The Secret To Baking Bread
Baking bread is an old art that is really not hard once you understand how the ingredients work together. Making it at home allows you to control the ingredients for those family members with special needs.
First we have to realize this is a living organism. If your water is too warm it will kill the yeast. If the water is too cool it won’t activate and your dough will not rise. Run the tap until it is warm. Place the inside of your wrist under the water. You want it baby bath warm. The desired temperature is between 80° and 115°F.
Yeast needs food to grow:
Sugars, honey, syrups, fruit juices and starch such as potatoes. Just like people, if yeast eats too much food it won’t be healthy, so don’t overdo it. In some recipes the sugar can be omitted altogether with little difference in your recipe. If no sugar is added the yeast will feed on the flour but usually your dough won’t rise as much.
Yeast can be kept in the refrigerator or freezer to prolong its life. Make sure it is in an airtight container. Yeast doesn’t like heat, moisture or oxygen.
I buy my yeast in bulk at a warehouse market. It feels like a hard brick but when you open the package it is granular just like the packets.
Do not scoop your measuring cup into the flour. This will pack the flour down and you will have a heavy dough. Lightly spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup. Make sure you are using the right measuring utensils. A liquid cup has a spout and many lines on the side. A dry measuring cup will have only one measurement and a level top. Take the flat side of a butter knife and scrape the excess across the top.
The best flour to use for bread is bread flour but all-purpose will also work.
If you are making a whole wheat bread you will also need to add some white flour to help it rise otherwise it will be a heavy hard product, that doesn’t mean it will not taste good it just won’t be light and fluffy.
There are many different kinds of grains to make bread. You will usually need to add gluten or other dough enhancer to help it rise. When you get comfortable baking basic recipes and want to try more complex varieties you can experiment and try other ingredients.
Salt keeps the dough from rising too much and gives flavor. Keep it away from your yeast until the end so it does not kill the yeast. Omitting salt is not recommended. Most recipes call for a minute amount so even people watching their salt intake won’t be affected.
You can replace fat with equal amounts of unsweetened applesauce without much change in most recipes. This applies to cookies and cakes as well as bread recipes.
When bread recipes call for milk I prefer to use powdered milk because then I can warm my water to the desired temperature. You can warm your milk on the stove but then you have to use a thermometer to make sure it is not to warm or too cool.
When mixing powdered milk always add the powder to the water and not the other way around so you don't get those annoying bubbles.
This is something most people don't keep on hand and after you’ve used the amount for your recipe you are stuck with the remainder. If it’s a recipe you use often you can measure the rest of the carton into freezer bags and freeze for future use.
You can also make artificial buttermilk with the same results by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk for each cup your recipe requires. Don’t go over the amount of liquid the recipe calls for. Let it sit for about five minutes before adding to your other ingredients.
Another option is to keep powdered buttermilk on hand in your freezer until needed.
Fruits and nuts:
These add flavor to your bread. If you are making your own variation remember to consider the moisture factor. It is best to add dried fruit to bread recipes as they do not change the moisture content. If you do combine a fresh additive such as bananas make sure you decrease your liquid ingredient(s). Bananas should be really ripe with black spots on the peel to get the full flavor.
Rising your dough:
The same temperatures apply for rising your dough as we used for the added liquid. If your kitchen is too cool the dough won’t rise. If you use your oven and it is too warm it will start to bake. You can turn your oven on and set your baking or loaf pan over the vent on the stove top to get enough warmth to rise your dough.
Turning your oven on its lowest temperature and then turning it off quickly will sometimes make a nice warm place for your dough to rise. Just be careful because if the oven is to warm it will start to bake.
In the summer when it is warmer and the air conditioner is running you will have a harder time getting your bread to rise indoors. I have used my garage making sure to find a clean place.
I have had many brands with varying results. Some are really good and some not so much. I won’t mention brand names here because they change and vary all the time. I don’t currently own one and prefer my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and oven to bake bread.
Some bread machines mix the dough too vigorously and make the dough tough. I’ve had some that baked them too long and made the bread too dark. Like I said there are good ones you just have to try them and find one you like. Read online reviews of people who have used them to get an idea of what others think about the machine before purchasing. Consumer Reports sometimes has updates on which ones are good.
Make sure if you use a machine you place the ingredients in the order it specifies. They are all different.
There are many great books out there with wonderful recipes and tips for bread machines even if you bake the old fashioned way.