Making (and breaking) bread

It’s only taken me three months to make some progress on the first item on that list of meaningless things to learn in 2011.

Flour, water, yeast, salt.  Four simple ingredients.  That means there must be some time, energy and skill involved in making this stuff…or else everyone would be doing it.

In which case…my efforts are doomed.  But that won’t stop me from trying!

The last time I attempted bread (and that was an easy quick bread, so it didn’t really count), Jess recommended taking a look at the book Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg.  So I got it.  And I read it.  [And it told me that I needed a pizza stone, so I risked my life to acquire one.]

Francois and Hertzberg describe airy, crusty loaves, which purportedly can be crafted with no fancy equipment and minimal talent and effort.  It sounds too good to be true.  I’m not sure I fully understand the culinary science behind their approach, but basically you make “wet dough” ahead of time and refrigerate it.  Something about hanging out in the fridge negates the need for yeast-proofing and kneading.  And when you want fresh bread, you just take out a hunk of dough, let it rise for half an hour, and bake it.

Worth a shot, right?

So over the weekend I made my dough.  I literally threw it together during a commercial break.  If I were Desi Davila, I’d have been hard pressed to run a marathon-pace mile in the time that this took.

(Also, if I were Desi Davila, I’d be out celebrating my off-the-charts awesomeness right now instead of blogging about a stupid loaf of bread.)

Anyway.  Putting the dough together was super quick.  I figured that if I were to screw up, it would be related to the yeast, so I played it safe and used cool-ish water to avoid killing it.  (The book claims that this is no problem, as long as you extend the rise time.  I let it sit for four hours before sticking it in the fridge.)

Tonight, I grabbed a hunk ‘o dough and let it sit out for about 40 minutes.  It didn’t seem like it had risen much, but…oh well.  I carved a “scallop” pattern before transferring it to the hot pizza stone.

Thirty minutes later:

Smaller and denser than a bakery loaf, but pretty darn cute nonetheless!

And that nice crusty crust!

I’m not sure what I can to do make it puffier.  I definitely did not get any of those delectable chewy air bubbles in the interior, like you get with bakery bread.  Any experienced bread bakers want to weigh in here?

In any case, I felt pretty good about this first attempt.  And as always, I do realize that I have impeccable timing: apologies to my Jewish readers who are swearing off fluffy baked things as of tonight.

I guess that just means more crusty bread for me!

Today’s EAT: I think I let that loaf cool for all of five minutes before attacking it with a knife and moving it to my dinner plate.

With thinly-sliced brie and smoked wild salmon, grapes and salad.  I love no-cook dinners!

And I love smoked salmon, but another member of this household has me beat.  The fat panther went apeshit when I opened the package.

I caved and shared.  Because our vet has previously pointed out that fish oil might be good for his mild kitty dandruff – and this is pretty much the same thing, right?  (Although as the hubs pointed out: “I’m pretty sure the vet didn’t mean $20/lb smoked salmon.”  True.)

Also, I thought dinner should be a little light.  I dug in to this thing several times this morning/afternoon.

A giant bag of tiny candy bars – from Costco, of course.  I’m not even a big candy person but for some reason I could not stop unwrapping mini Butterfingers while watching the Boston coverage today.  (And obsessively refreshing my bib-stalking page as a certain someone closed in on a stellar PR!)

Today’s DRINK: A nice glass of red sounded good tonight.

Enter this “Yard Dog” red from Red Heads Studio in Australia.  60% Petit Verdot, 20% Cab, 20% Merlot.  I guess it is supposed to be a blend of “neglected” grapes – which come together to create a tough mutt?  Not sure about all that, but I do know that for an $8 bottle, I really like this wine.  Lots of cherry flavors.  Full-bodied, but easy to drink.  (Purchased at Whole Foods.)

Today’s RUN: An easy seven miles.  My calves are still crampy from yesterday’s mileage, which is a little annoying.  I’ll be sporting my compression sleeves at work tomorrow!

Last week’s recap:

M – 7 easy (1:01:45, 8:48 pace)
Tu – AM 3.4 easy (30:00, 8:49 pace), PM 4.4 easy (40:00, 9:05 pace)
W – OFF
Th – 4.1 easy (35:00, 8:32 pace)
F – 7.3 easy (1:05, 8:53 pace)
Sa – 5K race, 8.1 total (1:07, 8:14 pace)
Su – AM 7.6 easy (1:02, 8:09 pace), PM 6.1 easy (1:03, 10:19 pace)

Total: 48.1 miles.  Not bad…but I totally ignored the concept of speedwork and didn’t actually get a long run in.  Oops.

Today’s QUESTION: Any tricks or tips on getting bread to grow?  It looked like it had doubled when I left it to sit for its first rise, just after mixing it.  But today, after I took it out of the fridge to bake it, it pretty much stayed the same size.  Meh.

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21 responses to “Making (and breaking) bread

  1. you want kinda warm water for the yeast to grow-think like bathwater temp
    and from the fridge dough can take an hour-it can’t do a ton of rising until it’s gotten to room temp, and that can take some time
    otherwise kneading enough helps, and higher hydration levels (water to flour ratio) make for airy bread (but the increase in water makes for sticky dough!)

    and generally even if you f up the bread it’s still tasty. so don’t feel bad when it’s not perfect.

  2. I agree w/EM… The warm yeast seems to be the key for me . You will probably want a candy thermometer to test the temperature of the water so that you don’t kill your yeast. 105-110 degrees seems to work best for me. You don’t have to proof if you know that your yeast is fresh and that your water temp was good. I guess you risk having to throw the whole batch away if it doesn’t rise, but I usually take that chance. No casualties so far.

  3. Agreed with the previous commenters that it’s all about the yeast! I usually use 115 degree water, and yes, I use a thermometer to make sure. When I use active dry yeast I pretty much always proof it, just to be sure.

    The cool temperatures of the fridge slow down the rising process. I always let dough come up to room temperature before starting the clock.

  4. I have no bread-baking advice to speak of, but that looks pretty good to me! Also, a little late to the game but am glad you are ok after that awful weather/destruction – so scary.

  5. whyyyy must you write a bread post on the first night of passover? i could barely read through this, but i did see your little jew-friend disclaimer so i guess i can forgive you 🙂

  6. +1 to the comments about warm water for the yeast and bringing it to room temp if you keep it in the fridge overnight.

    i, too, was on the edge of my seat yesterday morning tracking Boston. if mini candy bars (so addictive!!) had been in the vicinity…it would have been trouble!

  7. I’ve never made bread so I don’t have any tips. I like the label on the bottle of wine though!

  8. Good job for your 1st attempt. I could never do it. 🙂
    I forwarded your blog to Dan & think he may have some tips. I told him we just need to take a little trip to NC. 🙂
    Your fat panther is so cute!!! I want one. Is he a sweetheart?

    • You guys are welcome any time!

      The cat is a 20-lb sack of mush. Seriously, most affectionate cat ever. But very food-driven, unfortunately…. 🙂

  9. Have your tried a King Arthur Flour… also dry milk… fresh yeast…perhaps a boost? Check King Arthur’s website too…

  10. I’ve never made anything that wasn’t a quick bread, so no advice there. But your bread looks great! 🙂 I like bread that’s more dense.

  11. This is my favorite bread recipe — its not a difficult recipe per se, the only thing is it takes a while, so you can’t whip it up at the last minute, much more of a weekend project. But the bread is definitely worth it — better than the bread at Panera, even. Anyway, this is the recipe, from NY Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html?ref=dining

    Enjoy!

  12. I LOVE dense breads, so I probably would’ve helped you polish off that loaf. I suck at bread baking- the rising confuses me. There’s a reason why I cook and don’t bake. 🙂 I really want to try to make sourdough bread, though. It seems like it would be worth the effort!

  13. I was just asking myself last night if there is really anything better in life than a loaf of amazing bread, fantastic cheese, good wine and strong coffee.

    Pretty sure the answer is no.

  14. Yummers. The denser the better and that crust is seriously top chef worthy. I tried pretzels last week. Um, epic failure.

  15. Have I mentioned bread maker? I suspect that I have. It doesn’t make bread that looks as pretty as yours, but it takes about 2 minutes to get a loaf going. And I just the odious wheat gluten to get it rise beautifully.

  16. I was anxious to see how your bread turned out because I always have the same problem…not fluffy and a little too dense. Maybe someone will have a suggestion!

  17. The key to light, fluffy yeast breads lies in the temperature of the water and where you let the dough rise. When I make yeast breads, I always use warm water (the yeast package should suggest a temperature, but 105-115 as a previous commenter suggested sounds about right). A candy thermometer is super helpful to make sure you’ve got the water at the right temp. I also always let the dough rise somewhere warm and draft-free. The last few times I’ve chosen my laundry closet while I’m drying something in the dryer, as it’ll usually be around 10-20 degrees warmer than room temperature without being too hot to dry out the dough.

    I do these two things when making dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls (roughly the same base) and they’ve always turned out perfectly. Unless your recipe specifically precludes it, I’d suggest letting the dough rise in a warm (but not super hot!) area of your house. To keep it from drying out, you can lightly grease (I’ve always used a solid fat like butter or shortening for this step, as Pam doesn’t seem to work that well) the inside of a bowl before turning your lump of dough to coat it lightly with the grease and draping clean kitchen towels lightly over the mouth of the bowl.

    Good luck!

  18. Glad you tried it! I find that the loaves baked on the same day that you mix are the best. The refrigerated ones are never as good and you really have to let them sit until they get room temp again.

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