The ingredient and technique information that follows pertains to all the master formulas in this book and will often be referred to in the text. Please read it carefully before beginning your doughs, and mark it for easy reference.
Flour: Most of the formulas in this book call for unbleached bread flour. Bread flour (11.5 percent or more gluten, a particular protein that gives the bread its structure and elasticity) is stronger than all-purpose flour (9 to 11 percent gluten and best for soft rolls, quick breads, and some pastries). High-gluten flour, which contains up to 14.5 percent gluten, is not preferred for basic all-white hearth breads (with the exception of rustic breads) because it makes the dough tough and chewy. It can, however, be used to good effect in combination with weaker flours such as whole wheat or rye. High-gluten flour should not be confused with vital wheat gluten, a pure gluten powder that is sometimes used in small amounts to strengthen weak flours. Vital wheat gluten is much more expensive than flour and is usually found in small bags at specialty and natural food stores.
When baking whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat bread flour, made from either hard winter or spring wheat and available from natural-foods and mail-order sources, is the best choice. Hard flour usually indicates a higher gluten/protein percentage. Spring wheat (i.e., planted in the spring) is often harder than winter wheat.
Unbleached flour retains its natural beta-carotene pigments, which contribute a pleasant though very subtle flavor to the bread. In bleached flour this pigment is chemically removed to make the flour as white as possible. While this may be useful in certain cakes and pastries, bleaching serves no useful purpose in bread and actually diminishes its flavor and aroma.
Some brands of flour, such as King Arthur, Giusto's, White Lily, and locally milled flours, are better than others, but these formulas will work with almost any commercial unbleached bread flour, and when designated, unbleached all-purpose flour or whole-wheat flour. If you have access to locally milled ingredients with a good track record, by all means use them. (See page 199 for more information.) I have an ecological preference for certified-organic flours, but I have not specified them in the formulas because they have not proven to make better bread and can cost as much as 50 percent more than nonorganic flours.
Salt: All salts work in bread baking, though some are ground finer and thus measure differently. The measurements in the master formulas are for regular-grind table or sea salt, though many bakers prefer the clean, rounded flavor of kosher salt. If you are using weight measures, all salt is interchangeable. If measuring by spoons, use 1 ½ to 2 times the amount of kosher or coarse salt as regular grind to equal the same weight. You will have to experiment by weighing out equivalent amounts and seeing how they relate and taste, depending on the brand.
Milk and eggs: I love to use buttermilk because it is low in fat and has wonderful flavor and acidity, but with the exception of the quick breads, the formulas will work with equal amounts of skim, low-fat, or even regular milk with very little flavor difference. (The buttermilk is necessary as an acid to neutralize the baking soda in the quick bread formulas.) When using eggs, always use large grade.
Temperature:Temperature, like time, is an important ingredient in bread baking. With the exception of water, all ingredients should be at about room temperature when you use them (unless otherwise specified). If the ingredients are too cold, a longer mixing time may be needed to achieve the desired dough temperature. This could oxidize the flour and adversely affect flavor. If the ingredients are too warm, however, you may have to shorten the mix time, which could be detrimental to the gluten development. Because the ideal temperature range for a mixed dough is usually 76° to 80°F, cool water helps control the mix time to achieve the proper time and temperature balance. (Dough temperature increases about one degree per every minute of kneading or two degrees per minute if kneading in a medium-speed mixer.)
Water: Regular tap water makes good bread as long as it is not overly chlorinated or hard with minerals. In such cases, use bottled or filtered water.
Yeast: As a "new generation" baker, I am partial to instant yeast. I have found it the most dependable of the three types. It is readily available in supermarkets, and it keeps for up to a year in the freezer. It is also more potent than other yeasts, which means you can use less of it.
Instant yeast works best in most breads if stirred in with the dry ingredients. The one exception is in dry doughs, such as bagels, where even instant yeast needs to be hydrated in warm water in order to fully activate, as there is not enough moisture in the dough to completely dissolve the grains.
Fresh, or compressed, yeast has a shorter shelf life, but many bakers still prefer it because it has a longer history (in other words, they initially learned how to bake with it, just as their predecessors did). Fresh yeast can be added directly into the dough without rehydration, though it will activate quicker if first stirred into lukewarm water.
Active dry yeast also performs best if rehydrated first. The grains are bigger and coarser than instant yeast, so they may not completely hydrate and fully activate if added directly to the dough.
The master formulas generally call for instant yeast, but any yeast will work if you make the proper substitution. The ratio is as follows: 100 percent fresh yeast equals 40 percent active dry yeast equals 33 percent instant yeast. In other words:
· Multiply the amount of instant yeast by 3 for the equivalent amount of fresh yeast.
· Multiply the amount of active dry yeast by 2.5 for the equivalent amount of fresh yeast.
· Multiply the amount of instant yeast by 1.25 for the equivalent amount of active dry yeast.
The formulas indicate both weight and dry measures. Professional bakers prefer weighing ingredients because it is much easier to vary batch sizes when using the baker's percentage system, which is based on weight. Weighing is also more accurate than scooping, since almost everyone scoops dry ingredients differently. However, when ingredients are in very small amounts, such as 1/8 teaspoon, dry measures are preferable. Most scales have a margin of error of about ¼ ounce and are not accurate at these minute levels. For this reason, you may find yourself using weight measures for part of a formula and dry for another.
For dry measuring using measuring cups or spoons, spoon the ingredient into the measuring tool to over-full and then scrape off the excess with a knife or spatula so that the ingredient is level with the top of the tool. Don't scoop the measuring cup into the flour or you will compress the flour too much.
For weight measures, excellent digital platform scales are available for $30 to $75 through cookware catalogs, as well as at many kitchenware shops. Classic balance scales, using counterweights on two platforms, are the best of all measuring tools and never break or wear out. Professional scales are too expensive for most home bakers, ranging from $350 and up. However, the Baker's Catalogue from King Arthur sells a small balance scale for about $90 (see page 199).
MIXING AND KNEADING
Although kneading by hand is one of the joys of baking bread, many people prefer to use a machine. If so, you may use either a mixer with a dough hook attachment or a food processor with a plastic or metal blade (see page 18). You may also use a bread machine for kneading only, and then shape the loaf by hand and bake it in the oven.
It is hard to overmix a dough by hand but easy to do so with a machine, so monitor dough temperature and cell structure closely when using a mixer or food processor. Most doughs are at their best when kneaded to between 76°F and 80°F, and just long enough for the gluten to develop (see page 29).
Kneading has three purposes: to disperse the ingredients, to hydrate the yeast and grain and thus initiate the fermentation process, and to develop the gluten or protein bonds that give the bread strength and structure. With kneading, most flours set up—that is, the gluten strands bond—within 8 to 15 minutes. If the dough gets too warm or is overmixed, the gluten bonds break down and the dough can be ruined. This usually happens only when an electric mixer has been left on for too long and the dough has heated up from the friction against the bowl.
To knead by hand, use the heels of your hands to press down and away for a couple of strokes. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Continue this as long as it takes for the dough to set up, which means the gluten/protein develops a strong elastic texture, tested by gently stretching a small piece of dough to see if it can maintain a paper-thin, translucent membrane or windowpane (see page 29). If the dough is sticky, flour your work surface and your hands. If the dough is too stiff, add small amounts of water or other liquid and continue kneading. Keep the dough close to you; reaching across a table is hard on the back. Hand kneading usually takes 12 to 20 minutes, slightly longer than it takes by machine. The ball of ingredients will change before your eyes from a coarse mixture into a smooth, soft, elastic, and springy dough.
These are the tools a bread baker needs, constituting a work station, or what professionals call mise en place ("everything in its place"):
[ ] Measuring tools (cups and spoons)
[ ] Scale
[ ] Mixing bowls
[ ] Rubber spatulas, plastic or metal scraping
tools, and large mixing spoons
[ ] A hard, stable surface for kneading and
shaping (wood, Formica, or stainless steel
are all acceptable)
[ ] Bread pans and/or rising baskets (wooden
or plastic molds such as bannetons; see page 30
[ ] Plastic wrap or plastic bags
[ ] Vegetable oil cooking spray
[ ] Dough (probe) thermometer
[ ] Sheet pans (preferably professional size—
16 by 24 inches—but only if they fit your
[ ] Baking stone, tiles, or pizza stone
[ ] Wooden or metal bread peel
[ ] Empty metal pan for creating steam
[ ] Spray bottle or spritzer
[ ] Sharp serrated bread knife
[ ] Sharp razor blade or lame (curved bread
slashing blade; see page 32)
[ ] Baking parchment paper (not wax paper)
[ ] Cooling racks
[ ] Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
[ ] Baking canvas (also called a touche; see page
30) or cloth napkin or dishtowel (optional).
[ ] Electric bread mixer or food processor (optional)
[ ] Cloche clay oven (optional; see page 27)
Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme™ Bread Machine Enjoy the delicious taste of freshly baked breads, cakes and more with a minimum of effort. This versatile baking machine prepares perfect traditionally shaped loaves of bread, fresh fruit jams and cakes. With its 13-hour programmable timer, memory settings for your personal recipes, sourdough starter function and crust control function, the Home Bakery Supreme™ is well worth owning. A large viewing window lets you watch the baking process. Its quick baking cycle prepares a 2-pound loaf of bread in under 2 hours.
Bread Machine Bread Bag Keeps machine-baked bread and rustic loaves fresh for days. Reusable to reduce waste. Liner included. Dishwasher safe, machine washable. Freezer safe. Made is USA. Lifetime warranty. 17 in.
Acacia Wood Bread Boards A handsome and useful service for bread, each of these mitered boards is sturdy enough for daily use. The baguette board is 26'' by 3-1/2''; the French bread board is 29-1/2'' by 5''. Bread knife sold separately.
Bread Pan Sturdy and even-heating, this nonstick pan bakes a loaf with consistent crumb and nicely browned crust. Also great for making pound cake. Safe for the dishwasher and up to 550° oven. 10" x 5" x 2¾" Limited 25-year warranty.
Chicago Metallic Nonstick French Bread Pans Each half-cylinder produces a baguette. Perforations allow air to circulate, resulting in two crisply crusted loaves. Professional gauge.
Bread Dough Tool If you're mixing your doughs by hand, this tool comes in handy for getting your mixture thoroughly blended.
Chicken-Shaped Cutting Board Handcrafted of distressed maple hardwood by J.K. Adams, USA. Hand wash. 11.5 x 12.25 in.
Epicurean Grooved Cutting Surfaces Environmentally friendly board is approved by the National Sanitation Foundation. Wood fiber composite laminate (Richlite®) is extremely durable, with a non-porous surface that safeguards against bacteria and staining. Inventive grooves catch juices. Safe for dishwasher and heat resistant up to 350ºF. Made in USA.
Global Bread Knife, 8¾" To achieve perfect balance, Global knife handles are manufactured hollow and then filled with just enough steel to achieve the desired weight. Unique materials and styling make it a great choice.
Dubost Olive Wood Bread Knife NEW Silky-smooth, beautifully grained olive wood handle feels natural in the hand. The perfect knife for slicing all your favorite breads from a crusty baguette to a chewy sourdough. Stainless steel blade. Hand wash. By Dubost, founded in 1920. Made in France. 10¾".
Rustic Wicker Serving Baskets Great for serving fresh baked bread or muffins. Handmade. Designed in New Hampshire.
Round Bamboo Cutting Board Extremely useful, as well as beautiful. Attractive wood grain from bamboo—a renewable resoure and the fastest-growing woody plant in the world. Thin-grain bamboo with stainless handles makes this a beautiful addition to your entertaining table. One-year warranty. 17 diam. x 3 in.
Chef'n Sleekstor™ Collapsible Measuring Cups NEW Expand for use, collapse for storage. Crafted of heat/stain resistant silicone and nylon with clearly marked measurements. Each set includes four cups: 1, ½, 1/3 and ¼. Top-rack dishwasher safe.
Heart-Shape Measuring Spoons Whimsical measuring spoons feature a feathered bow and arrow design on the handles and heart shaped spoons. 18/10 stainless steel.
Salter 1400 Nutritional Scale The perfect tool for conscious eating. Weigh food and calculate its nutritional value with this stainless steel scale. Provides analysis for over 900 foods, showing calories, carbohydrates, protein, sodium, fiber, cholesterol and fat. Memory button for cumulative nutrition totals. Great for low-carbohydrate diets! Extra large display. Add and weigh feature. Measures in pounds, ounces, kilos and grams, up to 6 pounds or 3 kilos. 9-volt battery included.