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Friday, October 14, 2011

A Few Helpful Hints For Making and Baking Sweet Yeast Breads

Just mixed dough ready for kneading
1) Keep the dough as wet as possible, while still being able to handle it.
2) Don't stint on the kneading.
3) Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the bread. (190 degrees F)

Experience and practice are the best teachers, even when you have a guide ( a teacher or a recipe ).
Even failure, while daunting, makes you wise and able.
Dough kneaded sufficiently, ready for the first rise
      I am making stollen, a traditional Christmas sweet bread made in Teutonic countries like Germany and Sweden, and American style raisin bread. The softest most luxurious pastry style breads benefit from using the least amount of flour which can be added to the liquid, and still be handled. Always withhold some of the flour while mixing, slowly adding flour until the dough just begins to come together and clear the bowl. The dough should still be slightly sticky. Place the dough on a generous amount of flour on the work surface and begin to knead. The temperature and humidity in the room, plus the amount of flour already in the dough will determine how much flour the dough will accept. As the dough sticks, just clear the surface with a scraper, sprinkle with flour, and continue kneading. The dough should remain supple but not wet. Resist the temptation to make the dough look "perfect," in other words perfectly smooth. it should be as moist and sticky as possible, while still allowing you to be able to work with it. During the first rise, the dough will absorb the moisture ( on the cellular, microscopic level ) which no amount of kneading is able to force into the dough. The dough should almost triple in bulk, and a finger poked into the dough should produce a dent which does not spring back.
The dent which shows it's ready to punch down, and start the second rise
      When kneading by hand, allow 10-15 minutes of kneading. Diligence at this step will reward you with fine results. ( and it is good exercise ) Most household mixers are not designed for dough kneading. They come with a dough hook, but this is for mixing, which is an extremely messy job if done by hand in a bowl or on tabletop. The kneading of soft yeast doughs and certainly true breads will stress and even burn out your mixer, and kneading by hand conveys an encyclopedia of sensual information. It is an education in and of itself.
     The baking time given in a recipe is only an approximation. Again, the conditions which prevail in your kitchen and oven are the gospel which must be attended. Most every oven has its quirks, strengths and faults.
People often use a thermometer to check a roast, but if you use one to check the internal temperature of your bread, it will take the worry and stress out of the indecision which occurs sometimes at the moment of truth - the moment the bread is ready to be removed from the oven.

1 comment:

  1. I love stollen and breads of all sort, and even though I've eaten it all my life, it's never occurred to me to bake my own. Despite its ubiquity, its manufacture always struck me as mysterious and vaguely intimidating, as if it was a DVD or a the internet or something, which is a truly absurd attitude, now that I think about it.

    I agree that failure is an inevitable part of achievement. I was complaining once to a friend about my dismal early teaching experience, and was told: "You must expect to be humiliated." He was right (and so are you).

    If I do tackle bread, I will let you know how it turns out (for better or worse).