First, a disclaimer or two. Yes, I know that white bread is the least healthy bread. Yes, I know that wheat gluten is an unpopular topic right now. And yes, I know that this is not the way your great-grandmother did it. I'll get to healthier breads in later posts. Right now, I just want to show you a recipe that I developed which consistently gets respectable results. Furthermore, the number of bread baking methods probably equals the number of bread bakers, so I'm just showing you what works for me.
Because I am using raw milk from our Jersey cow Dolly, I have to start the breadmaking process by scalding milk. Raw milk has enzymes in it that will kill yeast (I learned this the hard way before being educated about it), so this is a necessary step for me. If you are using pasteurized milk, you can simply warm it to about 110 degrees. To scald milk, I put it over fairly high heat until a scum forms over the top of it. You can see in the picture that I have the milk directly over the firebox.
|Scalding milk on the cookstove.|
Once the milk is scalded, it will need to cool for a while.
On this particular day, I was baking bread for Nancy and me, some family members, and some neighbors, so my goal was six loaves. I figure one cup of liquid per loaf of bread, so I measured--you'll learn that this is often a relative term for me--about six cups of scalded and cooled milk into our largest stainless steel bowl.
I then added three tablespoons of yeast (we use Fleischman's bulk yeast that is available at Sam's for a very reasonable price). I then added one cup of sugar and about three tablespoons of salt.
I stir this a little and wait for the yeast to begin to activate.
Once I can see some bubbles forming, I add one cup of canola oil. I used to use olive oil, but we were never happy with the flavor. I should probably continue to experiment with different olive oils to see if we can find one that we are happy with, but I just haven't taken the time yet.
Then I begin sifting flour into the mixture and stirring it in. We use All Trumps, a bread flour made by General Mills that we buy from an Amish store near Redding, Iowa.
When the dough has sufficient flour in it to look like it does in the next picture, it is stiff but still stirrable. At this point, I always beat it as hard as I can in order to encourage the flour's glutening action. Hmmm . . . my computer tells me that "glutening" is not a word. Sorry, but I'm going to use it anyway. Don't tell my students, please. "Glutening action" is what my cousin said when she was sharing tips with me about baking bread many years ago, and I'm going to "stick" with it--pun intended.
Why do I get the feeling that I'm the only one laughing?
You can see how the texture in the second picture is more smooth and elastic. I feel that this makes for better bread.
Once you've stirred in enough flour that using a spoon has become difficult, it is time to turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin kneading it.
Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to knead the bread and take a picture of the process at the same time without getting bread dough all over Nancy's camera, so I have no pictures of that process. Look for those on a later post about another kind of bread.
At any rate, for this recipe, I have found that I continue to knead and add flour until the dough no longer sticks to my hands as I work with it. Miraculously, the amount of time that this takes also seems to be the correct amount of time for kneading the dough.
Return the dough to the bowl, and spread a thin layer of shortening over the top to ensure that the outside of the dough does not dry out. In the beginning of my bread baking experiences, I never spread the shortening over the top of the dough, but I highly recommend this step for two reasons: 1) it prevents the dough from forming a crust that can retard the rising process, and 2) it prevents dense clumps from showing up in the final loaves, providing a better overall texture in the final product.
I then cover the bowl of dough with a tea towel and let it rise (pretty embroidery on the tea towel is optional).
Note: This tea towel is indeed clean, but the stains that you can see on it show that it has been used to cover bread and rolls many times.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and let it rise again.
Grease your bread pans generously while the dough is rising for the second time. Yes, I've heard all about how we don't need any extra shortening in our diet, but you don't want to go to all of this work only to have your bread stick to the pans. Few things are as frustrating, believe me.
Shape the dough into loaves and let rise until almost double. I say almost double because the loaves will rise a bit more once you put them in the hot oven. This phenomenon is known as "oven spring." You may want to prick the tops of the loaves to prevent air bubbles from forming just under the top crust. I put a thin layer of shortening over the tops of the loaves at this step, too.
You can see in the picture below that I had sufficient bread dough for not only six loaves of bread, but also a pan of dinner rolls.
|Bread rising next to the cookstove.|
I cover everything with a tea towel again and then start getting the oven hot enough for baking the bread. I like to bake this bread between 350 and 375 degrees. In the woodburning cookstoves that I have worked with, achieving this oven temperature generally takes at least 45 minutes, so the final rising time and the oven preheating time work out to be pretty close to the same. I'll talk more in a later post about oven temperature in woodburning cookstoves.
When the oven is hot and the bread has risen sufficiently, pop the loaves in.
I find that putting the oven rack on the floor of the oven usually gives me the best results. Please excuse the aging oven floor in the picture above. The stove has done a lot of baking.
Once the loaves have been in the oven for about 25 minutes, I take them out and put them on the top of the stove to finish baking their bottom crusts sufficiently. I don't put them directly over the fire, though, as the heat would be too hot and result in a burnt bottom crust. In the Qualified range in the house kitchen, I would always remove the oven rack during the last five minutes of baking and just let the pans sit directly on the floor of the oven to make sure that the bottom crust was baked enough.
|Bread baking in the cookstove.|
You can see the remaining two loaves beginning to bake while the first four are browning on the bottom a bit.
After the loaves are browned enough on the bottom, remove from pans to a cooling rack to cool.
Now where did I put that last jar of homemade raspberry/apple jelly?