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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fresh Bread for the Weekend

Often, when I wake up early on Saturdays, I'll whip up a loaf of bread.

It's never very big, and it starts to go stale within two or three days, but it's nice to have for the weekend.

When it's super fresh and warm, it's awesome just on its own, or with some butter and jam. And, later, it's great for french toast, crumbled in salads or soups, or even just as toast.

Bread is one of those things which I've found to have extreme variation among my trials.  I can only assume - as an amateur baker - that there must be a high number of variables involved.  I mean, for something which is basically just flour and water, a great many things can impact the end result.  I'm starting to learn the effects of salt and sugar - there was a time when I would not add any sugar to bread dough - but the bottom line is that even very minute and subtle differentiation in your dough composition can greatly affect the turnout.

I'm getting much better at figuring this out, though.

I haven't had a total 'flop' in several years.  And the frequency of good loaves is definitely increasing.

Well... this particular batch had me a little worried because I swapped out some of the white flour for whole-wheat.  It all worked out, however, and I ended up with one of the better loaves I've baked.  It even had a low-ish crumb quotient.  

I would be interested in some sort of scientific, methodical, analysis of cause and effect on the (admittedly few) ingredients.  Like, I'm fairly certain there is some sort of relationship between sugar content and crumb quotient... but I have no idea how to quantify it.  Someone should do that, though... chart out the effect that increasing or decreasing each of the ingredients has on the bread.

Not me though... that would be painstaking.

ANYWAY... this one saw a bit more sugar than normal, and like I said - some whole-wheat flour in place of the all-purpose white, but otherwise followed a very similar recipe to what I've always used.

Which is essentially flour, water, yeast, sugar, and salt.  In that order.  Unfortunately (and one of the reasons analyses of my breads can never be all that accurate) I don't really measure these ingredients.  Perhaps I've stumbled on the above-mentioned 'high degree of variability' ??  heh heh heh.  No, honestly, the flour and water are carefully eye-balled even if they're not measured, and I do still use measuring spoons for the yeast, sugar, and salt.

The thing is, though, I was taught that the water and flour amounts were supposed to vary.  And, over many trials (and errors), I gradually figured out when the dough had 'accepted' as much flour as it could.  So... my process (this is probably terribly bad form, for any professional baker!) is to just eye-ball the flour and water at first, then add a (generally) fixed amount of yeast, sugar, and salt.  After that is mixed, I then judge whether it needs more flour or water depending on the consistency of the dough.  When you knead dough, it's going to take in some more flour too, and (again I was always taught that) this is a naturally-occurring 'equalizer' where the dough will automatically absorb as much of the flour as it needs.  That's why I'll always coat my kneading surface with lots of flour, even if there is no real danger of the dough 'sticking'.  Anyway... this is likely extremely poor technique, but it works for me.  :)

Anyway, I encourage people to tell me their own methodologies for bread-making!  From what I've read and seen, everyone has a different opinion on the best way to make bread!

Like I say, I'm assuredly an amateur, and even though I learned a recipe once a long time ago in school, my methodology nowadays is pretty much self-taught.  Oh sure, I've read other peoples' recipes and techniques, but I believe bread is tricky and difficult to duplicate results on.

So... while my breads are getting better with practice, there are never two the same.  Ever.

This one was pretty decent though, if I do say so myself: