The day is always perfect, if your home is filled with the
aroma of a fresh loaf of bread. Before the recipes, let me take a few moments to
demystify some of the processes of bread baking. You need not be afraid of the
yeastie-beasties; they are eager to grow and help you. Do be certain that you
have bought yeast which is within the period of its freshness dates, because our
little friends cannot multiply, if they are dead. most of you will buy yeast in
packets or jars which are found in the baking supply aisle of the supermarket.
It is also available in the refrigerator section as small wrapped cubes. I like
to use the variety which is labeled as being fast rising, but any sort will do.
A word to the wise; yeast must always be "proofed" or tested before using.
Despite the freshness dates, it is sometimes dead on arrival. You will be very
frustrated, if you go through all of your mixing, and then the dough fails to
rise. Proofing assures that this will not happen. For this process, mix the
yeast with the amount of sugar you will be using (you must use some sort of
sugar, artificial sweetener will not work, because the purpose is to feed the
yeast not to sweeten the bread), the liquid (lukewarm, not hot) which you will
be using in the recipe, and a small amount of flour. If the yeast is alive, this
mixture will begin to froth and grow. If it doesn't, then go buy some more,
because that batch is dead.
Buy flour which is labeled for bread making. It is higher gluten than
all-purpose flour, and will give you a better rise. Do not attempt to make bread
using all whole wheat flour; it will be much too heavy to be appetizing. A half
and half mixture of whole wheat and bread flour will give a good texture. Ditto
rye flour. Gluten is the protein in wheat. It forms long fibers which trap the
gasses emitted by growing yeast; that is why bread rises. It is also why
shortening is called that. Shortening shortens the gluten fibers. Bread recipes
are all low fat, because too much fat would prevent rising. You can buy gluten
in health food stores and add it to your flour, if you like, but that is a step
better left to those of you with a great deal of experience.
A few words for those of you who like crusty bread, there is a process to be
followed. Do not bake the bread in a loaf pan; shape the loaf on a cookie sheet.
Place a large shallow pan on the floor of the oven, and just before baking, pour
boiling water into it. Do NOT fill the pan and then put it in the oven, or you
will burn yourself. The steam from the water will give you the texture you seek.
Steam ovens are used in commercial bakeries, and this is the home cook's
substitute for them.
For each loaf you wish to bake, mix 1 cup of lukewarm liquid (water, milk, or
fruit juice), 1 tablespoon sweetener (sugar, honey, brown sugar), 1/4 cup flour,
and one packet or cube of yeast. Allow this mixture to sit for about 20 minutes,
or until bubbles form and it is starting to grow. Add 1 tablespoon of shortening
(butter, margarine, or vegetable oil.) If you want to use an egg, this is the
point at which to add it to the wet ingredients. Mix 3 cups of flour with 1
teaspoon of salt (Do NOT try to bake bread without salt; it is necessary to
control the growth of the yeast), and any spices you might want such as saffron
for challah. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and mix thoroughly. the dough
should be SLIGHTLY sticky and elastic. You may need to add a small amount of
flour in order to achieve the right texture, but do not over knead or you will
damage the gluten. Place Saran Wrap or waxed paper (not plastic wrap) over the
bowl. Don't use a towel; it doesn't protect as well, and is hard to clean. Place
the dough in a warm spot to rise. About 80 degrees is best, and you will find
that the top of the refrigerator (outside it, of course) is just about the right
temperature. Let the dough sit for around an hour, or until it is doubled in
"Punch Down" the dough with your hands. This is the point at which you add
raisins, or anything else to it. Shape (such as braiding for challah) and place
it in either an oiled pan, or on an oiled baking sheet, cover with saran or
waxed paper, and set aside to rise a second time until doubled in bulk again.
Bake at 375 degrees for between 45 minutes and an hour. Bread is done when it
starts to pull away from the side of the pan, and a thump on top of the loaf
produces a slightly hollow sound. No matter how you are tempted, please do not
try to cut it when it first comes out of the oven. Allow at least 30 minutes of
cooling time. The fibers are very fragile when first baked, and you will have a
doughy mass, if you don't allow a bit of time for them to firm. You may multiply
this recipe as you like to make more loaves at once.
More Things to do with Bread Dough
Now that you know how to make a basic loaf of bread, it is time to play with it.
The formula for yeast dough can be varied to produce all sorts of things. There
are only a few hard and fast rules about dealing with it. First, ALWAYS proof
the yeast to make sure it is alive. Second, do not try to make it without salt,
which balances its growth. Third, for the same reason, do not use too much
sugar, as it is also a growth factor. Fourth, be sure to use at least half and
preferably 2/3 bread flour with a high gluten content. Fifth, do not incorporate
too much shortening in the basic dough, or the gluten fibers will be too short
to support the rise. Sixth, knead the dough, but do it gently. Too much kneading
will break the gluten. When you punch down the dough, do not knead it a second
time. With those rules in mind, here are some variations on the theme.
For a loaf with a "wholegrain" texture- Use 2 cups of cooked cereal in place of
the liquid. For example, Wheat or Oatmeal. For Potato bread, use the same
quantity of mashed potatoes.
For a darker colored loaf- Use Molasses as the sweetener. The combination of
Wheat and Molasses will yield a brown wholegrain textured loaf.
For heightening the fiber content- Do so by adding bran which has been soaked in
liquid for a while. If you want to use wheat germ, omit the shortening in the
recipe, because it has enough oil in it.
For a richer dough- You may use up to 4 egg yolks in a loaf, but omit the whites
and the shortening. This dough may be used to make brioche, if you mix in 1/4 to
1/2 cup of butter after the first rise.
For a sweet dough- use up to, but no more than 1/3 cup of sugar per loaf.
For a cake texture- Allow the dough to rise 3 times instead of twice.
For a yeast pastry- Make the dough without shortening. After the first rise,
roll it into a flat rectangle. Scatter small pieces of cold butter or margarine
over half the dough. Fold, roll, and repeat the above process 3 or 4 more times.
Then shape and allow it to rise before baking. The aforementioned method will
allow you to make Croissants and Danish rolls.
For a Coffee Cake, Babka, or Spiral Rolls- Make a dough using 2 egg yolks. After
the first rise, roll to a rectangle. Spread lightly with butter or margarine to
within an inch of the edges. Sprinkle with sugar (brown or white). At this
point, the possibilities are infinite. You can scatter nuts, rehydrated dried
fruit, or small spoonfuls any flavor of tinned pastry filling. (Solo makes
pareve fillings in many varieties) From the long side of the dough, roll into a
spiral. For rolls, slice with a sharp knife. Place the slices on their sides in
a greased pan for the second rise, then bake. For a Coffee Cake, place the roll
on a greased cookie sheet and form into a circle. A pretty touch is to make
vertical cuts through the top half about an inch apart all the way around. allow
it to rise, then bake. For a Babka, place the roll in a tube pan for the second
rise, then bake.
For rolls-After the first rise, shape the dough in any small form you like.
Place it in muffin tins or sides touching in a baking pan for the second rise
before baking. A simple but nice thing to do is to form the dough into balls,
dip the balls in melted butter or margarine, and place them sides touching in a
baking pan for the second rise before baking.
For doughnuts- After the first rise, roll the dough flat and cut it to shape.
Allow to rise the second time, then deep fry at 375 degrees, turning halfway
through. Doughnuts are not made from sweet dough. They are glazed or sugared
after frying. To do that, just shake in a paper bag filled with sugar, powdered,
brown, white, or cinnamon.