Saturday, November 21, 2009

Carbo Loading

I think I have something to make up for my lack of posts.

Homemade bread.

Yes? Yes.
I love the idea of bread-baking christening a new home, and I've kind of been putting off the bread-baking until I was ready to call this new apartment home. And it was finally time. I unpacked the third-to-last box the other day (those last two-- I don't know when that will happen. Later, for sure) and so things are feeling more real here. (mostly because there is finally room to walk around in our bedroom. maybe only four inches to walk in, but it's walking space nonetheless.) Anyway, I find the whole bread-baking equals home-making thing terribly romantic. And since I thought it was about time to make this place feel more like home, I finally did it. The recipe I have for homemade bread has been passed down for generations in my family, but . . . I don't really like it. (Gasp! Multiple female ancestors are turning in their graves.) It's too crumbly. So, it's fantastic and wonderful when it's fresh from the oven or if you toast it, but once it's cooled and sliced, it just becomes this crumbly mess. I need bread that can function for all my bread needs. So, I went searching.
Everything I found on the internet was geared towards bread machines. I'm sure I could adapt any bread machine recipe to suit my needs, but I didn't want my work to go into recipe adaptation. So, I pulled out a cookbook I got for my wedding (from Annie's family, actually). Lo and behold! A bread recipe that didn't require a bread machine. So I decided to give it a whirl.
The results were fantastic. The bread was firm and hearty without being dry or stiff. The flavor was light and fresh, with that wonderfully homey and chewy quality. It was delightful for plain old bread (for which I suggest you slice thinly), and it was even more delicious for toast, which I spread with peanut butter and eat every morning for breakfast.
After the first two loaves, I decided I wanted something a little meatier, so I updated the recipe a little to create a honey oat loaf (as opposed to the original plain white). I made this last night and ate this toast for breakfast. I am in love with this loaf. It feels healthier and heartier. I love the substance the oat flour adds to the bread. I'm excited to continue working on this recipe, but here it is for the time being. (P.S. All the pictures are from the white bread, not this honey oat loaf, which looks much more lovely.)

Honey Oat Bread
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Bridal Edition

6 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 oat flour (made by grinding raw old-fashioned oats in your food processor to a fine meal)
1 package active dry yeast (about 1 T)
2 1/4 c whole milk (I'm sure skim a fine substitute, but why not use whole when you can?)
2 T honey
1 butter
1 1/2 t salt

In the bowl of your mixer (with dough hooks attached), Combine 3/4 c oat flour, 1 3/4 c flour, and yeast.
In a medium saucepan, combine milk, honey, butter, and salt. Heat on med-low until warm and the butter nearly melts. In fact, I just noticed that the butter is supposed to nearly melt. I've completely melted it every other time, and it's been just fine. But not melting it completely would certainly save some time. Also, you don't want the milk mixture to be hot, as that would kill the yeast. It should be warm, but not hot, so let it cool a touch if you melt the butter completely.
Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and mix on low for about a minute, stopping in the middle to scrape the sides. Once it's completely incorporated, mix on medium or high for about 3 minutes. Return the mixer to low and start adding the flour gradually. Add as much flour as you can to create a moderately stiff dough. This usually means adding flour just until the dough pulls clean from the sides of the mixing bowl. Don't add too quickly-- you can always add more flour later if you realize it's too wet. Once all the flour is incorporated, turn the mixer to high and knead for 6-8 minutes. In my mom's words, you want to mix the heck out of it.
Kneading is an important process in bread-making because it allows the flours to release their glutens, which is what makes bread bread. It gives bread the right texture and allows it to rise properly. It's nearly impossible to knead the bread too much at this point, so just go to town. You know you're finished when the dough has a smooth, elastic texture. This is much easier to tell by hand, I find. So once I think it's ready, I remove the dough from the mixer and feel it. The dough should stretch without breaking and should feel smooth over the surface, without sticking to your hand. If it's not quite right, knead it with your hands for a couple more minutes. Once the dough has the right texture, form the dough into a ball shape and place it in a lightly greased bowl.
Cover and let it rise in a warm place until double in size (about one hour).

Once dough is double in size, punch the dough down with a single blow of the fist. Use your fingers to pull the edges to the center then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal parts, then cover and let it rest for ten minutes. At this point, you don't want to work the dough too much or it will become tough. Meanwhile, grease two bread pans. After the dough has rested, shape each dough half into a loaf shape, gently tucking and pinching into the desire shape. Place the loaves into their pans, cover, and let rise a second time in a warm place until double in size (about 40 minutes).

Bake the bread in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes. When it is done, the bread will sound hollow if you lightly tap the top. My bread took about 38 minutes, so don't be afraid to check it early. Immediately remove the bread from their pans and cool on a wire rack.
Be sure to eat at least one slice while it's still warm. I like mine best spread with unsalted butter and honey.

You can make the bread completely by hand or using a mixer. I've adapted the recipe to be made in my Bosch. I think making bread can seem really daunting, and as I typed this out, I realized that it is a very long and detailed and involved process. But, it's not difficult. I think the work is well worth it. Warm bread fresh from the oven is one of the most delicious and comforting things in the world.

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