Friday, March 21, 2008

Bread: Whole wheat flour, Rising in General, the Retarded Rise and More…

Bread: Whole wheat flour, Rising in General, the Retarded Rise and More…

The knowledge expounded in the following text comes from personal experience, D’s parents, friends, dad, The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion All Purpose Baking Cookbook, Laurel’s Kitchen, Martha Stewart, and others.

Rising Bread in a Cold House

When using oven because house is too cold, gently warm oven. Turn off after a minute or so. Add a 9 x 9 pan of warm water to the oven to make sure the air has the proper humidity and the bread does not dry out. Put a slightly damp cotton towel over the bowl. For optimal rising, temperature of the oven should not be about 90 degrees farenheit.

Flat Top

The first time I made the bread my bread came out of the oven with a flat top. I attributed this to the fact that I had let it rise for too long before putting it in the oven. If your bread looks unstable (hard to describe but you will know) or has stretch marks on the top, reknead the bread and let it rise again before putting it in the oven. Also, I did not have enough salt (only one teaspoon in the whole wheat bread recipe). See salt and sugar section.

Sugar and Salt: Dough Enhancer and Stabilizer*

Sugar and salt keep your bread from collapsing. Salt and organic acids, developed over a long, slow rise, help strengthen the gluten in your loaf, allowing it to hold its shape until the hot oven does its job. Without them, your loaf is likely to rise and then collapse. Salt and sugar help to slow the growth of the yeast and without it the yeast grows too fast and won’t develop the same flavor. When yeast is growing, it has three main byproducts: carbon dioxide, alcohol, and organic acids. The acids are really what gives the bread its flavor. Too much salt can rob the yeast of needed moisture and too much sugar can cause the yeast to overeat and slow the rising process in the long run. The King Arthur Cookbook recommends that a maximum of 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt and up to 1/4 cup sugar per three cups of sugar.

Retarded Rises*

Except in sweet breads, you can reduce the amount of yeast to produce a longer rising time. If the recipe calls for a packet of yeast which is a little over 2 teaspoons, you can usually just use 1/2 to 1 teaspoons of yeast. Using 1/2 a teaspoon, will lead to a rise of about 16 to 20 hours similar to the infamous New York Times no knead bread recipe. 1 teaspoon is a good amount for an overnight rise. The easiest doughs to do this with are ones containing a small amount of sugar and no dairy products.

Whole grain dough is slow rising because of the bran which interferes with gluten development. One way to slow these is to use the regular amount of yeast and slow it down in the refridgerator.

With slow rises, it will take longer for the loaf to rise in the pan as well. A rise that usually takes one to one and a half hours will take two hours or more. In general, you should just experiment and figure out what works for you.

Storing Bread*

If you can eat the bread in several days, just store it on your counter top in plastic wrap. It should keep for several days to a week. Storing bread in the fridge will cause bread to get stale more quickly. When storing bread with a crunchy crust, the best way is to store it on the counter, no plastic wrap, with the cut side down. This keeps the crust crunchy and the inside soft. Making toast, or warming the bread, reverses the stalling process because it sends all the molecules spinning back into their just out of the oven physical alignment.

Storing yeast

Can store at room temperature in vacuum sealed bag. Other than that, the best place is the freezer for maximum life. If store incorrectly, the yeast cells become inactive.

Dried Fruit*

When adding fruits that need to be chopped (dried apricots, large pieces of dried pineapple, etc.), leave the fruit in pieces as large as possible; the finer you chop the fruit, the more sugar it will release into the dough.

Random Facts*

On rainy or stormy days….when the baramoteric pressure is low, your bread will rise more quickly than it does ordinarily. This is because the dough doesn’t have as much air to push against it.

The pH of water plays an important role. Soft (alkaline) water is relatively free of minerals. Because yeast has its own characteristic mineral content, it wants a growing medium that is similar. So it doesn’t like soft water. Hard (acidic) water, on the other hand, contains lots of minerals and yeast will grow very quickly when it has access to such abundance. A small amount of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can help correct water that it is too soft. Slightly more yeast can help overcome water that is too hard.

*=Pretty much plagarized from the King Arthur Cookbook with minor editing and additions. For full biography, please email.

Whole Wheat Bread

This bread recipe comes from the cookbook, Laurel’s Kitchen. It is kind of the Joy of Cooking for the vegetarian world. I enjoyed reading it. She talks about her journey into the world of nutrition in San Francisco when the hippie movement was just taking hold. On the whole, I have become much more sympathetic to hippies since moving out East. Most of Laurel's recipes need a tweak or two or three but this bread provides a good basis if you are just starting out.

Basic Whole Grain Bread

3 cups warm water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups whole wheat flour (King Arthur’s).

Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Add the sugar and sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. In a few minutes, when the yeast comes bubbling to the top, stir in half of the whole wheat flour (and beat very well, until the dough ceases to be grainy and becomes smooth and stretchy. –I never do this.)

Add the salt and the remaining flour cup by cup, mixing well. Knead it in the bowl until it is no longer sticky, then turn it out onto a floured board.

As the dough gets stiffer and harder to knead, sprinkle the remaining flour a little at a time on the tabletop and knead the dough on top of it.

Knead, push and fold until the dough is soft and springy to touch and return it to the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl snugly, allowing room for the dough to double in bulk. If not doing a retarded rise (see next entry): punch the dough down and allow it to rise again until it has doubled in bulk.

Grease two loaf pans or two 46-ounce juice cans. Divided the dough in half and flatten each half into an oblong the length of the load pan. Cover the pans to protect from drafts and let the loaves rise once more, until they have doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees towards the end of the rising period. When the bread is rounded just above the rim, spread a bit of milk on the top of the loaves and bake it for about 40 minutes. When you remove it from the pan and tap it on the sides or bottom. It should sound slightly hollow. The color should be a golden brown. Allow the bread to cool, then slice and serve.

Variations: I tried just raisins but was not satisfied with this combination. So I added raisins and walnuts to the next loaf and enjoyed this a lot more. The raisin bread needs an accompaniment. I know many people do not like walnuts so another type of nut one could use might be unsalted sunflower seeds. You can add many other dried fruits, nuts, and/or herbs. Just don’t soak the dried fruit as it can leach excess sugar into the bread and add it right before the

My thoughts about this recipe: It is the only 100 percent whole wheat recipe I have found so far. Cooking with whole wheat can be more difficult, but more on that later. Also, I tried adjusting the salt. One teaspoon is far too little and negatively affects the rising process. Two teaspoons is great if you are very sensitive to salt. I ended up liking one tablespoon salt and it is the maximum you can put in the recipe without negatively affecting the rising process. Please see next entry for further ruminations on baking bread.

The dough should be relatively moist. Do not add too much flour. With whole wheat flour, it is especially important that your dough is as wet as possible, because this will allow it to rise more easily. Just remember that it should not be so wet that you cannot knead it. In DC, I usually use a little less than the recipe calls for. When I am kneading, a thin layer of dough attaches to my palms and it is almost too sticky to knead properly. Play around with it a bit and figure out what works for you.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bagels and more

So I have been busy lately. Mostly trying to perfect recipes, finish school, juggle two jobs, and find a job.
In my spare time (Thursday from 11:30 to 2:00 and sometimes Friday afternoon), I have been cooking out of Laurel's Kitchen. I am working on the bagel, bread and granola recipes. So I was wondering...what makes a bagel good?
Suggestions so far have been chewy, crisp on the outside, and no hole in the middle.
Will keep you updated on how it is going and any thoughts on the perfect bagel are always appreciated.


Gravy. Original here
1/4 cup butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup chopped onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons braggs
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and nutritional yeast and brown it slightly. Continuously stir it so it does not burn. Add braggs to form a smooth paste. Gradually whisk in the broth. Season with sage, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

Comments: Very good with a strong flavor. Changes that were made to the orginal recipe: butter was used to replace the oil. Original recipe called for 1/2 of oil. I changed it to 1/4 cup butter, but if you are worried about your cholesterol or are vegan, oil works fine. Two tablespoons of braggs was substituted for four tablespoons of soy sauce. I upped the salt from 1/2 teaspoon to one teaspoon to make up for the fact that braggs does not have salt but you should really just season it to taste since vegetable broths all have different sodium contents.
Also, my dad taught me that the key to a good gravy was browning the flour, which I agree. Otherwise you get a lumpy ball of dough and who wants to eat that?