Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Bit Of Baking

Since last July, when my Dad's bread baker went on the fritz and I watched him knead and then bake bread, I decided I wanted to give home baked bread a try. My goodness, about 75 loaves later, I'm still perfecting the loaf. I really enjoy baking bread!

It seems as though we go through more sandwich loaf type bread than anything else. Since I began baking bread Troy has toast each morning instead of his past usual Cocoa Wheats. Steve takes a sandwich to work every day, Tyler likes bread with his dinner and I eat bread once every few weeks as a fabulous sandwich or as my daily carb meal in my 'fortified' french toast recipe. (Bread soaked in 3 egg whites, 1 scoop protein powder, cinnamon, fried in Pam and served with sugar free syrup..oh yeah :)

In a perfect world, both the filling and the bread would be wonderful, but I, for one, would much rather have a so-so filling surrounded by superior bread than the other way around. Bad bread can ruin even the best sandwich, and good bread can make a bad sandwich better.

I have given up grocery store processed flours. I found a great mill in Middle River MN that grinds its organic grains. They ship to Maplewood's Alberts so I venture that way every few months to have my 6 gallon plastic jugs refilled with rye's, golden whites, whole wheats; fantastic. I only use organic ingredients and the loafs are so much tastier..and healthier.

A sandwich shouldn't be the last choice, it shouldn't be something you're forced to eat—it should be something you want to eat.

Organic peanut butter and whole fruit jam makes a marvelous sandwich or a great breakfast upon toast in the morning.

At times I enjoy the whole wheat artisan breads all alone without any toppings. I just want the flavor of the grain, of the yeast in a crusty cover. Yum.

Troy loves a grilled cheese on the white whole grain best. He likes his toast on the organic crusty oatmeal. I like leftover chicken breast with mushrooms and onions, a smear of real butter on the dark rye. Please, no margarine. If I'm going to do it, it will be butter, lettuce and tomato. Oh so good. Tyler likes pumpernickel rye with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo.

I have found that by baking three loaves of bread on Saturday or Sunday we can make it through the week, just eating the last pieces of the last loaf on Friday. I haven't had to freeze any loaves yet, but I am sure they will freeze fine.

The best loaf pans are made by Chicago Metallic. I purchased mine via Amazon. com and paid $11 per pan. I purchased two 1 pound pans and 2 1.5 pound loafs. I usually do grain breads in the bigger loafs, I have banana chocolate bread in the oven baking now, in the 1 pound loafs. These pans are guaranteed for 25 years and are nice and heavy, leaving a perfectly browned, crusty loaf. They bake evenly and they don't rust.

Temperature is very important in baking bread. It is essential to buy a cheap thermometer! I bought one at the grocery store for a few bucks. The loafs like to rise best at 74-80F, usually taking 2 hours for a double rise. If it is cooler than that the loafs take a lot longer to rise, but they will, eventually.

This is Troy's favorite for his morning toast:

Oatmeal Crusty Toasting Loaf

4 cups very hot water -150F (I heat mine in a tea kettle)
2-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 Tablespoon instant yeast (slightly more if using active dry yeast)
6 to 7 cups bread flour
1 Tablespoon Salt

Combine oats, oat bran, brown sugar, and butter in a very large bowl. Add hot water and stir until combined. Let sit until about 80 degrees F, about 30 minutes.Combine yeast with 2 cups of flour and stir into oat mixture. Continue stirring in flour one cup at a time until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a well floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes. Cover dough with the bowl and let rest for 20 minutes.

Knead in salt & old dough for 5 minutes or until they are completely mixed in. Sprinkle flour in the dough bowl, place the dough in it, liberally dust it with flour, and cover it with a damp tea towel.

Ferment (first rise): Approximately 1-1/2 hours if dough is at an optimal 74 to 78 degrees F. When the dough is ready, you should be able to push your finger deep into it and leave an indentation that does not spring back.

Divide and shape into three loaves, if you want a heavy, even covering of oats on your loaves, you can brush them with water and then roll them gently in a plate of oats .

Then place seam side down in greased loaf tins and cover with a damp tea towel.

Proof (second rise): Approximately 1 hour if dough is 74 to 78 degrees F. The loaves are ready for baking when you make a slight indentation with your finger in the dough and it does not spring back.

Note: this dough will not rise a whole lot while baking, so you want your loaves to be nearly finished size before you put them in the oven.Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until golden brown and bottoms sound hollow if tapped. Remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack. Try to wait at least 40 minutes before cutting into a loaf. Store at room temperature or freeze.

During the cold winter months I place my bread pans in the sunny window. If there is no sun I then boil a bowl of water in the microwave, placing pans into the microwave with the steaming water. I stick my thermometer in there to make sure it doesn't get too warm, killing my yeast.

Today was a balmy 45F! Crazy warm, my bread rose just fine in the window.

This bread is not a big riser. This is a great bread for toasting.

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