Sunday, January 11, 2009

Beauty in the Yeast

Since learning brioche and croissants during Basic, I have been using some of my new knowledge and rekindling my efforts of making yeast breads at home. The results have been very satisfying and I’ve been enjoying more of the desired results that have eluded me during previous attempts.

I was once taught in my teens that when making yeast bread, it was virtually impossible to overknead the dough. Basically, I'd been taught to handle the dough rigorously otherwise the dough would ‘break’ during the rising process (because of insufficient gluten development) and all the precious gas would escape (thus causing the final results to be flat and tough).

So all these years I’ve been believing (wrongly) that more was better when it came to kneading. But it always seemed my softer breads (ie, homemade dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls and hamburger buns) were too tough and chewy, and I’d just assumed this was because of the recipe (and not the technique).

When making croissants last term, we were cautioned by Chef Walther to NOT overknead the dough prior to adding the butter during the turning process. He then explained, in his wonderful fatherly way, the differences to me between the mixing process between croissants and brioche and why this was so important. It was like a light turned on and I finally understood all my previous mistakes!

Since this wonderful moment of enlightenment, I’ve trusted Chef Walther’s insights and I’ve had excellent results with every yeast bread making session thereafter. So I’ve practiced some of the school recipes, experimenting with ingredient substitution. As well, I’ve pulled out a bunch of old recipes, putting my newly gained knowledge on technique to good use.

The past two weekends I’ve made a delicious, old fashioned white bread recipe. Mind you, this is a recipe I’ve had for years in one of my favorite cookbooks, but never made it before. The reason why I previously avoided it? Because it requires virtually NO KNEADING and I simply believed that it wouldn’t turn out!! Isn’t that hilarious! It's a bit of a Dorothy dilemma...having the very answer at your feet and not even realising it!!

So, in my spirit to still keep my baking REAL & easy too, I share the recipe with you here. It’s winter and nothing is more satisfying than a hot loaf of bread with dinner. If you like a fairly dense, old fashioned tin loaf, this will make you happy. And you don’t need any special machines or a marathon baking session to achieve it…just a big mixing bowl and a sturdy wooden spoon! The loaves I pictured here were mixed easily as a dough about 1pm this afternoon and gave me plenty of leisurely breaks in between steps to enjoy a big breakfast, a return to bed for a couple hours, and a stroll late this afternoon before I had to pop them in the oven. By 6pm tonight I was enjoying the smell and taste of hot bread in my little kitchen...mmmm!

Snowy White Bread (The recipe is from Mrs. Chard’s Almanac Cookbook – Hollyhocks & Radishes)
Yield: 2 loaves

1 pkg dry yeast (or half a cube of fresh yeast)
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup lukewarm water
½ cup nonfat powdered milk
2 cups unbleached flour
2 cups lukewarm water
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter (or substitute vegetable oil)
2 ½ teaspoons salt
4 cups unbleached flour

Egg glaze
1 beaten egg

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and ¼ cup lukewarm water. Leave this to sit about 10 mins, until it dissolves starts to foam.

In a large bowl, place the powdered milk, 2 cups flour and 2 cups lukewarm water. Add the yeast mixture and stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until well mixed. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the mixture to sit in a warm place for about 1 hour. (The mixture will look puffy)

Stir in the remaining ingredients until blended. When the flour was mostly blended in, I turned the bowl out onto a clean work surface and gently incorporated the remaining flour with my hands, kneading only lightly to remove the dry bits. The mixture should not show any unblended flour, but don’t worry if it doesn’t look totally smooth. Place the dough back in the bowl (which you have washed and dried). Cover bowl with a towel and let it rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. (Or cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in fridge overnight.)

Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface and divide into half. Shape into loaves (or individual rolls if preferred). Place into buttered loaf pans, covered with a towel, until doubled (about 1 hour).

For glossy finish and rich golden color, brush beaten egg carefully over the tops of the risen loaves (this isn’t part of the original recipe, but from my school technique!) Bake at 180 degrees C (375 degrees F) for the loaves to take some color (about 10 minutes). Then reduce heat to 160 degrees until golden and baked through. Remove from pans and cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or wrap tightly in foil when cool and freeze for later use.

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