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Last week, we took a look at the differences between conventional bread and organic bread. The lower price of conventional bread also includes chemical dough enhancers, preservatives, and other “junk” you wouldn’t normally choose to eat. Organic bread uses organic ingredients and leaves the “junk” out.
The trade off is a higher cost and shorter shelf life. Don’t want to spend $5+ on a loaf of bread? Then let’s make our own! We’re going to learn how to make two basic recipes: a basic sandwich bread and a crusty artisan-style bread.
The Science of Bread Making
Disclaimer: I am not a master baker, not even an ametuer baker. I like baking, have learned the basics from some good sources, and taught myself some more lessons along the way. The goal of this article is to encourage you to try making your own bread and (hopefully) pass along some knowledge to help make it as fun as possible!
There are four key players in bread: wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt.
Wheat flour – provides the structure for a great bread and feeds the yeast. Two proteins found in the starchy endosperm of the wheat berry (gliadin and glutenin) form a completely new protein (the infamous gluten) when combined. Gluten is responsible for the glorious chewy, springy texture of the bread and helps hold the air bubbles produced by yeast.
Water – hydrates the flour, helps feed the yeast. The amount of water you use affects the dough’s hydration level. Doughs can vary from 60-80% hydration. The higher the hydration level, the “stickier” the dough. The hydration level affects the end result, causing the difference between something like 60% hydration sandwich bread (few, small air bubbles) and an 80% hydration ciabatta (large air bubbles), for example.
Yeast – live organism that produces air bubbles and causes rise, leavening. There are lots of different types of yeast, but you will always be safe choosing instant yeast. This type of yeast doesn’t require any “proofing” and can be used in any recipe. The yeast feed off the starch in the flour and produce gas, which gets trapped in the gluten network, which causes your dough to puff up nicely. Store in fridge, replace every few months.
Salt – chemically, this doesn’t do much for the dough, but it is needed for the flavor. Don’t skip it.
To sum up: the water hydrates the flour, which produces gluten and feeds the yeast, which produce air that gets caught in the gluten, causing a beautiful rise and fluffy dough. Salt makes it all taste good.
Basic Homemade Sandwich Bread: Step-by-Step
A basic sandwich bread has tons of uses and freezes well. You can use unbleached white flour, wheat flour, or multiple different grain flours. Wheat flour will have more nutritional benefits than white flour, but use what you want and enjoy it. Seriously. This is bread making not filing taxes. Have fun! By home-baking, you’re already producing a healthier product than anything you can buy on the shelves!
Troubleshooting Tips and Fixes:
-Your dough never grew? Old yeast or water was too hot. Roll it out flat for flatbread.
-The dough grew well but collapsed? Too long of a rise time. Consider repurposing as a pizza dough, just add some garlic powder and brush with olive oil before baking.
-The bread is too crumbly? Not enough water in your dough. Toast it and grind it up for breadcrumbs.
-Rolls are rock hard on the outside? Overcooking. Repurpose for croutons or breadcrumbs.
-Overcooked on the outside, undercooked inside? Test your oven’s temperature, it may run too hot. Lower temp and/or reposition rack.
Do you have any more sandwich bread making tips (or stories) to share?
Crusty No-Knead Artisan Bread
Love the idea of homemade bread but don’t have free time? No problem. Sandwich bread requires more hands-on attention to get those small air bubbles, but for a great, crusty rustic-style bread, you get to skip the work and just enjoy the benefits! This is my favorite recipe. It’s frugal and a gift from the heavens, and we’re just going to enjoy it.
What traditional bread making recipes accomplish with hands-on work, no-knead recipes accomplish with time. Using slow fermentation and less yeast, the gluten network slowly develops, the dough slowly rises, and flavor is born.
Most no-knead recipes have you create the dough, let it sit out for 8 hours, and then form your dough ball to bake. Here’s a secret….you can create your dough, let it sit in the fridge for 18-48 hours, tear off and use just what you need, and have fresh bread in less than an hour…any time you want it! With just 10 minutes of hands-on work, you can have a stash of amazing artisan bread dough ready to use as needed for DAYS. The dough will keep about 3-4 days in the fridge.
No Knead Artisan Bread Ingredients
Do you have any other no-knead bread recipes or tricks to share?
These two bread recipes are very different but very useful. Get creative and make even more types of bread! All “extras” should be added during the kneading stage, unless otherwise noted.
Cinnamon Raisin Sandwich Bread – mix in cinnamon, raisins
Chocolate Walnut Sandwich Bread – mix in chocolate chips, walnuts
Garlic Rolls – add 2 teaspoon garlic powder during kneading and/or roll dough in garlic oil (olive oil warmed with minced garlic + salt) before forming garlic roll knots
Cheese Bread – work in 1 cup of coarsely grated hard cheese (asiago, parmesan, etc.)
Herb Bread – add 2 tablespoons of assorted herbs and salt (parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, red pepper flakes, etc.)
Cinnamon Rolls – after first rise, roll dough into a flat rectangle. Smear with softened butter and generously sprinkle a cinnamon/sugar blend. Then roll up and slice. Let rise until doubled and bake, OR place in baking dish, 1-2” apart, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Let warm to room temp before baking.
Seed Bread – mix in nuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, etc.
Honey Butter – serve fresh bread with homemade honey butter! Combine equal parts honey and softened butter and whisk until smooth.
Pizza Roll Up – roll out the half the dough after the first rise into a rectangle, about 10” wide on the short side (a little less dough than you’d use for a 1 lb loaf). Leaving a 2” border, spread pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, chopped veggies, and other toppings. Roll it up as if for cinnamon rolls. Pinch all edges shut to prevent leaks. Fold ends under. Place it in a loaf pan, let rise, bake.
Bread Making Gear and Tools
Getting serious about the bread making thing? You can do everything by hand, but there are lots of wonderful tools (some as affordable as $5) to speed up and simplify the process. Here are a few recommendations:
The Zojirushi Home Bakery – add your ingredients, push a button, and get a perfect loaf every time. This brand is strong enough for whole grain flours, and customizable for home-milled grain. Timer feature lets you add ingredients ahead of time and schedule a later baking time. If you plan on making all your sandwich bread and are short on time, you will LOVE this. If you are home a lot, it might be overkill. This is an investment for convenience. $250
Pastry Scraper – a cheap, basic tool. Perfect for cutting and dividing dough. A must-have. $6
Plastic Bowl Scraper – perfect for encouraging dough out of a bowl, $5
Pastry Cloth – create a non-stick work surface for kneading. Then fold it up and store in the fridge until the next time you need it. Reduces cleanup time! $6
A Mixer. I feel the need to explain this. If you make bread from scratch often, a mixer will save you time and mess. Most mixers can handle one batch of dough at a time. If you bake whole grain bread once a month or so, you can skip this section. However, if you bake with whole grains or freshly-milled grains regularly, your mixer may sound like it’s dying. (I had a KitchenAid Pro mixer that stopped itself during a kneading cycle, because it wasn’t strong enough to work the whole wheat dough.) If you are looking to make multiple batches at once or use whole grains frequently, a stronger mixer may be in order. If you need to upgrade your stand mixer for more strength or capacity, you want to consider the Ankarsrum. Is it a necessity? NO. I’m only sharing this, because there are many people who bake bread daily or bake with whole grains. For those people, this would be very helpful. After years of yelling at my old mixer and practically giving up baking altogether, this came into my life. It works, always. It can handle anything. It can make over four batches at once in its ginormous bowl. Instead of spending 8+ hours per week baking, I cut it down to 2 hours. This is an investment in convenience and efficiency. Not a necessity, but helpful in the right situation. $800.
Loaf Pan – a good loaf pan will be handy for making sandwich bread, banana bread, and more. I love USA Pans, because they are truly non-stick and Teflon-free.
Instant Read Thermometer – for checking doneness, $19
Dough Bucket – if you love the no knead bread method, this large bucket is great for holding dough in your fridge. $17
Dough Whisk – this little handheld tool is great for mixing dough by hand. $9
If I had to recommend ONE tool to buy? The pastry cloth, hands down. It helps keep my kitchen clean, and that’s priceless! What other tools or tips do you have for bread making?
We’re going to continue our research into organic vs. conventional grains and talk about corn. Unlike wheat, it is genetically modified in the US and heavily subsidized. How is organic corn different? Does buying organic corn have any health or nutritional benefits? I don’t know yet, so we’ll learn together!
The following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.