In my first post, I mentioned the recipe I started with. Here's how things have evolved since then.
My first problem with the original recipe was pretty major: I could never get a enough of a rise to get two loaves with the pans I had. Given I was making bread for a family of five, my first change was to simply double everything. From this doubled recipe, I made 3 loaves. This seemed to work out pretty nicely. I generally ended up with 3 2-lb loaves of bread from each batch.
The next changes were more evolutionary. I don't recall the exact order of each of these changes. Likely the most interesting change was this: I stopped using powdered yeast. There is a local farmer's market here that has excellent produce and cheese. Hidden among the cheese are 1-lb blocks of something labeled "Red Star Yeast" for about $1.50. They are about the size of quarter of butter. Since that is *much* cheaper than the instant stuff, I started breaking off a bit of this stuff and creaming it in the warm water with my fingers. Now, I've been at a loss as to what this stuff is, but it works wonderfully. I'm guessing it's what I've heard called "compressed yeast", so that's what I'm going to refer to it as.
The original recipe calls for "butter" generically, and I'm pretty certain the first few times I made it I just used normal sweet cream butter (salted), but after doing a bit of reading, it seemed that I wouldn't want to include "extra" salt, so I've clarified it as unsalted butter.
The next change was flour. I originally just used whatever flour I had available (generally AP of some brand), but I wanted to try "bread" flour. My wife found 50-lb bags of Bread Flour at Costco for ~$11, if memory serves. So, I started using that. Recently, I've been looking for another source of good flour in quantity, as the flour from Costco is bleached and enriched, but thus far I haven't found anything reasonable. I can get KA flour in 5-lb bags from a few local stores, but that's hardly cost effective when I'm baking 6-9 loaves of bread a week (at least lately....). I discovered Wheat Montana flour when visiting my in-laws, and fell in love with the Prairie Gold variety, but I have yet to find anywhere I can get it here in St. Louis. Ooops....big tangent there. Let's get back to my changes, shall we?
Another change was accidental. You may have noticed that the egg yolk is the only "wet" ingredient not included in the melting butter mixture. This caused me to forget to add it on more than one occasion (I'm a bit disorganized, for many reasons). Interestingly, my family and I never noticed a difference when I didn't include the egg yolks. So I dropped them. It also makes things a bit simpler and means I don't need to find a use for the left over egg whites. I did use them as a wash a couple of times, but at least in my oven, this made the crust quite dark and a bit thicker than I could convince my kids to eat regularly. So I stopped.
The most significant change is also the most recent: I've started making a Poolish before hand. The first time, I just did the Poolish using the water from the recipe and a pseudo-random amount of flour. I think it was actually more of a sponge than a Poolish. After consulting with Levy's Bread Bible from the local library, I adjusted this a bit and have been *quite* pleased with the results. I've dropped the amount of milk in the doubled recipe from 2.5 cups to 1.5 cups. I've doubled the water to 2 cups. So my Poolish is now 2 cups of warm water, approximately an ounce of compressed yeast (I really need to get a good scale...), and a pound of bleached bread flour (about 2.5 cups as I measure it). The poolish seems to take about 4-6 hours to reach maturity (beginning to collapse), longer if I use a bit less yeast. I'm trying to get it to the point I can make the poolish in the morning before work and finish the process in the evening, but I haven't mastered that just yet. It works, but I haven't achieved consistency.
The last adjustment I've made was switching to Kosher salt. Since I don't have an accurate enough scale, I've been using Alton Brown's rule of thumb that you need 50% more Kosher salt than table salt to achieve the same weight.
Oh, and I dropped the sugar, because the bread was a bit sweeter than I wanted for everyday use, and my wife and I certainly don't need the calories. We're also trying to move away from refined sugars anyway (which seems a bit silly, I know, when I'm using bleached bread flour).
So, for those of you still reading, here's my adjusted recipe:
Mr. Dugan's White Bread - with Brice's Modifications
- 2 Cups of warm tap water
- 1 lb (~2.5 cups) of bleached bread flour
- 1-2 oz of compressed yeast
- 1 stick of unsalted butter
- 1.5 cups of 2% milk
- 2 tbs Kosher Salt
- 1/2 cup of Honey
- ~7 cups of bleached bread flour
- In a glass of ceramic bowl, dissolve the compressed yeast in the water, creaming it with your fingers.
- Add 1 lb of flour and stir until nice and gooey. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let stand on the kitchen counter until it starts to collapse. Make sure you use a big enough bowl for the poolish to more than double before collapsing.
- When the poolish is starting to collapse, combine the butter, salt, milk and honey in a small saucepan on low heat until the butter has melted. Stir occasionally.
- Combine the milk mixture with most of the remaining flour (save ~1/2 cup for dusting the kneading surface). Stir until liquid is absorbed.
- Add the poolish to the above mixture. Mix until the dough starts coming together. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until uniformly combined.
- Cover with the bowl and let rest for 15-30 min
- Knead the dough until it starts to get elastic. 8-10 minutes.
- Shape into a rough ball and drop into a large, lightly oiled, ceramic bowl to rise. As I have a pretty drafty kitchen, I place mine in the oven with the light on, and a pan of steaming water below the bowl. Let rise until doubled in bulk (approximately 1 hour for me)
- De-gas and shape into 3 loaves. Place in lightly oiled bread pans. I tend to use a rolling method.
- Let rise until doubled again. This takes about 90 minutes for me (about twice as long as before the poolish method)
- Bake at 350 for 30 min. I've actually been using the convection setting on my oven for the same time and temp. This seems to better insure the loaf is "done".
Well, hopefully you've enjoyed this look into the evolution of my core bread recipe. I've done several variations on this (an herb bread, a cinnamon-raisin bread, replacing various portions of the bleached bread flour with something else (usually a whole wheat of some type). I'd welcome any and all comments and suggestions. I still have a *lot* to learn.
- Brice -