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Sweet Corn Raisin Bread

corn raisin artisan breadLast week I posted a basic cornbread recipe. I suspect some folks reaction was "ho-hum". So this week I'm showing that you can, indeed, do more with corn meal than just make cornbread.

How about a yeasted bread with corn meal? How about a sweet raisin yeasted bread with corn meal in it? Sound good? It did to me.

The recipe and a lot more photos are below.

I based this one on a recipe from a little Betty Bossi baking book that my father-in-law brought back from France (Betty Bossi is, I gather, like a Swiss equivalent of Betty Crocker). My French is fair, as is my metric system, but thanks to my scale, which can toggle from metric to imperial, I was able to pull something together pretty quickly.

I'm going to print the recipe with the original metric measurements. Next to each I'll include my imperial approximation, which also include my substitutions. My translations and measurements aren't exact, so if you are a stickler you can use the metric measurements or do the math yourself!

Sweet Corn Raisin Bread

Original Metric Measurements Imperial Approximation and Substitutions
150 grams corn flour
1 deciliter water
1 cup corn meal
1/2 cup water
350 grams white flour
1/2 cube (approx. 20g yeast)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 deciliters milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 pinch saffron
50 grams butter
2-3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 tablespoon sugar
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
saffron I'm too cheap!
2 tablespoons butter
75 grams raisins 1 cup raisins
1 egg yoke
1 teaspoon water
1 pinch salt
2 pinches sugar
1 egg yoke
1 teaspoon water
1 pinch salt
2 pinches sugar

Mix the corn meal and the water together in a small bowl and allow to soak for half an hour.

Pour two cups of the flour in a bowl and combine with the yeast, sugar, salt, and saffron. Make a well in the middle and pour in the corn meal soaker, remaining milk, and butter. Stir until well blended.

Stir in the raisin and then add additional flour by the handful until the proper consistency is reached (tacky to the touch but not sticky, and clearing the sides of the bowl when mixed).

Pull the ball of dough out of the mixing bowl and place it onto a clean work surface. Knead the dough for 10 to 12 minutes, until it begins to feel smooth and satiny. Place the dough back into a clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size, roughly 90 minutes.

Remove the dough from the bowl and gently degas it, then shape into the desired shape. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a moist towel and allow it to rise until doubled in size again, roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour.

sweet corn raisin bread rising

While it is rising again, preheat the oven (and baking stone, if you are using one) to 425.

sweet corn raisin bread being glazed

When it has doubled in size, glaze the loaf with egg wash made from the egg yoke, water, salt, and sugar. Score the loaf so that it doesn't tear in the oven, and then place it into the preheated oven.

sweet corn raisin bread glazed and scored

After 5 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. After 15 minutes rotate the loaf so that it bakes evenly, and then bake it until it is done. You'll know it is done when it is nice and brown, sounds hollow when tapped on, and reaches an internal temperature of at least 185 degrees. In my oven this took around 40 to 45 minutes.

Allow the loaf to cool for at least half an hour before slicing.

sweet corn raisin bread complete

Further Exploration

I was very pleased with this loaf, but I have some ideas I'd like to try to make this bread even better. One idea is instead of using 1 cup of medium grind corn meal, use a mixture of finely ground corn flour and coarsely ground polenta. Something along the lines of 3/4 cup corn flour and 1/4 cup presoaked polenta ought to lend the loaf a smooth, creamy crumb with a few crunchy bursts of polenta here and there.

The other idea I have is to substitute honey for sugar, and maybe increase the amount of sweetener just a tad. The thought is that I might be able to get a flavor something along the lines of cornbread with honey butter baked right into the loaf. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds good.

Olive oil instead of butter might be good too.

So many options... and never enough time to bake!

Have any ideas for other ways to modify this loaf? Or questions about it? Please comment!

PDLarry's picture
PDLarry

Nostalgia

Grew up eating this stuff. Custard buns. My cousin who now lives in Hong Kong sent me a recipe and I was able to make some... tears.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

dough ball sizes and weights for common bread shapes?

I wanted a quick reference list for dough ball sizes for common items I bake: breads, rolls, pizza. I haven't found one on TFL, maybe it's here, but no luck yet. So I figured I'd share what I have so far.

14" pizza, thin crust, NYC style: 450g
14" pizza, medium "american" crust style: 540g
Personal (plate-sized) pizza: 175g (thin) - 250g (thicker)
Regular free-form loaf (boule) of sourdough: 1000g
Small free-form loaf (boule): 750g
"Standard" loaf-pan loaf (9.25" x5.25"x2.75"), light lean bread: 800g
"Standard" loaf-pan loaf (9.25" x5.25"x2.75"), heavier multigrain bread or sourdough: 1100g
12" hoagie/sandwich roll: 227g
Standard baguette: 340g
Home oven baguette: 200-250g
Large pretzel: 160g
6"/7" hoagie/sandwich roll: 113g
Bagel: 96-113g
Burger & hot dog buns: 92g
Small soft dinner roll: 48g


Feel free to comment or add other recommended values.

Shiao-Ping's picture
Shiao-Ping

Banana Pain au Levain

I am not a fan of bananas but every now and then for my kids I make banana muffins, banana bread (quick bread), banana pancakes and cakes, and banana milk shake and smoothie just to remind myself why people like bananas.  Whenever the bananas in my house have gone sesame (ie, growing freckles), the motherly cook's instincts in me start eyeing on them.  I never force my kids to eat any fruit or vegetables.  That's why the house ends up having so many unlikely combinations of chutney and jams.


Now, I have not come across bananas in a savory, or at least non-sweet, combination with flour.  What if I inject that lovely banana flavor (not to me!) into the crumb of a sourdough bread and use it for sandwiches or just toasts?  Would it work?  No harm trying.


Step one:  I started with four very large ripe bananas (475 grams).  My idea was to use bananas as hydration for final dough.  To puree bananas in my blender efficiently, I need to add some sort of liquid, and I chose to add 20% of banana weight in water (95 grams).  I got 570 grams of banana puree.  In addition to that, I had 100 g of diced banana to put in separately.


Step two:  To decide on a dough hydration percentage.  I picked 65%.  For this I needed to make an assumption as to the solids to liquid ratio in the bananas - my guesses were 35% to 65% (like pumpkin). 


Step three:  To calculate how much flour and starter that I would need for the given amount of banana puree.


Step four:  To work back to see if the figures match up before starting on the dough.  


Well, was I in a hurry?  I didn't go through Step Four properly. Immediately after I got the preliminary flour and starter figures, I poured my banana puree over the starter eagerly and began mixing!! 


                                  


The formula that I used is as follows:


Formula for Banana Pain au Levain 



  • 570 g mature starter at 75% hydration (5% rye flour)

  • 570 g flour (5% rye and the balance white flour)

  • 570 g banana puree (made up of 475 g banana and 95 g of water)

  • 100 g extra banana diced

  • 18 g salt


Total dough weight was 1.8 kg and approximate dough hydration was 80% (not 65% as I set out to do)**!! 


**Assuming bananas were 65% liquid, total dough hydration from the above formula was:



  • (475 + 100) x 65% = 374, being hydration from bananas

  • 374 + 95 = 469, being hydration from banana plus water added to make up the banana puree

  • 570 / 175% x 75% = 244, being water content in starter

  • 244 + 469 = 713, being total hydration

  • 570 / 175% x 100% = 326, being flour content in starter

  • 326 + 570 = 896, being total flour

  • 713 / 896 = 80%, being total dough hydration


No wonder the dough felt very wet and sticky and 3 sets of stretch & folds were needed during bulk fermentation for dough strength.  This dough was very difficult to shape.  An ample dusting of flour on the work bench and quick, swift movement and minimalist handling during shaping were necessary.


Procedure



  1. Bulk fermentation 2 + 1/2 hours with 3 sets of stretch & folds of 30 - 40 strokes each, including autolyse of 20 minutes.

  2. Divide into two doughs of 900 g each.

  3. Proof for 2 hours.

  4. Retard in the refrigerator for 10 hours (I found with this recipe that the retarding process was essential because during the first few hours of the fermentation the dough appeared very sluggish.  It was almost as if my starter was finding it tough adjusting to bananas, but in any event, after many hours of retardation in the fridge, the dough rose nicely.)

  5. Bake with steam at 210C / 410F (lower temperature than usual due to sugar content in bananas) for 20 minutes then another 25 minutes at 190C / 375F (Note: I baked one dough at a time. Lower heat and longer baking appear to be the way to go. Under higher temperature, the crust would just burn.)


 


      


 


                                                         


 


       


 


My daughter said this bread smells heavenly-banana.  I don't know if that is possible but I have to admit that, for a person who doesn't like to eat banana, I find this sourdough very delightful.  It is incredibly moist - a slice of this bread on your palm weighs heavily.   The effect of bananas on dough is probably not dissimilar to potatoes on dough.  It is also very chewy and sour (at least medium strength of sourness to me).  There was no trace of the sweetness from bananas left in the bread. 


My son had a great idea - he spread peanut paste on a slice of this bread and grilled it.  It tastes amazing:


                                                       


 


Well, if you are interested to try this formula, I would suggest a lower hydration for easier shaping and handling of the dough.  Below I calculate for you an approx. 72% hydration dough formula for a dough weight of 864 grams:


Formula for Banana Pain au Levain @ approx. 72% dough hydration



  • 285 g starter @75% hydration

  • 285 g flour (5%, or 14 g, rye flour and the balance 271 g white flour)

  • 285 g banana puree (made up of 245 g banana and 40 g water)

  • 9 g salt


If it is done right, I believe the simplicity of this formula allows the natural flavor of fermented flour come through and it is in the spirit of what Pain au Levain is about.


   


Happy baking!


Shiao-Ping

stgermain's picture
stgermain

Southern Style Yeast Rolls

My Grandmother's Yeast Rolls

Hi - I am new here but after reading so many comments from knowledgable bakers, I thought I would ask for your thoughts/opinions.  I remember my grandmother baking yeast rolls (with cake yeast) that were approximately 4" high, moist, and with an almost silky texture - not at all crumbly.  Does anyone know of a recipe and techniques that might help me replicate her rolls?  Any comments would be appreicated.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Sweet Vanilla Challah

I wanted to make a bread for a recent gathering of friends.  My preference was for something sweet but not a sticky, gooey kind of sweet.  After paging through a number of books, I came across a recipe in Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible for a sweet vanilla challah that sounded like it would fit the bill.  The recipe called for just 1/2 cup of sugar in a two-loaf batch of bread, so it wasn't excessively sweet.  The flavor, though, was driven by 1-1/2 tablespoons of vanilla extract in the dough and another teaspoon of vanilla extract in the glaze.  How could it be anything but good?


The dough ingredients include:


1 tablespoon yeast (instant or active dry)


1/2 cup sugar


1 tablespoon salt


6-1/2 to 7 cups of flour


1-3/4 cups hot water (120 F)


4 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten


1/2 cup vegetable oil


1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract


The glaze ingredients include:


1 large egg yolk


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/2 teaspoon sugar


Process


Combine the yeast, sugar, salt and 2 cups of the flour; mix by hand or by mixer.


Add the hot water, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Beat hard until smooth.  Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time.  Continue beating until the dough is too stiff to stir.


Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy and a layer of blisters shows under the skin, about 4 minutes.  (Note: I did not see any blisters forming, but kneaded until the dough was smooth and elastic.)  The dough needs to be slightly firm for free-form loaves.


Place the dough in a greased deep container.  Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  (Even with room temperature at a relatively cool 65F in my kitchen, it did not need this much time to double.  I could see this doubling in less than an hour with warmer, summer-time temperatures.)


Grease or parchment-line 1 or 2 baking sheets.  (I went with 2 sheets, not wanting to risk the two loaves growing together while they baked.  It turned out to be a good choice.  Note that Ms. Hensperger also offers the option of using springform pans.)  Gently deflate the dough.  Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured surface.  Divide the dough in 2 equal portions.  Roll each portion out into a smooth, thick strip about 30 inches long, with one end 2-3 inches wider than the other.  (Picture a shorter, thicker billiard cue stick.)  Roll to to lengthen and taper the thinner end.  With the wide end on the work surface, lift the tapered end and wind the rest of the dough around the thick end 2 or 3 times, forming a compact coil.  Pinch the thin end to the body of the coil and tuck it under.  Place the coils, with the swirl pattern facing up, on the baking sheet(s).  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until nearly doubled in bulk, about 30-40 minutes.  Because of the eggs, this loaf does not need to double completely; it will rise enough in the oven.  (And how!  It sprang up to double or treble its original height.)


Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350F.  To make the vanilla egg glaze, whisk together the egg yolk, vanilla and sugar in a small bowl.  Beat until well blended.  Gently brush the dough surfaces with a thick layer of the glaze.  Place the baking sheet(s) on a rack in the center of the oven and bake 40-45 minutes, or until a deep, golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger.  Carefully lift the turbans off the baking sheet(s) with a spatula and transfer to cooling racks.  Cool completely before slicing.


The finished bread looks like this:


Sweet vanilla challah


Sweet vanilla challah


Now, any bread smells good when it's baking.  This bread's fragrance while baking is over the top; our whole house was perfumed with vanilla. 


The flavor is also marvelous.  The crumb is fine-textured, smooth and moist.  It's good all by itself, with a dab of butter, with jam or marmalade, and toasted.  It will never last long enough to go stale, but it would make a wonderful base for either French toast or bread pudding.


The results were every bit as good as I had anticipated and a big hit with my friends.


Paul

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Sour Rye Bread from George Greenstein's “Secrets of a Jewish Baker”

Greenstein's Sour Rye

Greenstein's Sour Rye

Greenstein's Sour Rye Crumb

Greenstein's Sour Rye Crumb

 

Back in May, 2007, there was an extended discussion about Greenstein's book and how come he provided only volume and not any weight measurements for ingredients. For anyone interested in that discussion, the link is: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/3042/keep-secrets-jewish-baker-better-secret.

I have made Jewish Sour Rye from Greenstein's recipe many times. It's one of my favorite breads. But, although I always weigh ingredients when the recipe gives weights, I have always made this bread according to the volume measurements in the book – that is, with adjustments to achieve the desired dough characteristics.

Today, I actually weighed the ingredients and can provide them for those who get all upset when they encounter a recipe that instructs them to use, for example, “4 to 5 cups of flour.” By the way, if you make this bread using ingredient weights, and the dough doesn't seem right, I advise you to add a little bit more water or flour accordingly. (Irony intended.)

Ingredients

750 gms Rye Sour

480 gms First Clear Flour

240 gms Warm Water (80-100F)

12 gms Sea Salt

7 gms Instant Yeast

½ cup Altus (optional but recommended)

1 Tablespoon Caraway Seeds

Cornmeal for dusting the parchment or peel.

Cornstarch glaze for brushing the breads before and after baking.

Method

  1. If you have a white rye sour, build it up to a volume of 4 cups or so the day before mixing the dough. If you do not have a rye sour but do have a wheat-based sourdough starter, you can easily convert it to a white rye starter by feeding it 2-3 times with white rye flour over 2-3 days.

  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve the yeast in the water, then add the rye sour and mix thoroughly with your hands, a spoon or, if using a mixer, with the paddle.

  3. Stir the salt into the flour and add this to the bowl and mix well.

  4. Dump the dough onto the lightly floured board and knead until smooth. If using a mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead at Speed 2 until the dough begins to clear the sides of the bowl (8-12 minutes). Add the Caraway Seeds about 1 minute before finished kneading. Even if using a mixer, I transfer the dough to the board and continue kneading for a couple minutes. The dough should be smooth but a bit sticky.

  5. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.

  6. Transfer the dough back to the board and divide it into two equal pieces.

  7. Form each piece into a pan loaf, free-standing long loaf or boule.

  8. Dust a piece of parchment paper or a baking pan liberally with cornmeal, and transfer the loaves to the parchment, keeping them at least 3 inches apart so they do not join when risen.

  9. Cover the loaves and let them rise until double in size. (About 60 minutes.)

  10. Pre-heat the oven to 375F with a baking stone in place optionally. Prepare your oven steaming method of choice.

  11. Prepare the cornstarch glaze. Whisk 1-1/2 to 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch in ¼ cup of water. Pour this slowly into a sauce pan containing 1 cup of gently boiling water, whisking constantly. Continue cooking and stirring until slightly thickened (a few seconds, only!) and remove the pan from heat. Set it aside.

  12. When the loaves are fully proofed, uncover them. Brush them with the cornstarch glaze. Score them. (3 cuts across the long axis of the loaves would be typical.) Transfer the loaves to the oven, and steam the oven.

  13. After 5 minutes, remove any container with water from the oven and continue baking for 30-40 minutes more.

  14. The loaves are done when the crust is very firm, the internal temperature is at least 205 degrees and the loaves give a “hollow” sound when thumped on the bottom. When they are done, leave them in the oven with the heat turned off and the door cracked open a couple of inches for another 5-10 minutes.

  15. Cool completely before slicing.

 Notes:

  • Comparing Greenstein's recipe to Norm's, the former is a wetter dough and also has a higher proportion of rye sour to clear flour. Both recipes make outstanding sour rye bread. Interestingly, Greenstein says, if you want a less sour bread, use less rye sour.
  • Having never weighed Greenstein's ingredients before, I've never even thought about baker's percentages and the like. FYI, the rye sour is 156% of the clear flour. A rough calculation of the ratio of rye to clear flour indicates that this bread is a "50% rye."

Enjoy!

David

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Sourdough Rise Time Table

I've had a number of discussions with TFL participants recently about sourdough rise times versus temperature and inoculation. Temperature has a big effect on sourdough rise times, and sometimes a starter appears unhealthy, when it is really just rising more slowly because of low temperatures in the kitchen during winter. Also, recipes that used to work seem to fail during the winter, but the colder temperatures may be the cause. To adjust for cold winter kitchen temperatures, either the temperature must be managed actively (oven with pilot light or electric light, coolers with a bowl of warm water in them, and so on), or the percentage of fermented flour must be adjusted in the recipe, or much more time must be allowed for the bulk fermentation and proofing.

I constructed a table that provides (in hours) the doubling time, bulk fermentation time, proofing time, and total mix-to-bake time for various temperatures and percentages of fermented flour. The table has two sections, one for no salt meant for unsalted levains, and one for 2% salt meant for doughs or salted levains.

Inoculation, as used in the table, is the percentage of fermented flour contributed by a levain or storage starter to the total flour in a levain or dough. For example, if 50g of storage starter at 100% hydration is contributed to 225g of flour and 175g of water to create a levain, then the total flour is 250g (25g+225g) and the percentage of fermented flour is 10% (25g out of 250g total flour). Similarly, if a dough containing 1Kg of total flour is made by contributing the levain just mentioned to 750g of flour and 550g of water and 20g of salt, then the inoculation or percentage of fermented flour is 25%, or 250g out of a total flour of 1Kg.

The table is made to match up to rise times for whole wheat, high extraction, or generally high ash content flours I tend to use in my sourdough hearth breads. For pure white flour doughs and levains, the times tend to be about 20% longer, i.e. white flour rises a little more slowly.

Your starter may well be faster or slower than mine. If you build a test levain using a representative entry in the table, such as 10% at 75F, you can see how your starter compares to these table entries and then adjust your rise times and proof times up or down by the same percentage. For example, if you starter doubles in 80% of the time indicated in the table, then it makes sense to use 80% of the time in the table for other temperatures and inoculations also.

You can see from the table that the rise times vary over a huge range depending on temperature. Also, inoculations need to be changed drastically for long overnight rises, depending on temperature.

The strategy for maintaining a starter should also change dramatically if the temperature is 65F instead of close to 80F in the kitchen from winter to summer. For example, a 25% inoculation at 65F results in a 10 hour mix-to-bake time, which is a couple of hours before a levain would peak and begin to collapse, but at 80F an inoculation of only 0.5% results in a 10 hour mix-to-bake time. I've used this model at wide ranges of temperature and had reasonable results. The interesting thing to notice is that a 20g:30g:30g feeding at 65F peaks in around 12 hours but a 1g:100g:100g feeding at 80F peaks in around 12 hours, too. Or, if you look at the mix-to-bake time at 65F for a 10g:45g:45g feeding (10% inoculation), it's 12.5 hours, so if you feed that way at 65F the starter won't be getting to its peak and may be overfed if the feeding is repeated every 12 hours, while the same feeding at 80F will peak in less than 8 hours, so a 12 hour schedule will work well at that temperature.

This is simplified from my rise time models, so it doesn't include some additional adjustments for the dough consistency I make in my spreadsheets. Of course, this is a very rough approximation. All kinds of complications may cause these numbers to be different from actual results. So, it's just a guideline and something to think about, and it's biggest use may be as a learning tool or to just get in the general ballpark for rise times. For example, if your temperatures are very different from the ones the author assumed in the recipe, or if you just don't have an idea where to start with rise times for some recipe your trying, maybe the table will help.

Apologies in advance, if it turns out there is a bug in the table somewhere, but at least some of the numbers made sense after browsing through the table.

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Crepes of Wrath

crepe muncher

We've been reading a ton of Petzi books to our son. All of the drawings of Petzi eating crepes forced me to make crepes this weekend (yes, forced me... my life is so tough).

These were good in the morning, but the best part has been having extras in the fridge. I pull one out, spread on some Nutella, and zap it in the microwave for 20 seconds and they are as good as new.

I've used a few different recipes in the past, but I really like this one from Beth Hensberger's Bread Bible. It is extremely simple.

Crepes

Makes 15 to 20 crepes

3 eggs
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup water or light beer
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons melted butter (add a dash of salt if you are using unsalted butter)

Mix everything together with a blender, hand mixer, or whisk until it is smooth and the consistency of cream. Cover with plastic and refrigerate.

Lightly grease a skillet or crepe pan and heat over medium heat. Pour a scoop of batter onto the pan and tilt the pan to spread the batter around (or use a plastic scraper to do so). After a minute or so flip the crepe over and bake until the other side is slightly browned, 30 seconds or so.

Serve with whatever filling you like. We did Nutella and black current jam. Both were excellent.

As I mentioned, leftover crepes can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge for a good long while. We actually didn't have any left over, but I made a second batch the next morning because we enjoyed them so much. It is almost time for me to make a third batch!

Lesson Three: Time & Temperature

The difference between mediocre bread and excellent bread usually has less to do with the ingredients being used than the process involved in creating it. Once you are comfortable with the basic process of mix, knead, rise, shape, and bake, your experimentation with the process can begin.

The two simplest variables in the process to modify are time and temperature. Below I will discuss how time and temperature change the character of your loaf of bread and then bake a loaf to show you how minor adjustments to the process can improve the quality of your bread significantly.

Time

Longer, slower fermentation extracts more flavor from your flour. If you are baking a simple white sandwich bread or in a hurry and you just want the darned thing to rise, you can put two or even three teaspoons of yeast into your dough and get the loaf to rise in under an hour. But if you want to create a rustic bread with a rich, nutty flavor, reducing the yeast and allow more and longer rises is appropriate.

Temperature's Impact on Rising

The warmer the temperature, the more active your yeast will be. The more active your yeast is, the quicker the dough rises. Simple enough, but you can use this in a multitude of ways. For example:

  • if you want to speed up a rise, turn your oven on for 30 seconds, turn it off, and then place your dough into the slightly-above-room-temperature oven. It should rise noticeably quicker.
  • If you need to leave halfway through preparing to bake a loaf, you can throw it into the fridge. It'll continue to rise in there at a much slower pace.
  • You can make a large batch of pizza dough and freeze individual pieces of it in freezer bags. The yeast will survive at least a month or two in the freezer. The day before you want to make the pizza, just move it to the fridge to thaw it and then pull it out of the fridge when you want it begin its final rise.

Temperature's Impact on Baking

Temperature also has an impact on how your loaf bakes. The general rule is that crusty breads should be baked at as high a temperature as possible. Soft shelled breads should be baked at lower temperatures. When you increase the temperature of your oven your bread bakes quicker (duh).

Professional bakers of rustic breads use ovens that achieve higher temperatures than home ovens achieve. Turning the temperature of your oven up when baking rustic breads will help you get closer to professional quality loaves. Buying a pizza or baking stone is another inexpensive method of capturing more heat in your oven and improving the quality of your bread (I have shattered two of these, so I don't currently bake with one. I'll probably end up getting another one some day, but I can't say the quality of my bread has suffered that much without one).

If you get really serious about bread baking, there is even a movement of bread hobbyest who build large hearth ovens in their backyards to reproduce professional quality loaves. Pick up a copy of "The Bread Builders" if this interests you.

My wife is pleased that I have not gotten that crazy about baking good bread at home (yet).

Time and Temperature Together

As you can see, time and temperature work in opposition to one another during dough formation: increase the temperature, decrease the time that your loaf rises; decrease the temperature, increase the time it takes to get to full size.

In the rising stage, if you are striving to extract the maximum flavor from your flour, you want to slow the rise down. If you want a make a quick loaf in time for dinner, speed the rise up.

While baking, If you want a crusty bread, you'll want to increase the temperature of the oven and reduce the amount of time your loaf bakes. For soft, pillowy breads, do the opposite (more time at a lower temperature). There are times when either technique is appropriate, so don't be worried that you aren't doing things the "right" way!

One Other Tidbit: Steam and Crust

For the first five or ten minutes of baking, having steam in the oven will improve the quality of your crust. Steam does two things: first, it keeps the outside of the loaf from drying out until the dough has fully risen; second, steam coagulates the starches on the outside of the loaf, which improves the color and texture the crust.

Professional bakers have ovens that inject steam during the early baking phase. Home bakers can use a lot of different tricks to recreate this effect. The simplest method I have found has been to put an old metal brownie pan on the bottom shelf of the oven when preheating. Right after I put the loaf into the oven, I pour a cup of hot water into the pan. It immediately begins to bubble and boil, releasing a nice steam cloud that seems to improve my crust.

Don't do this with a glass pan. I did this once and it shattered as soon as I poured the water into it.

There are other ways of introducing moisture: spraying the walls of the oven with a squirt bottle, putting a pan full of water with a hole in the bottom onto the bottom shelf so that it drips onto the bottom of the oven, or rubbing the outside of the loaf with water are some of the common ways. Hot water in a pan works well enough for me.

Also be aware that some bakers have experienced malfunctions in their oven's electronics systems from the moisture caused while trying to create steam. Indeed, adding steam may void your oven's warranty. I've never had any problems doing this, but please consider these risks versus the reward of highly crusty bread before attempting to steam your oven. Let the "baker beware."

Today's Loaf

I started with the base recipe from Lesson One. I was shooting for a crusty, rustic style bread, so I decided to reduce the amount of yeast to try to slow the fermentation process down. In fact, to extend the fermentation process even longer I split the dough creation into two stages: one stage I started the night before and then refrigerated. The next day I added the dough (also known as the sponge) from stage one to more ingredients to create my final dough.

This method, typically known as the sponge or barm method, is a tried and true method for improving the flavor of your bread (and one I'll write more about in future lessons). I'm more-or-less using Peter Reinhart's approach from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: the stage one dough in this recipe is modeled on Peter's Pate Fermentee, and the final dough is something like his Pain de Campaign. But bakers have been using different variations of this technique for centuries.

Day 1
Before going to bed I mixed together:

1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of yeast
1/2 cup of water

Mix these ingredients together in a bowl. Pour it out onto a flat surface and kneaded the dough for about 5 minutes.

Place the dough back into a greased bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise for an hour or so. It won't rise a lot in that time, but the yeast will begin to wake up.

Punch the dough down, place it back in the bowl, cover it with with plastic wrap again and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

Day 2

When I got up, I pulled the bowl of dough out of the fridge and let it warm on the counter for about an hour.

In a larger bowl, I combined:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (this can be regular flour. I used whole wheat flour simply because I like it!)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yeast
1 cup of water
day one's sponge

I mixed all of the dry ingredients together. Then I chopped the sponge up into a dozen or so little pieces with a knife and mixed them into the dry ingredients. Finally I added the water and mixed everything together, adjusting the flour or water until the dough formed a nice ball of dough that was soft and tacky but was not too sticky.

I poured the dough onto a floured surface and kneaded it for approximately 10 minutes. Then I put the dough back into a greased bowl and allowed it to rise for approximately 90 minutes. I then shaped the loaf and allowed it to rise for another 90 minutes.

(A note about these rise times: they are not exact. In reality, much was going on during the day, including a trip to the store and another trip to the playground, so no one was closely monitoring the clock. It seems to the uninitiated that making bread is a long and complicated process because the overall time it takes can be a day or more, but understand that it's really only about 20 minutes of work spread out over the entire day. It is easy enough to accommodate if you are going to be near the house all day.)

I put an empty metal pan on the bottom shelf of the oven and preheated the oven to 500 degrees.

When the oven was hot and the bread looked risen, I put the bread into the oven on the top shelf and quickly pour a cup of hot water into the pan on the bottom shelf and closed the door. After about 3-5 minutes, I reduced the temperature from 500 to 400 degrees, figuring that the loaf was done springing and would bake more evenly at a lower temperature. I baked it for 20 minutes, then rotated the loaf and bake until done.

This loaf took about 45 minutes, but time is dependent on the shape of the loaf. I used an instant-read thermometer. When the loaf hit 200 degrees inside, I pulled it out.

Aftermath

Comparing this loaf (on the right) to my bread from lesson one (on the left), I definitely noticed that this one had a nicer crust - it even crackled when I took it out of the oven and set it out to cool. It seems to me that it had a richer flavor, which was in part the whole wheat flour and partially the longer, slower rises and overnight fermentation.

A criticism of both of these loaves is that, although they are decently raised, neither one has the big irregular holes that you strive for in a rustic loaf. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One likely reason is that I handle the loaves fairly roughly when shaping them: I suspect I am squeezing out too much of the air at that stage and rolling my loaves too tight. I also suspect I am underhydrating my dough. A moister, slacker dough should have an easier time forming large pockets. Underkneading or baking before my dough is fully risen could also have been contributing factors. As I have mentioned before, getting started baking is extremely easy, but mastering baking takes a lifetime. One shouldn't be intimidated by this: the majority of your experiments still end up quite edible.


The path to perfection is tasty, indeed!

Continue to Lesson 4: Glazing.

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