Equipment That Contributes to a Perfect Loaf
A loaf of bread can be made in two ways, by hand or in a machine.
Work space is perhaps the most important consideration in making dough by hand, but the space need not be overlarge. An area 2 feet square is adequate for almost all bread-making -- assembling the ingredients, the mixing, the kneading, and the shaping.
All the loaves in my first bread book were made on a 2-foot-square Formica countertop between the stove and the sink, and on an 18-inch-square board in our trailer while traveling the United States. Later, when I built a new kitchen with two 12-foot work tables, I found that I still centered my work on a small space on one countertop.
Formica is a good surface, but it can be scratched with a knife or dough scraper. A table of maple is my preference, but it must be cleaned thoroughly after each batch of dough. And never allow a knife to get near it. It is not a cutting block!
Stainless steel is very good. While it looks cold and unyielding, for sanitary reasons it is the only surface allowed in commercial kitchens by the health departments of most cities.
The height of the countertop or table is more important than its composition. It should be high enough to allow the palms of the hands, arms extended, to rest on the top surface. If it is too low, it will tire your back; too high, you cannot push with force down on the dough.
By electric mixer:
An electric mixer with a dough hook attachment will take all the toil out of bread-making. And it does it just as well as by hand.
I have used thelarge-model KitchenAid (K5A) on medium batches of dough with great success. However, a large batch of dough may climb up the dough hook and work its way into the gears. Nothing stops it unless I force the dough with a rubber scraper to remain below the wide metal collar.
In the first steps of making dough, when it is nothing more than a batter, I use the flat paddle-type beater at medium speed and then attach the dough hook only after the batter or dough is thick enough to move with the revolving arm. The KitchenAid people suggest the dough hook for the entire process but I like to start with the flat beater.
A second machine in my kitchen is a Bosch Universal Kitchen Machine, a powerful mixer with an extra-large bowl and a clawlike kneading arm that effectively rolls and tumbles the dough. There is sometimes a point in the mixing process when the dough is slick and slides around the bowl rather than tumbling, but a little additional flour will correct this.
There are many other good mixers with kneading devices; however, don't attempt to mix heavy doughs in a machine that is not guaranteed by the company to handle it. Mixing and kneading puts a strain on small motors, and even my large machines will get hot during the few minutes it takes to knead a batch of dough. Do not use lightweight or portable or hand-held mixers because the danger of damage is too great. They are fine for batters no thicker than pancake mixes, but that is all.
By food processor:
In all the years that I have baked bread nothing has surprised me more than the ability of the food processor to knead dough in 60 seconds or less. I was late accepting the processor as a viable machine because I believed that only a long period of kneading would make a good loaf of bread. I was wrong.
I am not familiar with the dynamics involved but I do know that the force of the whirling blade, steel or plastic, is tremendous and can accomplish in a moment or two what otherwise would take long minutes.
The recipes in the book have been tested on one of the larger Cuisinart models, the DLC-7 Super Pro. It is a rugged model for the home kitchen and I know a number of chefs and caterers who use it as well.
There are a number of other food processors now on the market that knead dough. Some are small and underpowered and should not be used for volumes larger than suggested by the manufacturer. I also have one of the early Cuisinarts, a smaller model in which I prepare only one medium loaf at a time.
In my large machine I use a steel blade for 4 cups of flour or less, and a special stubby plastic blade for up to 7 or 8 cups of flour.
The sequence begins with some of the flour and other dry ingredients, including the yeast, processed with the liquid to make a heavy batter. As more flour is added, the batter becomes dough that is spun around the bowl by the blade. When the dough cleans the sides of the bowl, it is processed from 45 to 60 seconds. The finished dough should have a soft, pliable texture and it should feel slightly sticky. Stretch the dough with your hands to test it. If it feels hard, lumpy, or uneven, continue processing until it feels uniformly soft and pliable.
Food processor instructions for the recipes in this book have been adapted to work with the new fast-rising yeasts by adding the dry yeast to the flour before the liquid is added, rather than proofing the yeast separately, as is suggested by several manufacturers.
There is one problem related to making dough in the food processor that can be exasperating, but is easily overcome. On occasion the blade will stick to the center shaft, held there by a film of dough that has worked its way under the blade and onto the shaft. Once there, the heat generated by the whirling blade creates a bond that is difficult to break. If this happens, take out the dough and pulse the blade in the empty bowl several times. The blade should lift out. If not, pour boiling hot water into the bowl and turn the processor on for a few seconds. Voila!
Note: After having written so glowingly of both the mixer and food processor, I must explain that many of the batter breads in the book are done in a bowl by hand because it is hardly worth the bother of cleaning the blades and hooks and odd-shaped bowls of the machines. I like the bowl-hand method because mixing the batters is so easily done and washing up after is minimal.
Dough Knife or Scraper
One of the handiest implements in the baker's hands is a dough knife or dough blade. The French call it a coupe-pâte. It is a rectangular piece of steel (about 4 by 5 inches) with a wooden handhold that quickly becomes an extension of the arm when you work and knead dough by hand. It is great for lifting and working doughs that are sticky during the early part of kneading. A thin, flexible blade is better than a heavy, stiff one -- a 4-inch putty knife is a good substitute.
There are only a few doughs that need a rolling pin. My favorite weighs 6 pounds, has ball bearings in the handles, and rolls an 18-inch-wide swath. The graceful French rolling pin is marvelous for pastry and some bread doughs but too light for others.
Conventional Bread Pans
Don't discard your shiny aluminum bread pan because it doesn't brown bread as well on the bottom and sides as the dark metal or Pyrex pans. When you turn out the loaf and find it less brown than you wanted, put it back in the oven -- without the pan -- for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. The crust will brown nicely.
The silicone-coated (Teflon) pans are excellent -- they will produce a deep brown crust with no sticking. Equally good are those of black steel and stoneware.
Special Bread Pans
French bread in the classic shapes of the baguette, ficelle, flûte, or bâtard is baked in special pans or raised in baskets or between cloths and baked directly on the hot oven floor.
Copyright © 1995 by Bernard Clayton, Jr.
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OXO 6-in. Good Grips Scraper/Chopper With its wide, pressure-absorbing handle, the Pastry Scraper by Good Grips makes baking even more of a pleasure. The patented handle adapts to fit your grip, cushions your hand while you work and won't slip, even when wet. Superior stainless-steel construction ensures durability and strength. Dishwasher-safe.
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