There comes a time in any relationship when you make the choice to say ‘I Do’. It means you are making a life-long commitment. When it comes to baking as a relationship, learning to bake yeast bread signifies that same commitment.
Baking yeast bread is more time consuming, but not necessarily more difficult. Between the mixing and shaping, there is a period of time where the bread needs to sit idle. This is considered the ’proofing’ phase. Proofing is also another term for ‘rising’. It is when the yeast begins to feed on the carbohydrates, and release carbon dioxide. It is this carbon dioxide gas that makes the dough ‘rise’, or swell in size.
Once the dough has proofed, you need to handle it with care. Too much pressure, or handling it roughly, will cause the gases to escape. Once this happens, the holes in the crumb will be smaller. In most yeast breads, the object is to preserve the gases and create larger holes.
Yeast breads come in two different methods – batter bread, which doesn’t require kneading; and proofed (or risen) bread – which does require kneading. Batter breads are commonly used when making hot rolls, such as the one’s my Aunt Dot made. Biscuits and scones are also considered a batter bread, but do not use yeast.
French Bread – The Easy Yeast Bread
If you are looking for a frugal bread to make, you can’t find one that takes fewer ingredients. Traditional French bread calls for four ingredients – flour, salt, yeast and water. This is an easy yeast bread to make, but can be a bit tricky to get the traditional flaky crust.
Before you drive yourself crazy trying to get that crusty flakiness that most bakeries produce, let me tell you a little secret. That bread is baked in a commercial oven that is designed with a built-in steamer. It is the steam introduced into a very hot oven that creates that crust.
Most home ovens do not have this luxury. Instead, there is a way to introduce steam, but it still won’t completely give you the results you may be looking for.
Creating a ‘Steam’ Oven
To incorporate steam in your oven, there are two steps. The first is to place a pan on the lowest rack of your oven. Fill it half-way with hot water, and place your baking stone, if using, on the upper rack. (If using French bread or Baguette pans, you do not have to put your pans in the oven at this point.) Turn your oven on to preheat. As the oven heats, the water in the pan will turn to steam.
The second step comes once the oven has come to temperature. Crack the oven door, and using a spritzer, mist the oven several times, then close the door again. Ten minutes later, place your bread in the oven (either sliding it onto a baking stone if you are using one, or in the baking pans), and spritz the oven again.
In order to retain the steam build up, the second step must be done quickly. Have everything ready to go so the oven door is open for the shortest amount of time. Wait 10 minutes, and then mist the oven again.
The Recipe for ‘Commitment’
- 3-1/2 cups of All-Purpose Flour
- 3-1/2 cups of Bread Flour
- 4 teaspoons Salt
- 4-1/2 teaspoons Yeast
- 3 cups warm Water (approximately 100 to 110 degrees)
In a medium size bowl, blend together the two flours. Place five cups of the flour into a large bowl, . Add the salt and yeast, and blend well. Pour the water over the flour, and mix until well blended. (Using a dough whisk makes this step super easy!)
Add additional flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is still wet and becoming shaggy. Set aside. Flour a large board, and place the dough in the center of the flour. Add a dusting of flour to the top of the dough, and flour your hands.
With the heel of your hand, push into the dough, stretching it out slightly. Fold the dough over itself, then lift and shift the dough 1/4 turn. Continue in this motion, adding flour only when the dough becomes too sticky to handle (you will do this more frequently in the beginning, and fewer as the kneading process continues).
Knead for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough becomes soft. To know if your bread is kneaded enough, it will still be tacky, but a finger poked gently into the center will almost immediately release and the dough will become smooth again.
Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover, and allow to proof until double in size. This can take approximately 1 to 3 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
You don’t need to worry about a longer proofing time. More time proofing allows the yeast/carbon dioxide process to better develop the flavor and crumb of your bread.
Once your bread is proofed, gently turn it out onto a floured board. Using a sharp knife or a dough blade, cut the dough into either two or four pieces. Cutting it into two pieces creates larger loaves of French bread. Four pieces creates the smaller baguettes.
Very gently shape each piece into an elongated ‘torpedo’ shape. Gently lift the dough into a greased pan, or on a sheet that has been generally dusted with cornmeal (these will be slid off the pan and directly onto your baking stone. Cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size – approximately 1 hour.
While your yeast bread dough is proofing, preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and prepare you oven according to the directions above in the Creating a Steam Oven section. If you are using a baking stone, this needs to be done at least 1 hour prior to baking your bread – longer if you are using a thicker stone.
Right before you are ready to bake your bread, mist your oven, and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Very quickly, slide your bread onto the stones or pans onto the upper rack. Mist again, and then close the oven door. 10 minutes later, quickly mist your oven again, and then allow the bread to bake.
French bread is a smaller loaf of yeast bread, and usually takes approximately 15 to 25 minutes to bake. To test for doneness, your loaf should be a light to medium brown. Gently lift a loaf from the pan or stone, and flip it over. Thump the bottom. If there is a hollow sound, your bread is ready. Remove it from the oven and place on a rack. Allow to cool for at least twenty minutes.
The Patience Required for Yeast Bread
I know the temptation to cut into that hot loaf of bread and spread it with butter is ramping up. But you need to fight it and allow your bread to cool. Cutting into a hot loaf of yeast bread will allow steam to escape, and you may end up with a flat and heavier bread.
Instead, allow the bread to cool for at least twenty minutes. You have just gone to the time and effort to create a delicious and perfect loaf, so just be patient for a few more minutes. I promise – you won’t regret it!
You have now learned the art of baking bread as a relationship. You joined the party, did the meet and greet, and survived the first date. The second date proved to be so enjoyable, you followed through with the relationship, and made the decision to say ‘I Do’.
From here on out, using these simple tips and tricks can help you tackle most any bread recipe you want to create. The fear has been removed, and now all that is left is to start exploring all of the options of better equipment, more delicious ingredients, and practicing until you routinely reach perfection – from muffins to yeast breads.
Oh. But wait a minute. You have been practicing so much, you are finding that the loaves are starting to stack up like cordwood. What on earth are you supposed to do with all that bread?
Living Happily Ever After
Did you really think I would leave you hanging? No, I wouldn’t dare. The last and final post in the Baking Bread as a Relationship will help you find delicious things to do with all that bread, and really move you into that ‘Happily Ever After’ stage.
See you then!
If this is the first post on Baking as a Relationship that you have seen, you won’t want to miss the other posts. Catch up here!