My Bread Adventure

My bread journey has been… full of bad memories. I remember the first time I had the guts to make my own bread in Indonesia, messy kneading method and resulting hardtack bread. It is not as perfect when we made bread in the food lab; well, we’re using bread machine at school (d’oh).

Until I moved recently to the UK, bread is kinda my staple, especially during exam period. After those hellish time, I said to myself why not make your own bread. This time, do your research thoroughly. Youtube is my very best friend and I encountered this wonderful video about no-knead bread. The no-knead method is a very exciting yet scary word for a baker, as it means uncontrollable wet dough. Ughhh, what a nightmare. But yeah, I’m bracing myself and the following images are from my very first trial, in a form of baguette.

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Notice the inside texture of the bread? Yes, it was very dense; because I decided to knead it a little bit (oh you so stubborn). Nevertheless, I was feeling proud considering I made a feasible bread by myself, I decided to do an experiment regarding the temperature and its proofing time. My second, third and fourth experimental results are not so good, it was hard as a brick could be. At some point, I just stopped making bread.

Until last month, my friend asks me to make some bread to accompany her tomato soup. Excited for having an opportunity to be experimental again, I rushed to the supermarket and bought strong flour. I followed the exact recipe and tried to soften the dough using more water, the bread appeared to have a perfect crust with a spongy interior. The texture was chewy and have enough moisture for Asian-tongue liking (due to less saliva we produced than Western people). Very artisan. Couldn’t be happier.

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Good news is making bread does not need an exact measurement, proportionate volume accordingly is enough. Recipe and video below copied from King Arthur Flour. I really love how they do it, feels like your baker friend giving a phone call instructions to their younger sister. I follow the recipe as it is, well feel free to use any brand of flour; with some addition during the proofing stage which I’ll mention in the following.

Ingredients:

3 cups lukewarm water
6 1/2 to 7 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour*
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons instant or active dry yeast

Instructions:

  • Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, or a large (6-quart), food-safe plastic bucket. For first-timers, “lukewarm” means about 105°F, but don’t stress over getting the temperatures exact here. Comfortably warm is fine; “OUCH, that’s hot!” is not. Yeast is a living thing; treat it nicely.
  • Mix and stir everything together to make a very sticky, rough dough. If you have a stand mixer, beat at medium speed with the beater blade for 30 to 60 seconds. If you don’t have a mixer, just stir-stir-stir with a big spoon or dough whisk until everything is combined.
  • Next, you’re going to let the dough rise. If you’ve made the dough in a plastic bucket, you’re all set — just let it stay there, covering the bucket with a lid or plastic wrap; a shower cap actually works well here. If you’ve made the dough in a bowl that’s not at least 6-quart capacity, transfer it to a large bowl; it’s going to rise a lot. There’s no need to grease the bowl, though you can if you like; it makes it a bit easier to get the dough out when it’s time to bake bread.
  • Cover the bowl or bucket, and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours. Then refrigerate it for at least 2 hours, or for up to about 7 days. (If you’re pressed for time, skip the room-temperature rise, and stick it right into the fridge). The longer you keep it in the fridge, the tangier it’ll get; if you chill it for 7 days, it will taste like sourdough. Over the course of the first day or so, it’ll rise, then fall. That’s OK; that’s what it’s supposed to do.
  • When you’re ready to make bread, sprinkle the top of the dough with flour; this will make it easier to grab a hunk. Grease your hands, and pull off about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough — a 14-ounce to 19-ounce piece, if you have a scale. It’ll be about the size of a softball, or a large grapefruit.
  • Plop the sticky dough onto a floured work surface, and round it into a ball, or a longer log. Don’t fuss around trying to make it perfect; just do the best you can.
  • Place the loaf on a piece of parchment (if you’re going to use a baking stone); or onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sift a light coating of flour over the top; this will help keep the bread moist as it rests before baking.
  • Let the loaf warm to room temperature and rise; this should take about 60 minutes (or longer, up to a couple of hours, if your house is cool). It won’t appear to rise upwards that much; rather, it’ll seem to settle and expand. Preheat your oven to 450°F while the loaf rests. If you’re using a baking stone, position it on a middle rack while the oven preheats. Place a shallow metal or cast iron pan (not glass, Pyrex, or ceramic) on the lowest oven rack, and have 1 cup of hot water ready to go.
  • When you’re ready to bake, take a sharp knife and slash the bread 2 or 3 times, making a cut about 1/2″ deep. The bread may deflate a bit; that’s OK, it’ll pick right up in the hot oven.
  • Place the bread in the oven — onto the baking stone, if you’re using one, or simply onto a middle rack, if it’s on a pan — and carefully pour the 1 cup hot water into the shallow pan on the rack beneath. It’ll bubble and steam; close the oven door quickly.
  • Bake the bread for 25 to 35 minutes, until it’s a deep, golden brown.
  • Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a rack. Store leftover bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.

Tips from their bakers:

  • The flour/liquid ratio is important in this recipe. If you measure flour by sprinkling it into your measuring cup, then gently sweeping off the excess, use 7 1/2 cups. If you measure flour by dipping your cup into the canister, then sweeping off the excess, use 6 1/2 cups. Most accurate of all (and guaranteed to give you the best results), if you measure flour by weight, use 32 ounces. Using the same ratio/measuring, you can make a half-recipe if you prefer. While it’s great to have dough on hand, it’s fine to make less.
  • Want to try this with whole wheat flour? You can absolutely make up to half of the total flour whole wheat, either our Premium or white whole wheat flours. Add an additional 2 teaspoons water per cup of whole wheat flour to prevent the dough from being too dry.
  • Would it be better to use bread flour here? Bread flour has more gluten-forming protein, so if you choose to use it in this recipe, the crust will be a bit thicker and you won’t get quite the same open-holed structure as with all-purpose. We really prefer the texture of both crust and crumb when all-purpose flour is used. If you do use bread flour, increase the water by about 2 teaspoons per cup of flour to make the requisite sticky dough.

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