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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tip of the Week … Bread Making

Unless you begin with good, active, yeast all the tips in the world will do you no good. If you are unsure how long you have had your yeast or if you haven’t used it in a while then test it before getting started. Place a 1/2 cup of warm water, 110º to 120º in a small bowl. Sprinkle with a 1/4 tsp. of sugar and 1/4 tsp. yeast. If the yeast begins to bubble then you are good to go, if not run to the store for new yeast. I like to purchase yeast in large, vacuum sealed, blocks and store it in my freezer until I open it. Then I keep it in a plastic covered container in the fridge.
Next, be sure the water you other liquid you use in your recipe is not too hot. Use a candy thermometer to test the water until you get used to how it should feel. If it is too hot to put in a bottle and feed a baby it is too hot. Remember that all hot liquids can kill your yeast so if a recipe calls for melted butter let it cool before adding it. With a little practice this will become second nature.
When the water is ready add part of the sugar (about 2 Tbsp.) to the water and then the yeast. Sugar will feed the yeast in a process called proofing. If your recipe calls for adding the yeast and flour together without proofing that is fine too. That recipe has been designed for a longer rising period.

For a lighter textured product try adding mashed potatoes or use the water you have boiled potatoes in as your liquid. Yeast loves potato causing it to eat more and become bigger, making the bread lighter and fluffier.

Never add salt with your yeast and water because the salt will kill it. If you salt is part of the recipe mix it with the flour and don’t add it directly to the liquid and yeast mixture.
Begin with all your ingredients at room temperature.
Never add all the flour a recipe calls for. This is probably the biggest mistake I see people make. Your dough should be sticky. If the dough remains very sticky after it raises you can place more flour on the surface of your counter and knead in some more. Still your bread should remain slightly sticky or you will end up with a dense, heavy bread.
Once your dough is ready knead away. You can’t knead bread too much. I have a friend how owned a restaurant and had a large industrial mixer. She would put her dough in there and knead it as she did dishes or other things around the house, easily 15-20 minutes. You don’t have to do this but don’t worry that you have overdone. Knead until it is very smooth and elastic.
Let your dough rest and raise until about double in size. Place in a bowl and cover with a dish towel. On cold days I turn on the oven to warm, wait until it reaches temperature and turn it off. Then I place my bowl in the oven with the door slightly ajar and let it raise. If there is a fire in the fireplace I place my bowl on the hearth.
Place your dough into a loaf pan or form into a round or oblong loaf and place on a baking sheet. Let it rise again until it is about double in size again. Be patient. They say you should press your finger into the center and if the dough pops back you are ready but I never have done this. If it looks double or a little less I bake it.
If your bread is getting too brown, cover it with foil and continue baking. If you thump on your loaf and it sounds hollow, it’s done.
When you freeze or store your finished loaves be sure to wrap them well. Wrap in plastic wrap and then in foil. Bread can lose moisture.
Most bread doughs can be frozen. Mix and knead as usual and let them rise once. Shape into loaves, or rolls. Let them rise, punch down and form into loaves or rolls. Place on cookie sheet and let freeze. Place in zippered freezer bag, squeeze out the air and place in freezer. Roll will not stick together.
When you want bread remove from freezer and place in appropriate baking pan. Let rise and bake as you normally would. It will take hours for them to rise so plan well ahead of your meal. Rolls usually take about four hours and bread about six. Bread will keep in the freezer for about six month before the yeast begins to deteriorate.
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