my bread recipe: the narrative
version 2.01, Tue Jul 29 03:15:28 PDT 2014
Bill Evans, firstname.lastname@example.org
Before we start, please keep in mind two things.
First, this is a living document. It is likely to change from time to time. If, when you most recently read (or printed, or downloaded) this narrative, the version number (which appears above) was less than 2.00, then it has changed significantly.
Second, your kitchen is different from mine, your elevation is different from mine, and your climate is different from mine. Please consider making a test loaf before you make any for family, company, or friends. If your first loaf turns out not quite right, you've dodged a bullet. If your first loaf is fine, you get to eat the whole thing by yourself. If you have sufficient self-control, consider eating it in more than one sitting. Nine out of ten dentists recommend strawberry jam after lightly toasting each slice.
Third (yeah, I know, the Spanish Inquisition), you may discover things you want to share with me. Send me an electronic letter; my address is at the top of this page.
This recipe calls for a stand mixer whose motor (according to KitchenAid) draws at least 325 watts of power. These days, KitchenAid is pulling a fun marketing stunt: they're pushing one-horsepower stand mixers. One horsepower is roughly 746 watts. Big whoop. For bread you certainly don't need that much. I started out with the revered classic KitchenAid, model K5-A, which draws only 300 watts of power, and it served me well until I had to replace the extension cord, which would have been quite difficult. Here's the baby in question:
That's a five quart bowl. It's possible to buy a mixer with a smaller bowl, but don't do that. If you ever want to bake two loaves at once, a 4 1/2 quart bowl isn't big enough.
In the picture, there's something that looks like a prop from the movie Peter Pan. That's a dough hook, and you'd be using one of those.
Some good news: Although you'll be briefly punching down the dough a couple of times, there'll be no initial kneading involved. Whew!
Baking pans. Do you need nonstick ones? Not really. After punching down a loaf for the final time, remove it from the pan and grease the pan, using a stick of frozen margarine (or butter) as a crayon; you'll be gradually peeling away the paper cover of the stick as you use it from loaf to loaf, just as you would a crayon; keep the stick in the freezer between uses. If this is too much trouble, you can try nonstick pans. The best I've found are Baker's Secret "Signature" (not "Essential") pans. But the nonstick finish on even those gave out on me after a year or so. A margarine crayon rescued me, and I was able to use even a finish-worn pan with no problem. (If you ever find yourself with bread stuck in a pan after baking, just pry at the sides and ends of it gently with a common table fork.)
Kitchen scale. Not necessary, but very convenient. I'll nag you further on this topic below.
Measuring cups and spoons. Please don't use tableware for this.
Tea towels. Like regular kitchen hand towels, but of thinner cloth. You'll use them for covering your bread. In a pinch, use regular kitchen hand towels.
Regular kitchen hand towels. They're handy for drying up after wiping down, but we discuss a special use for them below.
Cork pad. When you remove a hot loaf pan from your oven, set it down on a cork pad. In a pinch, a cooling rack will do.
Cooking rack. Let the loaf cool on this an hour before slicing.
Bread knife. You can use a manual one, but an electric one gives you convenient, consistent results.
Oven. Electric or natural gas or propane ought to work just fine. Mine's electric.
Microwave oven. Not strictly necessary, but the recipe calls for warm water.
If you don't have a kitchen scale, please please please consider getting one. Weighing ingredients gives you more consistent results, and if you're a careful baker, weighing ingredients takes less time than measuring them. If you do weigh them, as recommended, here are the ingredients:
420 g high gluten (bread) flour
25 g refined (table) sugar
6 g table salt
7 g instant yeast
235 g warm water
60 g canola oil
If you don't have a kitchen scale, you'll be measuring your ingredients, and things get a bit more complicated. How much you use of an ingredient depends on how you measure it. There are two ways to measure ingredients: pack them down, or fluff them up. (Brown sugar, as far as I know, is the only ingredient that is always measured by packing it down.)
Packing ingredients down: For sugar, salt, and instant yeast, fill the cup or spoon until it's over-level, and then tap it like a cigarette (I know you don't smoke, but you've seen people do it) to remove the excess. This will cause the ingredient to settle (as though "during shipping") more densely. For flour, use a spoon to press it down into the bag or canister before measuring each cupful, and tap down each cupful as for sugar, salt, and instant yeast.
Fluffing ingredients up: With a spoon, fluff the ingredient up in the bag or canister. For sugar, salt, and instant yeast, gently scoop up a heaping quantity. Then, instead of tapping the cup or spoon, gently take the back side of a table knife and push off the excess, so that no packing down occurs. For flour, gently spoon it into the measuring cup, and then use the back side of a knife as for the other ingredients. When you go for that second or subsequent cupful of flour, refluff before each cup.
I call the packing down method the "puppy dog tails" method. I call the fluffing up method the "everything nice" method. Arnold Schwartzenegger would have called this second method the "girly men" method, but there's really nothing wrong with it if you can spare the time to use it. You can use one method for one ingredient and the other method for another ingredient if you wish.
Without further ado, here are the ingredient lists:
Place all dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Mix for at least 15 seconds, at the next-to-lowest speed.
With the mixer running at the next-to-lowest speed, as slowly as you can, add the canola oil. Then, as slowly as you can, add the warm water.
How warm is warm? I generally aim for 28 C or 82 F. The exact temperature isn't critical. I've learned how long is right for my microwave oven, and don't bother measuring the temperature any more. The microwave time varies, of course, with the ambient kitchen temperature. If the water is too warm, the dough will stick excessively to the bowl, the dough hook, the bread pan (when you punch down and turn over the dough), and your fingers. If the water isn't warm enough, the bread won't initially rise sufficiently. Remember what I said at the top of this recipe about making a test loaf? Water temperature is one reason why.
Once you've added the water, let the mixer continue to run for two minutes. Especially if you're mixing for two loaves, the mixer will probably want to dance all over the counter. There are three responses for this. If you're a forget-the-loose-ends person, just let the mixer dance. If you've raised your boys to click their heels together as they acknowledge you, and your girls to curtsey as they do so, then place a rubber mat under the mixer to keep it from dancing. If you let your kids bicycle as far as they want as long as they come home for dinner, let the mixer dance, but put a kitchen towel under it so its rubber feet don't wear out or threaten to mark your counter. I use the kitchen towel method.
Move the dough from the mixer bowl to the bread pan. Cover it with a tea towel that's been drenched in hot water and wrung out. Let it rise in a warm place for 40 minutes. What's a warm place? Read a later section in this document for that.
Remove the tea towel and punch down the dough with your fist. Reshape the dough. I do this by gently lifting it from the pan, turning it upside down and around by 90 degrees in one motion, and stretching it out in the pan. You'll have to develop your own technique for this. That's yet another reason you're doing a test loaf first.
Put the damp tea towel back on the pan. Let the loaf rise in a warm place for another 25 minutes.
Remove the tea towel, punch down, and reshape as above, but with a difference. Before putting the dough back in the pan, grease the pan as described above. Since you probably don't have more than two hands, set the dough down on a plate while you grease the pan.
Cover the pan with a dry, lightly floured tea towel. Let the loaf rise in a warm place for another 40 minutes.
What's a warm place? A consistently warm place is your oven. Turn it on, perhaps to about 185 C / 350 F, but don't let it get that hot. Turn it off completely after 45 seconds. Just before the third (the final) rise, give it another 30-second shot.
You may find that although the stickiness on your bowl, dough hook, pan, and fingers is at a low enough level, you still get bits of dough on the moist tea towel during the first and second rise. These bits of dough don't pick off the tea towel easily, and tend to migrate to anything else you wash with them later. Not good. If you find this to be a problem, do this:
During the first (40-minute) rise, after 30 minutes, replace the moist tea towel with a dry, lightly floured one. The second (25 minute) rise should begin with 18 minutes of wet tea towel, followed by 7 minutes of dry tea towel.
Place the pan in an oven which has been preheated to 175 C / 350 F. Bake for 35 minutes. But note that if you've used a warm oven for letting the dough rise, don't leave the pan in the oven while kicking it up to full baking heat. Remove the pan, leaving it covered with the dry tea towel until the oven is fully heated.
After baking, remove the pan and place on a cork pad for 10 minutes. This will increase the chances that the bread will come out of the "non-stick" pan without sticking. If you let the loaf cool too much in the pan, the sides of the loaf might have an unappetizing vegetable-oil finish to them.
Remove the loaf from the pan and place the loaf on a cooling rack. Let it sit for at least an hour before slicing. Otherwise the crust might buckle under the pressure of the knife.
Now that you've read the narrative, you may wish to download or print out a shorter reference version of either the standard recipe at http://www.hwy140.com/breadstandard, or the USA recipe (if you're using Imperial units of measurement and you're measuring ingredients instead of weighing them) at http://www.hwy140.com/breadusa.
Notes on baking four loaves at once are at http://www.hwy140.com/bread4.
I remember the days of manual typewriters with cloth ribbons. In God's heaven, each character in each printed document will be the same width. If I could have published this page with ink filling the top half of each "e", I would have. If at random points I could have caused an initial capital letter to appear just a tad too high, I would have. The end of each sentence not at the end of a paragraph should be followed by two spaces, not one. Because tradition, that which has been handed down.
Photograph by Susan Eileen Evans.