Monday, June 1, 2009

Good Bread

Living where I do, in Fuck Smith, as we fondly call it, and having come, as we did, from New Orleans (me) and Philadelphia/New Jersey (mr. delagar), the bread situation, as you can imagine, makes us sad.

Worse, mr. delagar's family were bakers -- had been bakers for the past five generations.  So the sort of bread that is available in Fort Smith, Arkansas, which is, even when you avoid name-brand whiteboy bread, spongy, waddy, HFCS crap.

So we have to bake our own, and did have to, even before we discovered the kid's corn syrup allergy.

Luckily, baking bread is not difficult.  No, really!  It's not!

Two rules:

(1) Use good flour
(2) Get the best stand-alone mixer you can afford

Well, okay, three:

(3) Don't forget the salt

(1) The flour I really like is King Arthur Bread flour.  It's sort of pricey, and not available everywhere.  They do ship, and man is that pricey.  Depends on how much you like your bread.  A good "Better for Bread" flour will do okay, but make sure you use bread flour -- you need the higher gluten content.

(2) Stand-alone mixers are way pricey.  We paid over six hundred dollars for ours, and we're academics, so, you know, not much money here.  (We paid three hundred for the one before that, and burned out its engine.)  You absolutely can make bread without a stand-alone mixer, and I have done it, often.  I made bread that way for years, in fact.  However (1) the product you get with the mixer is much better than the product you get kneading by hand and (2) my jeezly is it easier to knead with a mixer.  (I have no opinion on which mixer is best.  mr. delagar has very strong opinions, but he can get his own blog.  Right now we have a Viking Professional which I have been very happy with.)

(3) If you leave out the salt the bread tastes flat and bad.  But it's easy to leave out.  I put the box of salt on top of the box of flour so that I can't get more flour without seeing it.  That way I don't forget.

Also! Pre-heat the oven way before you think you need to.  Hot hot hot ovens make better bread.

Bread for Dinner

(1) Heat the oven to about 400 degrees/maybe 425

(2) Start with about a cup of really cold water.  Use good water.  If you live somewhere like Fort Smith where the water tastes like chemical and fish, filter it first.  The really cold bit is also important.

(3) Put the water in the mixer.  Add about a tablespoon of yeast.  (Buy your yeast in bulk, btw, if you plan to make lots of bread, and keep it in a jar in the freezer.)  Add about a cup of flour and a bit of blackstrap or other dark molasses (a bit is less than a teaspoon) and hit the lower speed mix -- about 2 on your mixer.  Use the blade, btw, at this stage.  And if you don't have/like molasses, you can use something else -- brown sugar, white sugar, barley malt.  You just need a tiny bit of sugar-something to help the yeast get going.  Mix for a minute.  

(4) Add in about a tablespoon of olive oil, the good stuff, and about a tablespoon of Kosher salt.  Add another cup of flour.  Mix some more -- about another minute.

(5) Now we're adding flour and mixing.  Add flour in 1/2 cup increments, mixing, each time, for about a minute, at speed 2 or 3 or 4.  I'm not telling you how much flour to add b/c how much depends on a number of variables -- how damp the air is, and how damp your flour was, other issues we don't know.  What you want is a good dough, and you'll add and knead until you've got that.  

(6) When the dough is a nice firm ball, switch to the dough hook.  A dough scraper helps for this bit, to scrape the dough off the blade.

(7) Add flour more slowly now -- like 1/8 of a cup at a time, or, as I do it, a tiny handful at a time, still mixing a minute between each addition.  Kneading is the important part of making bread.  You want the kneading to be thorough.

(8) When the dough feels and looks right, you're done with this part.  Now what does that mean?  Looks and feels right?  What's that mean?  Well, you know it when you feel it.  Sort of like a baby's belly, is the best I can do -- but not exactly.  Elastic, firm, not quite dry.  Practice will teach you, and, unfortunately, only practice will.  Luckily, there's a range of okay.  You don't need perfection at this stage.

(9) Oil it up with a bit of olive oil, cover it up in the same bowl you mixed it in, let it rise for awhile, an hour or so, maybe less, maybe more (heat, humidity, and how annoying your kids are will all affect how long it needs to rise).

(10) Grease up your baking sheet. (I grease with butter b/c I like how butter tastes.) Dump out your dough, beat the hell out of it (we're degassing, so have fun), then use your dough scraper to chop it into about eight equal parts.

(11) Shape these into the shapes you like.  Round for round rolls.  Long for bread sticks. Oval if you want oval rolls.  Square, I suppose, if you're into square.  Put them on your greased sheet.  Mix up an egg yolk if you're mr. delagar and paint them with that.  If you're me, paint them with olive oil.  Other options include water and salt, poppy seeds, maybe some onion bits.  Life is an adventure!

(12) Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise awhile -- about 15-20 minutes is enough.  Then bake in that hot oven for about 20-22 minutes, or maybe even 25.  When they smell great, they're done. Thump them if you're not sure.  When they sound hollow, they're done.

(11) Cool briefly on  cooling rack, eat with real actual butter, or in stew, or with hummus, or whatever you like, except that awful nasty evil margarine.  Don't put margarine on honest hardworking bread, you sinner.


1 comment:

  1. This sounds delicious. I can't wait to give it a try.