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Yes, You Can Bake Bread
Features - The Craft of Cooking
Written by Jane Ward   
I love to bake bread, and bake as many as four loaves a week for the family’s breakfast toast and lunch sandwiches.  And if those four weekly loaves weren’t enough, my bread baking intensifies between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  In that brief time, in addition to the standard sandwich loaves, I turn out poppyseed coffeecakes for gifts, an Italian sweet bread called pandolce alto, and our family’s traditional Christmas breakfast cinnamon rolls.  For me there’s nothing nicer than warming up a cold a winter kitchen with batches of cinnamon-spiced rolls baking away in the oven.

But enthuse about bread baking to many home bakers, from the novice to the most seasoned pie and cake makers, and I get one of two responses:

“Oh, I would never work with yeast; it’s too hard” or “I don’t have enough time to be chained to the kitchen baking bread.”

This year, I have decided that what home bread baking needs is a good old-fashioned PR campaign, and I am here to tell you – make that swear to you – yeast doughs can be a snap once you have a couple of rules firmly under your belt, and (unlike small children, pets, and most jobs) can be fitted into your schedule rather than you accommodating your schedule to suit it.

How?

Remember that yeast needs a tepid liquid in order to bloom; you should be able to wiggle your fingers in the water or milk with them feeling comfortably warm for a few seconds without any mounting tingling sensation.  Use a thermometer if you want to make sure the water is no warmer than 105 degrees so you won’t kill the yeast, but a good set of fingers work just as well.  Err on the side of cooler.

Also know that, for rising, your refrigerator is your friend.  If you are a busy person with  a fridge, all the rising process requires from you is a little advance planning.

That’s it.  Well, almost it.  Don’t forget the salt.  Salt is important– for taste, texture, and that nice even brown color.

You see, unlike a cake baker, the bread baker can take a few risks.  Yes, bread baking requires some chemistry, but it will also indulge the freewheeler in you.  Go ahead, substitute honey for the recipe’s called-for refined sugar in the proofing process.  Use a few cups of whole wheat flour in place of some of the white flour if you wish to boost the nutrition of your loaf.  Replace your milk-water liquids with all water if water is preferred.  Because bread, despite its reputation for being a difficult baking technique, is actually quite forgiving.

I dare you to make such cavalier substitutions with cakes.

Once you have developed your favorite dough, feel free to experiment with the embellishments:  add dried fruit and nuts to your molasses-rich oatmeal bread, chocolate chunks and raisins to a dark rye, or olives and a favorite herb to a wheat bread.  Experimenting is welcome; nine times out of ten you’ll get a result that is both delicious and uniquely yours.

The following recipe for a whole wheat cinnamon raisin bread is a great one for novice bread bakers and experts alike.  These loaves make great gifts; they also make a great treat for yourself if you don’t care to share.  Slice the baked loaves, toast, and top with your favorite, jam, fruit butter, or peanut butter.

Cinnamon-Raisin Whole Wheat Bread (makes two loaves)

Ingredients

½ cup tepid water

2 Tbsp. dry yeast

1 tsp honey (or sugar)

Pour the water over the yeast and sugar in the large bowl of a stand mixer and set aside at room temperature to proof for 5-10 minutes.  Yeast will get very bubbly.  While proofing, gather the rest of your ingredients:

1 cup water

1 cup milk (skim is fine)

6 Tbsp honey (or white or brown sugars are fine)

1 Tbsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour

2 cups raisins, any kind, in combination if you wish

3 cups, approximately, unbleached all-purpose flour

Method

Heat the milk and water together in a saucepan (or in a glass measuring cup in a microwave for a few seconds) until tepid.  Add the liquids with the honey, cinnamon, salt, oil, and whole wheat flour to the yeast mixture in the mixer bowl of a stand mixer* fitted with a dough hook.  Mix on low speed until combined, about 2 minutes.  Add the raisins, and mix for a few seconds until combined.

Add two cups of white flour and begin kneading the dough in the stand mixer according to manufacturer directions.  As the dough combines in the bowl, add only as much white flour of the remaining cup as necessary to make a dough that gathers in a ball and leaves the side of the mixer bowl.  If the dough is too sticky, add more white flour; too stiff, add a little more cool water.  Knead in the stand mixer for 6 minutes.

(*Note:  Dough can be combined initially with a wooden spoon and then kneaded by hand if you prefer, or if you do not have a stand mixer.  Instead of a 6-minute knead, you will need to work the dough for about 15 minutes by hand.

Put the dough into a well-oiled bowl, turning it to coat the dough with oil, and cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap.  Either let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, or place the bowl in your refrigerator to rise overnight.  Trust me, the dough will rise, even in the chill of your fridge. 

Oil or spray two 8 ½ inch by 4 ½ inch loaf pans with non-stick spray, and set aside.

When risen, whether that is the next morning after refrigeration, or an hour or two later in your warm home, punch the dough down and turn it onto a floured surface.  Knead for a couple of seconds to remove air bubbles.  Divide equally in two pieces, shape into loaves to fit pans, and place loaves into prepared loaf pans.  Again, cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap and let rise, either in your refrigerator for a few hours or in your warm kitchen for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

When dough has crowned about an inch or so above the tops of the loaf pans (if you have done a refrigerator rise, remove pans from the refrigerator at this point, and allow to come to room temperature for 30 minutes), place pans into the preheated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes.   A finished loaf will be evenly golden brown, and will sound hollow when removed from its pan and rapped with your knuckles on the loaf’s bottom side.

When done, turn the loaves out of the pans immediately and set on cooling rack to cool.  If you, like me, love warm bread, be patient.  Try to at least wait 10-15 minutes before slicing, buttering, and giving your bread a taste test.
 

2 Comments

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  1. Part recipe, part therapy for the cautious baker. Can't wait to test the waters of bread baking!
  2. freelance writer

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