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So technically, baking is not cooking, as the Norseman contends that one is done in the oven, while the other is most definitely restricted to the stove top. But anyhow, onward! Baking bread is something that I avoided for years because the idea of baking with yeast really intimidated me. But now that I’ve started, and done some research that helped calm my fears (like, it’s really hard to actually mess up bread,) I’ve become pretty comfortable with it. Also, I used to feel that it took a lot of time to actually do. And yes, when I was super pregnant or had a new baby, baking bread was not a priority for me. But I found some easier recipes for working with whole wheat flour (which we prefer to bake with), so perhaps the next time I’ll be able to keep doing it.
And by the way, if you absolutely feel like your bread flopped so hard that you can’t use it for sandwiches or anything else, you can cut it up and make bread pudding. I definitely did this when I first started out. Here’s a good recipe if you don’t have one: NYT Bread Pudding.
Now honestly, you should weigh your ingredients if you want results like the superstar bakers (my current favourite being Jim Lahey.) But I usually forget it’s something I want until I start baking a new loaf. Every single time. You’d think I’d figure that out.
So, scales aside, you can still make a good bread with measuring cups and spoons. Rather than walk you through my very own recipe, I’m going to refer you to some truly easy favourites, and then give you some “behind-the-scenes” tips that should help you troubleshoot in the event you run into problems, or want to deviate immediately from the recipe. Don’t deny it, I know you people are out there. I’m married to one. 😉 Also, if you run into issues or have questions, feel free to ask.
Something to help you feel braver: It is very hard to kill yeast. Unless you are using boiling hot water, your yeast will grow. Even if you use cold water, eventually, the yeast will grow. More on yeast from The Kitchn.
As just mentioned previously, Jim Lahey is my current favourite baker (see photos here), and he has a wonderful recipe for making a slow-rise bread.
- You can make this with 100% whole wheat flour, but it will probably require more liquid. Add a little at a time until the dough looks right (see video). Don’t have a clue what it should look like? If it’s in a neat little ball, it’s too dry. If it looks more like drop biscuit batter, it is okay. Somewhere between a ball and pancake batter. Still don’t know? That’s okay. Let it do it’s thing, make the recipe a bunch of times, and see what results you prefer. Whole wheat flour requires more water because the germ and bran were left on the grain when it was milled. They absorb more water than the endosperm. See a picture of those parts of the wheat grain, here, if Biology class was a little too long ago.
- Unless you are very, very confident, you can fold the dough, and let it rise again in an oiled bowl instead of between two towels. Then simply dump it into your preheated dish for baking. It will still turn out okay. I folded and floured mine, then left it to rise on a heavily floured counter top with a cotton napkin over it. It turned out kind of funny looking, because it spread out farther than the diameter of my dish, so the sides folded up on themselves. If I had a banneton, I would have allowed it to rise in that so that it would be better shaped. Yet another lesson learned.
- Bread rises faster in warmer, more humid environments. Keep this in mind if you live somewhere like the Deep South and make this in the middle of summer. Your rise time may be really shortened, but don’t stress too much about letting it over-rise. Punch it back down, and let it rise again for a shorter period of time. There is only so much the yeast can do, and your loaf will probably not be as tall as it would have been otherwise, but it will still be edible and yummy. Some bakers prefer their bread this way.
Yes, my man loves this bread.
- You can make it without bread flour, but you will not get such a spectacular rise, not in the short amount of time it takes to rise. Perhaps a longer rise would do the trick, but I haven’t tested the theory. Feel free to try.
- You can skip the honey, or add some sugar, up to ¼ cup is my guess. It is okay to leave the sweetener out, or to add more. You will figure out how much is your preference after a few bakes. BUT, the bread may not rise as fast if you leave the sweetener out. So take that into consideration.
- If you want a taller loaf, consider baking it in a loaf pan. Note that the baking time may need to be lengthened or reduced. This will depend on your oven’s accuracy for heating, and how high it rises in the pan (you can let it second rise directly in the loaf pan.) Don’t be afraid to stick a thermometer right into the top to see if it is done. Another way to tell is if the loaf has pulled away from the sides of the pan. This doesn’t always happen, so a thermometer is a good backup.
Don’t you just love the name? And it honestly comes out better every time I make it. This is the bread I use when I want to make a big batch for the whole month.
- The maple syrup or honey can be replaced with sugar, or some other form of sweetener. You can reduce it or even leave it, for a heartier bread.
- I’ve used the flax, and it worked really well. I didn’t put dough enhancer or flax in the last time I made it, as we had neither. The bread still came out fine. The purpose of it is make the bread “lighter” that is, more full of air bubbles, and therefore, fluffier. Some other things you can substitute (or add in along with it):
- ¼ cup potato flakes per loaf of bread OR substitute some of the water with “potato water” made from boiling potatoes.
- An egg or two
- Ginger, ¼ tsp per loaf (you won’t taste it)
- Dry milk, 1.5 Tbsp per loaf
- I leave out the lemon juice or use another acid, like apple cider vinegar. The purpose is to aid in the rise of the dough, as whole wheat flour won’t rise as high as white flour on it’s own.
- If you are using Active Dry Yeast, mix the yeast with the liquid, then proceed on with the recipe.
- Depending on humidity and temperature, you may need a little more/less flour each time you bake it. That is why it says “a couple of cups extra flour.”
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