November 06, 2006


Last week Melissa in her new Lilting House, inspired by JoVE's post on meaningful work (who was in turn inspired by Melissa, but that does turn things into a funhouse mirror, doesn't it?), solicited bread baking advice and recipes, which turned into two posts, here and here, and don't miss the comments. And then those two posts turned into today's Impromptu Mini-Carnival of Breadmaking!

Since I didn't want to overload the comments section, I sent Melissa my thoughts in a separate email. Then I realized I had an almost complete blog post and just as I was thinking about fixing it up and posting it, lo and behold appeared the bread carnival, which couldn't be any more appropriate to our weather and imminent Thanksgiving preparations. So here it is, with a few small changes and additions (just to keep Melissa on her toes), and apologies for recommendations for those books which, as usual, seem to be out of print:
  • Yes, a big wooden board is just fine for kneading. If it's really big and heavy, it won't move. Just to be sure, you can keep it in place by putting a tea towel underneath (if dry doesn't work, just moisten it lightly). But don't knead for more than 15 minutes, which will make your bread tough.
  • When you go yeast shopping, you'll find regular old dry yeast and "rapid rise" which works without "proofing" (mixing with liquid); buy the first. You don't need rapid rise, regular will do; besides "proofing" is fun, quick, and counts as a science experiment for your kids. And when you buy the regular dry stuff, either in the little packets or in a small canister (more economical, even if you bake bread for only a few of the winter months), keep it in the freezer next to your coffee and popping corn to keep it alive and happy.
  • You don't need to sift flour, for bread (or any baking for that matter) if you measure it properly, which means never scooping directly with the measuring cup, but dropping the flour into the measuring cup and then scraping off the excess with the flat side of a knife. Voila, one less kitchen implement.
  • The fancy pans from Williams-Sonoma, Pampered Chef, etc. are nice but not really necessary. For example, stoneware pans when you have lots of lively kids and lots of helpers tends not to be the most practical material. Pyrex is nice because you can see what color the crust is on bottom, though glass (and enamel) pans need to be baked at a lower temperature and (along with dark tin and dull aluminum finish pans) gives bread a thicker crust. The nonstick pans may not be all that good for you and don't give a very nice crust. Of course, if you make free-form oblong or round loaves, all you need is your regular cookie sheet. If you don't have any bread pans and don't want free-form loaves, you can also use a casserole dish, a big coffee can, a cast iron frying pan, or even a clean flower pot. If you find you like this bread baking business, and you do it regularly, and you like the loaf shape for sandwiches, then you might decide to invest in several nice metal stacking loaf pans (and maybe hint for gifts of fun extras from places like King Arthur Flour, which I heard from my father over the weekend still does send free, beautiful, and wonderfully helpful and inspiring print catalogues. You can also see if you can find a supply of inexpensive baking pans at a nearby restaurant supply shop.
  • The whole rising process is perfect if you're homeschooling or farming; you can make your dough, set it to rise and go off and do something else. If you're longer than an hour, don't worry; the longer rises give more flavor and also make recipes using more whole wheat flour (or all whole wheat flour) more tender; you can let dough with lots of whole wheat flour rise for 6-8 hours.You can make the dough in the morning, let it rise until after lunch, then shape it (or punch it down and let it rise again) and let it rest for another hour or more -- good if you have rest time or readalouds -- before baking. Of course, it's ready around dinnertime, and the tendency is to gobble the delicious loaf with the meal, leaving nothing for breakfast. Which is why you want to bake at least two loaves. You can also make the dough at night before bed, let it rise overnight, and have it baked either before breakfast or lunch (you can refrigerate it overnight too if you wish). Bread dough is incredibly flexible and forgiving and not at all scary. Like knitting, which so many other home educating mothers do, and which I just can't seem to figure out...
One of my favorite baking cookbooks is the Harrowsmith Country Life Baking Book, edited by Sandra J. Taylor; that's where the following recipe is from, and just a note that it requires bread flour, which you can find at the supermarket (bread flour is great because it helps make sure you get a nice light loaf, especially important for the confidence of beginners). This is a nice basic loaf, good and simple for beginners.

Old-Order Amish Bread (makes two 8-1/2" loaves; if you want more, just double the recipe)

1 package (1 tbsp.) dry yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water
5-6 cups bread flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup oil (safflower, canola, sunflower, etc.)

Stir yeast into water and set aside for 5 minutes.

In large bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt, and oil. Add yeast mixture to flour mixture and blend well. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Dough should be elastic but not sticky.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead about 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl and rotate to grease top of dough. Cover with plastic wrap or tea towel and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

Punch down dough, cover again, and let rise again, for 45 minutes. Punch down and knead again. Divide into 2 pieces, shape into loaves, and place in two greased 8-1/2" loaf pans. Cover and let rise again until dough is 1" above pan rims, about 40 minutes.

Bake in preheated 400F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake 25 to 30 minutes more. Remove from pans and cool.

From the same cookbook, for Felicity fans, which includes my daughter and I think at least one of Lissa's; requires whole wheat flour, a little rye flour, and cornmeal:

Early Colonial Bread (makes two 9" loaves)

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 cups boiling water (you may have to help with this; it makes Laura nervous...)
1/4 cup oil
2 packages (2 tbsp.) dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
4 to 4-1/2 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour (bread flour makes a lighter loaf)

Combine cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in large bowl. Add to pot of boiling (boiled) water, and stir continuously (but gently) to prevent lumps. Add oil and set aside to cool to lukewarm, at least 30 minutes.

Mix yeast and the lukewarm water. Stir into cooled cornmeal mixture in large bowl, then add whole wheat and rye flours, mixing well. Add enough flour, by the half cup, to make a moderately stiff dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turn over to grease top, cover with tea towel or plastic wrap, and let rise in warm place until doubled, about an hour.

Punch down dough and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide in half, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape into 2 loaves and place in greased 9" loaf pans. Let rise until doubled.

Bake in preheated 350F oven for 45 minutes. Cover loosely with foil after the first 25 minutes if browning too rapidly.

If you decide to tackle larger amounts, I like this recipe from Mrs. Restino's Country Kitchen by Susan Restino; it doubles easily:

Whole Wheat Bread (makes 3 loaves)

In a small bowl mix:
1 cup water, room temperature
2 tbsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. molasses

Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until foamy. Then pour into a large bowl, along with
3-1/2 cups tepid water
2 cups milk
1/2 cup molasses (you can play around with reducing the amount)
1/2 cup oil
1 tbsp. salt

Mix in (but no need to knead at this point):
10 cups whole wheat flour (I grind our own organic wheat to make flour, but that's a whole other post)

Cover and set to rise or double in one hour. Then beat down and add, one cup at a time, beating after each addition,
7 to 8 cups unbleached white flour (or whole wheat flour if you prefer)

Knead and add flour as needed until the dough becomes smooth and workable. Knead an extra 10 minutes. Cover and let rise again, for 1 hour. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Grease 3 loaf pans. Shape loaves and let them rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 400F, but turn down to 350F as soon as you put the loaves in to bake. Bake 40 minutes. Remove from pans to cool 2 hours before storing.

Some more postscripts to my original postscript, though as rule I'm not keen on "children's cookbooks"; I think they can learn more from a regular, adult cookbook:

Loaves of Fun: A History of Bread with Activities and Recipes from Around the World by Elizabeth M. Harbison, with illustrations byJohn Harbison; I bought this last year to go along with our chemistry studies, and it's been loads of fun. I think this was a recommendation from Concierge at the sadly now-defunct Itinerary for Marlette & Giuseppe...

The Kids' Holiday Baking Book: 150 Favorite Dessert Recipes from Around the World by Rosemary Black, which I tripped over at BookCloseouts; breads, cookies, cakes, and more, for many holidays (though not Guy Fawkes' Day; if you want some wonderful Guy Fawkes ideas and recipes, visit Karen at lightingthefires, who was literally lighting fires yesterday in celebration).

And in closing, from the prolific Louis Untermeyer via my falling-apart copy of The Joy of Cooking,

"Why has our poetry eschewed
The rapture and response to food?
What hymns are sung, what praises said
To home-made miracles of bread?"

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