11,784 Bread Baking
For a while, I was baking our almost-twice-weekly loaf of bread myself using whatever recipe struck me from my bread baking book. All was well and good in the world, but then one day I just got lazy and decided that baking our own bread wasn’t worth the trouble and time involved. I believe this happened after a few loaves turned out less than optimal (probably because I rushed the rise and they ended up quite dense or undercooked).
Apparently, I get discouraged quite easily.
However, even though I give up quickly, I also have a short memory and throw myself right back into it. A couple weeks ago, I decided to give homemade bread a go again and promptly made 2 batches of ciabatta dough, resulting in 8 glorious loaves of the most wonderful sandwich bread. Ciabatta is very much my favourite sandwich dough since it has plenty of holes for grabbing fillings, tends to be just about the right size for a sandwich (squarish, depending on how you shape the loaf before baking), and has a nice soft crust and crumb that don’t cut open the inside of your mouth when you bit into it.
(Seriously, when did making sandwich with ridiculously hard and crusty bread become fashionable? I know it’s great for dipping into soups or eating with butter and sandwiches, but I really hate trying to bite around a giant sharp piece of bread that’s sure to make my mouth taste of blood.)
So this time around, with the bread baking, I’m trying to learn about the science behind it. There is something called a "baker’s ratio" that gives you an easy way to remember how much flour and water to combine to make your bread. You should note that I’m talking about measuring by weight here, not by volume. I think you can use the baker’s ratio to measure by volume, but using weight would be much more accurate.
Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio is supposed to be quite a good book for figuring these ratios out, and yes, you can apply it to more than just bread baking. (I don’t have a copy of this book; I’ve just read about it on the internet.)
Having a somewhat scientific mind, I like the idea of distilling cooking and baking down to numbers and ratios. For example, the recommended bread dough ratio is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. That’s a basic ratio that you would use to create a dough that you can knead and won’t be too wet or too dry. We’re not talking about the high-hydration doughs that are used in the no-knead type recipes. We’re talking about basic bread dough. For me, remember 5:3 is so much easier than trying to remember 450g of flour to 270g water and plus it makes it easier to scale the recipe as I please. This is important because sometimes I’d like to be anal retentive and make a loaf that is exactly a half kilo in weight, and I could do that by mixing 312g flour to 188g water. How cool is that?
Oh, is this only cool to math nerds?
Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get my hands on a copy of his book (probably either used or from the library) so that I can look through it and see what other recipes are interesting. I really just need a good hour at the bookstore and I can probably learn whatever I need from it.
One other thing I’m experimenting with right now is doing a cool rise instead of a room temperature rise. The basic idea behind baking bread is this:
1) Mix ingredients (~1 min)
2) Knead dough (5 – 15 min)
3) Let it rise to about double in size (1 – 1.5 hr)
4) Knead it again and shape the dough (5 min)
5) Proof the bread (a second rise) (0.5 – 1 hr)
6) Bake, let cool completely, and then eat
So as you can see, steps 3 and 5 are the typically the longest times that you just spend waiting for the dough to grow. What’s happening in these steps is that the yeast multiplies and grows, creating carbon dioxide that makes bread puffy and not flat. You know matzoh? That stuff has no yeast in it, so it’s really dense and flat. You can eat a few crackers of it and you’re full before you know it. Man, I love matzoh.
When bread bakers do a cool-rise, it’s to help the bread develop more of a yeasty flavour since it slows down the yeast production. I’m not a food chemist, so I can’t tell you exactly the mechanisms happening, but maybe you don’t really care either. All you have to know is, the longer you let yeast develop, the more likely it is to have a stronger flavour.
I decided to let my batch of dough do the first rise in the refrigerator overnight. I’ll experiment with another loaf next time and do the second rise in the fridge instead. I was going to originally do a second cool-rise, but I didn’t budget my time well and ended up putting the dough into the fridge after sitting out for the first rise for only 20 minutes or so. I hope this turns out well, because I like the idea of inserting an overnight or 24hr cool-rise when I bake bread as it makes the whole 3-4 hours process feel more manageable if you split it up into two days.
You just have to plan ahead a little bit and you’re golden.
I know that planning ahead isn’t everyone’s strong suit, but I guess it’s something I’ll have to do if I want to be a grown-up with a full-time job, plenty of time-eating hobbies, and the desire to bake my own bread.