bag. Place the dough in the bag and give the bag a spin
to twist it closed. Invert this bag inside of a second plastic bag. Take
a hand towel, soak it wet with water, wring it just slightly, and place
it on top of the dough bag inside of the second bag. Tie the handles of
the outer bag closed and place in the refrigerator.
After 10 to 16 hours revisit that ball of dough
in the refrigerator and press out some of the carbon-dioxide. Leave the
dough bagged, but take the towel and innermost bag out and squeeze down
the dough bag, pretty much back to its original size. Place it back inside
the outer bag, wet and wring slightly the towel again, place it on top
of the dough bag, re-tie the handles of the outer bag, and return it to
the refrigerator. Pleasant dreams!
In the morning it's time to bake. Oil and flour
the bread baking pan, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and press
it down into the pan. It will be rather firm and resistant to your pressure.
Remember: pushing, not stretching! Now you need to let it warm to room
temperature (and rise a bit) but you must cover it tightly. I happen to
have a Tupperware lid that fits just nicely over the baking pan, but you
can also stretch a piece of plastic wrap over it. Leave it in a warm place
to rise — even though the numbers don't go that low, I can turn my gas
oven on just slightly and it will warm to 80F. After letting the bread
sit for a half hour to 45 minutes remove the cover, score the top of the
loaf, and bake either at:
Bake breads with moist additives (olives, yams,
and onions for example) cooler but for a longer duration. With other breads
you can engage the hotter temperature for a shorter bake. When you think
the bread is ready remove it from the oven and take it's temperature with
a thermometer inserted diagonally in from the middle edge: it is ready
at 170F to 180F. Let it cool in the baking pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes,
run a knife around the edges and remove from the pan, and allow the loaf
to cool for at least another 15 minutes, although you can let it cool
longer if you have the self-control of a Jedi warrior :-)
I am especially grateful to the contributors to
the Usenet newsgroup alt.bread.recipes.