Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bread Baking Basics

I have had several people ask me lately about bread baking so I have decided to spend the next few posts sharing bread baking procedures, tips, and recipes. I want to break this down in several different posts for those of you who are new to bread baking. The great thing about baking bread is that once you know the process of making bread you have an entire new world opened up to you! Let's get started...

First of all, I love to make many different types of breads. My family loves whole wheat bread so I decided that I wanted to have the most nutrition available and I purchased a grain mill. In the picture above are wheat berries that I put in my grain mill to make my own whole wheat flour. This method retains the most nutrition in the flour. However, it is best to use the fresh ground flour within four hours for maximum nutrition. I use Prairie Gold Wheat berries. However I was almost out of those so I used my hard red wheat berries and a mixture of soft white wheat berries. This makes a nuttier tasting bread than just plain Prairie Gold. I also use honey to sweeten my whole wheat bread.

This is the grain mill that I chose to purchase. It has been a great kitchen addition for our family.

Once I grind the wheat berries, they come out looking like flour. I have to be honest. I don't like the smell of wheat berries being ground. It puts me in the mind of dog food so I add the wheat berries and go do something else so I don't have to smell it. It doesn't take long to grind so I am back in the kitchen in just a few short minutes.

The next thing is to follow the recipe. Usually in bread making this consists of measuring the wet ingredients and adding the yeast. Some recipes call for proofing the yeast. This step is included to make sure that your yeast is still fresh. The best thing you can remember about yeast is that it is a living thing. If it is too old, it won't rise well. I keep a small jar of yeast in my refrigerator and I keep the rest in my freezer. By keeping the yeast in the freezer, I know that it will last for a long time. The other thing you need to remember about working with yeast is that too hot of water will kill it, and too cold of water will not activate it. I never did have a thermometer to actually see what my water temperature was, but I learned a neat trick. I would run the water into a large measuring cup. I would stick my elbow in it. If it was hot enough to burn my elbow, I knew it was too hot for my yeast. I wanted it to be nice and warm, but not burning hot. I have baked enough bread that I no longer need to do this, but it was very helpful when I first got started.

I first learned how to make bread by kneading it with my hands. I love to knead bread, but my hands are full now with all the things that have to be accomplished each day. So I now turn to my kitchen aid mixer to knead my bread for me. It makes bread making so much easier and faster. I can teach a quick math lesson while my bread is being mixed. I would love to have one of those large mixers that can handle 6 to 8 loaves worth of dough at one time. However I use what I have and I find that the kitchen aide serves my purpose. This picture shows dough that still needs to have more flour added. The hardest thing about bread baking is to know when you have added enough flour. You don't want the dough to be too sticky, but at the same time you don't want to add too much flour either. Different types of dough also feel differently. For instance, my whole wheat dough is much softer and stickier than a white bread dough. My bread recipe calls for 5 cups of whole wheat flour, but I usually add closer to 6 and a half cups.

When the dough starts forming a nice ball in the mixer and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, it is close to being ready. You may still need to add a bit more flour, but it is getting close.

I then take my whole wheat bread dough and put it on my bread board. I sprinkle a bit more flour to keep it from sticking and I knead it just a few times to make it smooth. It will make a nice ball if there is enough flour. If it won't hold its shape, add a bit more flour and knead some more.

I then place my dough in a greased bowl to let it rise for the first time. I cover the bowl and sit it in a warm oven that is turned off. I usually let my oven preheat to about 190 and then turn it off. I don't want it too warm when I put my dough in, but I want enough warmth to make it rise easier. If I open my oven door and it feels hot, then I leave the door open just a bit to let it cool off. I don't want hot...I just want warm. Remember yeast is a living thing and it needs to be treated with care!

After my dough has sat in the oven for about an hour it rises to about double in size. It is ready to be punched down and shaped into loaves.

I place my bread dough in greased bread pans and let rise in a warm oven again. I don't let my bread rise too much above the lip of the pan. If the bread rises too high, it will fall during baking. It takes about 30 minutes of sitting in the bread pans to achieve the right height. I then bake it according to the recipe and..

we have fresh bread to enjoy! Always take your hot bread out of the pan and let cool on a wire rack. If you let them cool in the bread pans, the bottom of the bread will get soggy. (Ask me how I know)!! I also take some butter and slather it on the tops of my bread while the bread is still hot.

If two or three loaves is too much bread for your family, then you can freeze it for later. I always try to keep fresh bread in my freezer so I can have a quick breakfast or dinner addition when needed. I will post individual recipes that my family loves over the next few days. By the way, if you want to make whole wheat bread and you don't have a grain mill you can still use whole wheat flour from the grocery store.

grace and peace,



pam said...

Thanks for this post Julie! I am just getting started with baking bread and I need lots of help. Your post was very informative and the pictures were so helpful!

Marci said...

It looks good Julie. Another tip or two for those of us who are counting calories, you can substitute applesauce for the oil and it works great. Also, when our bread comes out of the oven, I use a little spray bottle and spray the crust all over with water. It helps keep the crust soft like the butter does, but it does not add calorie (or that yummy flavor I might add).

Andrea Cherie said...

I have a Nutrimill exactly like yours! I LOVE it! Next on my list is a stand for now our bread is made with my two hands! Great post!