Bread Baking as a Relationship: A New Meet & Greet

baking as a relationship - meet and greet

Now that you have arrived at the party, you find you are having a good time.  And then a friend introduces you to someone, and your heart takes an extra beat.  You like what you are seeing and hearing, and realize you are interested in getting to know them just a little bit better.

Although it is difficult to ask too much with all the other conversations swirling around you, there is an opportunity to gather a bit of basic information – their name, who they know at the party, where they work, and other generalities.  The more you learn, the better able you are to decide whether to pursue this as a potential relationship or not.  

When it comes to bread baking as a relationship, there are terms and tips you need to know before accepting an invitation to a first date.  In this Meet and Greet with bread baking, the goal is to list and define the basic terms of bread baking, and offer a few tips to help you get to know the process better. Being armed with those will help you move forward with each step you take in the bread baking process.

Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase I might make a small commission, but it does not affect the price you pay!

bread baking as a relationship - the meet and greet

Bread Baking Terms

There are so many terms associated with bread baking that all combined could warrant a dictionary of its very own.  To help keep you from becoming confused or overwhelmed, we will stick to the basic terms in this series.

In the future, when more advanced bread baking posts are created, any additional terms used will be defined.

Crust – the outer area of a loaf of bread.  It should be crisp, light to medium brown, and in some cases (think French bread) flaky.

Crumb – the inner area of the bread.  Depending on the recipe, this should be chewy and full of holes – from small (sandwich bread) to large (Ciabatta).

Mixing – the act of stirring two or more ingredients together.  When bread baking, this usually applies to dry ingredients, or wet ingredients – not both together.

Blending – when wet ingredients are combined with dry ingredients. Blending is stirring just long enough to moisten all the dry particles. It is done gently, not vigorously, and with just a few strokes of the spoon or dough whisk.

Folding – this occurs when you are adding additional ingredients to a batter or dough, such as fruits, nuts, and cheese.  Add the ingredients to your dough. Using your spoon or dough whisk, gently lift the dough from the bottom of the bowl and ‘fold’ it over the added ingredients.  Do this several times until the ingredients are incorporated throughout the dough.

baking bread series - bread proofing

Leavening – ingredient that causes the dough to rise.  With muffins, biscuits, scones, cornbread, etc., this would be baking powder, baking soda and buttermilk, or a combination of two or more.  In yeast breads, this would be the yeast and/or starter.

Kneading – consider this the ‘deep massage’ of your dough.  Using the heel of your hand, push forward on the dough. Fold the dough in half, turn it one-quarter of a turn, and repeat.  Usually this needs to be done for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, until you can gently poke the top of the dough with a finger, and the indentation will rise back up and disappear.

Sticky – when the dough sticks to your dry finger and it is not easily removed, your dough is considered ‘sticky’.  A sticky dough is usually required when you are creating a bread that needs larges holes in the crumb, such as Ciabatta.

Tacky – If the dough sticks to your dry finger, yet peels off easily, this is considered a ‘tacky’ dough.  Most bread dough should be tacky, rather than sticky.

Rising – once the bread has been kneaded, it is set aside for a length of time to allow the yeast in the dough to activate.  Activation occurs when the yeast feeds on the carbohydrates and releases carbon dioxide gas which causes the dough to rise.

Proofing – this is a term used synonymously with ‘rising’.  It originated with brewers, who would pour a small amount of beer into flour.  If the flour began to rise, then the beer was considered good. 

Fermenting – another term for rising and proofing, but is commonly used for a slower, cooler rising – or proofing- time.  Fermenting helps to increase the flavors in breads.

Starters – there are quite a few bread starters, and each have their own uses and personality.  A ‘natural yeast’ starter is often a mixture of flour, water and sugar, which is traditionally left on the counter to absorb natural yeasts in the air.  It is fed on a regular basis in order to keep it active. 

Starters can also be called a ‘sponge’ ‘Biga’ ‘Poolish’ and more.  Some starters, such as Biga are pieces of dough made a day or two before, and added to the bread dough you are creating today.  Using this type of starter is a more advanced (although still easy) technique and will be used in future posts. For this series, we will focus on natural yeast breads that require periodic feeding.

bread baking as a relationship - kneading dough

Bread Baking Tips:

Kneading

When kneading your bread dough, do not over-flour your board or work surface.  The act of kneading incorporates more flour, and too much will make your loaf heavy.  If the dough sticks to the surface, use a dough blade to loosen and fold the dough over itself.  Your bread should become smooth and somewhat ‘tacky’, but not wet and sticky.

Using a Scale

When bread baking, you want your measurements to be as accurate as possible.  Using a scale works best for this.  Although a measuring cup usually equals 8 ounces, one cup of flour can easily be lighter or heavier.  Different types of salt (table, sea, kosher) also measure differently. 

With that said, the recipes in this series uses measuring cups and spoons, and the amounts have been weighed and measured to get as close as possible to accuracy.  It does not harm your final product to measure, rather than weigh.  Just be more aware of the amount of flour you use for kneading when creating yeast bread.

baking stones for bread baking

Stoneware

In any relationship, there comes a point when it becomes serious, and no other person is introduced or added to it.  When you are in a relationship with bread baking, one piece of equipment strongly demands monogamy, and that is stoneware.

Stoneware is a porous unglazed clay fired to extremely high temperatures. The pores allow steam to escape, which in turn creates the crispy crust usually desired. 

However, those pores will also allow absorption to some degree.  So, if you bake meatloaf in your stoneware baking pan, there is a chance the grease from the cooking meat will leach into the pores.  If you then bake bread in the same loaf pan, chances are you will have a meatloaf-flavored bread.

Using the same principle, stoneware should never be washed with soap and water.  Instead, rinse it out with warm to hot water, and scrape off any bits of bread that stick. 

To help keep sticking at bay, grease your pan well before filling.  Use a solid, unflavored vegetable shortening, which aids with the seasoning process, and does not alter the flavor of your bread.

Over time, your stoneware will season and begin to turn brown and appear glazed.  This is a good thing.

Stoneware comes in many forms.  It can be a traditional loaf pan, a casserole-type dish, or a flat stone in a circle, square or rectangle. There are also flat stones that can be placed together in your oven to create an outdoor bread oven environment.

If you choose this route, make certain you use food-grade stoneware only.  Some quarry and other tiles that state they can be safely used actually cannot. There are chemicals in them that leach out with heat, and can be harmful.

If you use the flat round, square or rectangle tiles, place them in a cold oven, and then turn the heat on. Allow them to heat gradually to prevent them from cracking or breaking.  Once the oven has heated to the appropriate temperature, scatter the stone with a generous dusting of cornmeal and use a bread peel to gently slide your bread onto the stone.

The cornmeal keeps it from sticking.  If you are using a brand new stone, it may be necessary to use a heavier dusting of cornmeal, or lightly grease the stone before placing it in the oven.

tips for mixing breads

More Tips:

  • Warm your yeast to the temperatures recommended in the recipe. Too cold, and it will not activate.  Too hot and it will die.  Yeast will die at 139 degrees.
  • Mixing Yeast Bread dough – Mix only long enough to blend.  Over mixing can affect the flavors and texture of your bread.
  • Take it slow.  Learn everything you can about the process.  Embrace the failures of bread baking as a learning curve. EVERYONE fails at some point when learning to bake bread.
  • Use your senses: touch, sight, smell, taste.

Now that we have a few of our questions answered, we are eager to go on our 1st Date.  It is time to get prepared for the Second Date.  Still have a few questions before we move forward? Just ask them in the comment section below, or send me an email at julie@thefarmwife.com.  I will be happy to help you any way I can!

Did you Miss the Party?  No worries!  You can get a recap here!

Baking as a Relationship – Join the Party

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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