New Year’s Breadsolution: Your Guide to Making the Best Bread in 2014
Fresh on the heels of a look back at 2013 it’s time to look ahead to 2014! Perhaps you have resolved to learn a language, or run a marathon, or volunteer once a week. Or, perhaps you would like to start baking your own bread! Over the past few months I’ve talked with several friends about baking their own bread and a few weeks ago my friend Xin (who has recently booted up her fantabulous blog Hungry but Half-assed again) texted me “I want to bake a whole wheat sourdough”.
This was exciting for me and also brought up a challenge I had experienced when I started making bread: I had bread goals I wanted to meet but didn’t know the steps to get there. And when I went looking for information, I had to pull together each step from a different place. There didn’t seem to be a comprehensive ‘Couch to 5K’ type guide for bread. Then I realized I now had the information and the platform to put together such a guide! So here is your Bakers & Best guide to baking whatever bread you might want; from a basic (but delicious) sandwich loaf to an artisan whole wheat sourdough, and everything in between. Much of this information has been filed away into a new ‘Breaducation’ section I’ve added to the top of the blog to make it more easily accessible.
Before you make your first loaf I’d recommend reading up just a bit on yeast, kneading to kneading section), and shaping, scoring, & baking. This will give you a good foundation for understanding what is going on inside your bread and demonstrates a few choices you can make about how you make your bread.
Your First Loaf
I think sandwich loaves provide for a great first loaf; they don’t take long to make, the techniques are simple, and you can make so many varieties.
I recommend starting off with my Lazy Sunday sandwich loaf, a basic light whole wheat bread. Other favorites of mine include sesame oat and semolina loaves. If you’re feeling adventurous pick up some rye flour and make a marbled loaf, or add in some flavoring like pesto and sundried tomatoes.
Preferments and Soakers
Certain breads require a bit more time than the roughly 4 hours it takes to make a sandwich loaf. In particular, breads with large percentages of whole wheat flour and whole grains often make use of preferments and soakers. A preferment is a portion of the dough that is made ahead of time, typically mixing flour, water, and a tiny amount of yeast. A soaker is similar, but involves no yeast, just water and flour.
There are several reasons why using these can lead to better breads. First, whole wheat flour absorbs more water than white flour. The extended hydration period before kneading allows the dough to be fully hydrated and helps gluten formation. This process, hydrating flour before mixing additional ingredients, is known as an autolyse. Enzymatic reactions that take place when the dough is hydrated help the formation of gluten strands and make them more receptive to kneading later on. Preferments can add a deeper flavor to breads and soakers are often used for breads with whole grains to help soften them before kneading and baking. You can read up here more on the properties of different types of flour, including whole wheat.
Baguettes and oven steam
The Shape, Score, & Bake section discusses the reasoning behind using steam in the baking process. Put this information to use in making baguettes! It can take some time to get the shaping technique right, but lucky for you it means you get lots and lots of tasty baguettes as a result! My second post, asiago and herb garlic bread is another delicious way to experiment with oven steaming.
Dough Hydration and Baker’s Percentages
Understanding baker’s percentages and dough hydration will allow you to easily adapt recipes based on certain factors and create new ones. Check out this section to learn more about it, and then give some of these breads a try!
Bagels are a very stiff, low hydration dough while herb oil focaccia has a higher hydration that makes for a very wet dough. The sandwich breads you made in the first section are right in the middle, as are things like these hamburger buns. These can take some practice on learning how to handle, but don’t give in to the temptation to just add more flour.
Do you have a sourdough starter ready to use? If not, check out the Sourdough Starter: Creation and Care section before jumping into this last part.
Ok, ready now? I’d recommend trying out the honey oat sourdough and sourdough pizza crust first; they both use a sourdough starter but have elements very similar to other recipes. If you’re looking for things to make with your sourdough discard, check out these chocolate sourdough muffins or give waffles a try.
Feeling confident? Why not move on to something a little more involved, like a sourdough boule? Perhaps a sesame semolina, or that whole wheat sourdough? Find flavor combinations you like that compliment the taste of the sourdough (maybe bacon and caramelized shallots?).
Tonight it is projected that the temperature will be -44 F with the wind chill, meaning a 110 F degree difference between our apartment and the outside. What better time to fire up the oven and bake some bread!