Tuesday, September 15, 2009

some tips for general bread-baking

Here are some tricks I've learned while baking bread (I will keep updating these as I learn more about them):

- Always preheat the oven 1 hour before baking. This ensures that the oven is hot enough so the crust can be crackly and crunchy.

- Make sure the baking stone or sheet is in the oven so it gets hot too. Materials can crack if they experience a drastic change in temperature. The best option is to have a pizza peel with which you can slide the bread in and take it out without taking the baking sheet out.

- If you don't have a baking stone, you can use a regular metal baking sheet, but you should put a thick pot (like a cast iron pot) on the shelf below the sheet. This will distribute the heat evenly throughout the oven.

- What you want in bread is a strong structure. You can achieve this by using bread flour, which has lots of protein. This means there will be lots of gluten bonds that improve the dough's ability to retain gas as the dough rises and bakes.

- While kneading you shouldn't add any more flour than the required for the recipe. You can use a dough scraper or spatula to help you peel it and fold it, but you shouldn't make it drier. Keep in mind that the key to large bubbles is wet dough. Also for getting bubbles, it is important to add lots of air to the dough when kneading bread. This is done by folding the dough, never ripping holes through it.

- To get a crackly crust, you need some steam at the beginning of the baking process (in commercial ovens they inject steam). To achieve this at home, after putting the bread in, toss some water into the oven and quickly close the door. Some books recommend putting ice cubes in the pot under the baking sheet, but this can crack the pot because of the harsh temperature difference.

- You want to let the dough rise for as long as possible because this will provide more bubbles and acidity for taste, but you don't want to let the dough rise for so long because you want to have some of the sugar left from the carbohydrates in the flour-water combination. Achieving this balance is difficult and varies from bread to bread, but dough should never rise for more than 12 hours. A starter can rise and ferment for longer, but dough shouldn't.

- Always use the same towels for rising bread on. Don't keep washing them because the smell of soap will permeate your breads. Also, as you use them over and over you'll add flour so the dough doesn't stick.

- There is a technique called autolyse, introduced by famous French baker Raymond Calvel, which prepares the dough and helps achieve big fluffy bread. It is a process that works when you combine the flour and water in the recipe, mix them and let them sit for 20 minutes to an hour. Then add the salt and keep kneading until you reach the first rise. This prevents the salt from stopping the yeast from rising, and it allows the flour to hydrate and the enzymes to start working, particularly protease, which works to break down the protein in the flour. Autolyse creates more gluten bonds in the dough, which makes fluffier, lighter, bread.

- Let the bread cool after you've taken it out of the oven. Some of the structure of the bread is still forming at this stage. Resist temptation!

No comments:

Post a Comment