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Bread-Making Advice

A brewing friend who enjoyed my homemade bread wrote to ask for bread making advice. The following long email followed. (Names and places have been changed.) FYI: I have been baking bread all my life: Since I was ten years old. Also, I use a lot of brewing ingredients in my bread.


Hi JoeBoy,

The basic bread recipe (in American measurements) is:

3 cups flour
1 cup liquid
2 tsp sea salt (less if small grained table salt)
1/2 to 2 tsp dried yeast

That said, here are some variables/ advice:

1. Use "instant" dried yeast. The granules look like little logs instead of little balls. Then you don't have to rehydrate, and you can just toss into the flour mix.

2. Flour will include mostly unbleached white flour. Don't go over 1 cup of "weird" flours, and the first time stick to 1/2 cup or less of "weird" flours. In your bread that you took on the road, the "weird" flours your wife and I used included whole malted rye kernels, pale 2-row malted barley put through a flour mill, potato flakes, instant sourdough flavor, malt extract powder, 75L crytal malt chopped in the blender, and possibly others, like some oat bran. (We were in a bit of a hurry to meet up with you, so we didn't measure anything). Additional "semi-weird" flours that we added to that loaf included gluten flour (for if you use a lot of barley and non-wheat ingredients) and about a 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour. All in all, we used one whole cup of "weird and semi-weird" flours, which was really too much! I should have stopped us at 1/2 cup, especially with all the non-wheat ingredients, but your wife and I were having too much fun throwing small bits of stuff in the measuring cup.

3. The more non-wheat "weird flour" you use, the longer the bread will take to rise and to cook!

I have learned to stay away from true "weird flours" like oat flour. Those flours need to absorb tons of liquid, and then the bread takes forever to cook. If I wanted oats, I would cook up some oatmeal, and add 1/2 cup of that to the dough. The oatmeal becomes your 1/2 cup of "weird" flour then.

4. Liquid could be almost anything. Your travel loaf used a cup of whey from the Mozzarella we made. Often I'll use beer, and of course the flavor of the beer will impact the flavor of the bread.

One stunning loaf, that is quite simple but very flavorful, is to pull both some first wort and some spent grain from an interesting batch of beer. Then be sure to cut the first wort 1/2 and 1/2 with water. (ie: 1/2 cup of first wort and 1/2 cup of water.) Non-chlorinated water is best for the yeast. We have a filter on our water faucet to take the chlorine out. Then use 1/2 cup of spent grain, and the rest would be 1/4 cup of gluten flour (to make up for the lack of glutens in the barley) and 2.25 cups of unbleached white flour. Great loaf!

I have tried lots of strange liquid combinations (I've been baking bread since I was 10 years old, so that's 38 years!) Once I tried 1/2 apple juice and 1/2 milk. It curdled and I guess I was making cheese but I didn't know it.

Whichever liquid you choose, put it in a coffee cup and "nuke" it in the microwave until it is bathwater hot. Stick your finger all the way into it. If you can keep it there comfortably, then the yeast will be comfortable too.

5. I prefer sea salt because the additional minerals cuts the salty taste while adding additional flavor. FYI: Salt is a yeast inhibitor, but it is required for flavor. Also, the more salt you use, the crustier the crust. Better to have a crusty crust and use unsalted butter, in my opinion.

6. Ah... the yeast! The less you use, the better the bread texture and the longer the bread will stay fresh unwrapped. However, the less you use, the slower the rise. I have started with 1/4 teaspoon, and let the bread go for several days. It takes on a bit of sour flavor from natural yeasts and friendly bacteria in the air, which I like the flavor of. If you are in a hurry, of course you'd have to start with more yeast. More yeast means less generations, which means the yeast is "lazy" and you don't get as good of a texture and the bread goes stale faster.

When I cut my bread, I place the bread cut-side-down on the counter top. I don't wrap in plastic because that will cause the crusty crust to go soft and tough and chewy. I like a longer ferment so I can do this without the bread going stale too soon.

6. Other special ingredients include Instant Sourdough Flavor from http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/detail.jsp?id=1575

7. If you want to experiment with true sourdough cultures, like my white sourdough bread you had at our house, you would want both of these:
The book: http://sourdo.com/book.htm
Original San Francisco culture: http://sourdo.com/culture.htm

I think our friends, Flip and Flop, are interested in true cultures as well. At the GABF last year, I gave Flip the URL for this website and told him to look up a culture that can handle heavy rye breads well. Flip was interested in attempting a 100% barley bread. I can tell you it won't rise well without wheat glutens (proteins), but he could try it with lots of gluten flour.

I recommend you start with a simple bread and shoot for success with the yeast first. Then start experiementing with more "weird" flours, etc.

8. Mixing: The simple version is to mix your dry stuff in a bowl, make a well in the center, then pour in your warm liquid. Mix, knead, set aside to rise (covered), knead again, shape put in bread pan, grease and cover to rise again, then bake.

The more complex version works better as it allows the "weird" flours to absorb the extra moisture they need to absorb. We did the simple version on your travel loaf as we were short on time. The more complex version is to make a "sponge:" In one bowl put 1.5 cups of your flours, including all your "weird" flours. Add the yeast, but NOT the salt. Make a well and add all the liquid. Stir hard until the batter looks stringy. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. (Sometimes I let it sit overnight like this. I always let the bread tell me when it is ready to be baked. I never *normally* try to rush it or give it a schedule.)

After the sponge has absorbed the liquid for 20 minutes, take a separate bowl. Put in 1.5 cups of unbleached white flour (the second half of your flour allotment), 2 teaspoons of sea salt, and mix them together. Then add this salty flour to your stringy bubbly sponge. Stiring gets hard as they pull together into a ball. Turn the mess onto the countertop and try to knead in the salt-flour. Knead it into an elastic ball. Put into a greased bowl and cover. (I have a Rubbermaid bowl with lid that I use. I spritz olive oil spray in the bowl, drop the dough ball in, turn the dough to cover in oil, and then put the lid on.)

Leave until the dough had about doubled. No need to be too accurate, but it should puff up a lot. The amount of time this takes depends on the amount of yeast used, and the ambient temperature of the room, and the ingredients, etc. Punch down, knead again, then put it in a greased bread pan (if you want to use a pan), and let rise till about double, then bake.

9. Baking: I have a complicated method of baking that I learned from this book, http://www.amazon.com/English-Bread-Yeast-Cookery-Library/dp/0140299742/ref=pd_bbs_10?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221857802&sr=8-10

The author, Elizabeth David, is British, you I'm sure you can pick up a used 1970-1980 edition of this book for cheap. I will attach my very complicated Bread Class handout (which I sorely need to rewrite so it is not so complicated).

The bottom line on baking, is to bake at about 350-425 degrees Fahrenheit until the interior of the bread reaches 195-205 degrees F. (200F +/- 5 degrees). The bread will take 30-60 minutes, depending on temperature, ingredients, etc.

10. One more book to recommend. It's not necessary, but if you like reading about fermented foods, this book talks about bread, beer, cheese, and even fermenting food from petroleum! An interesting book I picked up while at University. I reread it two years ago. I remember it made me want to ferment a beer with bleu cheese culture!

http://www.amazon.com/Microbes-Our-Unseen-Friends/dp/0814315615/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221859606&sr=8-2

JoeBoy, I know I made it sound more complicated than it probably needs to be, but I hope you enjoy the science of it. Have fun and tell me how it turned out!

Cheers, Teri

Attachment of Bread Class Handout.


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