Monday, January 21, 2013

A tip on avoiding over proofing your rising dough

One thing I used to do and I guess it's a common newbie bread maker's mistake is to over proof the dough - or in layman's terms: to let it rise too long.

Of course, you can't know that while it's happening, but you find out eventually when your dough doesn't grow when it's in the oven and you end up with a variation of a brick.

One of the best ways to avoid over proofing is to put your dough in a smaller container. My mixer is a big 8 quart bowl. Even with making two loaves, the dough is still a smallish ball at the bottom of that container. So, doubling it or tripling it's size doesn't look a heck of a lot different, but letting it rise too long can have bad effects in the baking process.

See how small this is at the bottom of the bowl? How could I really know when it has doubled in size?

This is the same dough in a smaller mixing bowl. So, one trick is to transfer the ball of dough to a smaller mixing bowl as shown here:

Kind of hard to see in the photo, but it's about 2" from the rim in a medium sized mixing bowl. It's much easier to see if it's doubled in this medium sized bowl than in a large bowl.

Here it is, all risen and ready to punch down (not literally) and to shape.

Some bakers take it a step farther and use glass and plastic containers where they can mark the starting line and the goal line for rising. So, the dough would start at say 2 quarts and rise to 4 quarts. (I might need to get these as I could use them for fermenting yogurt too!)

It's a bit easier once you've shaped a loaf to see if you've over proofed it or not, especially when you put it in a pan, but it can be tricky as times vary greatly even for a recipe you are used to making.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A super lazy whole grain bread from a mix

This is a dark/black bread popular in Scandinavia. You can often find smallish rye loaves of these precut super thin breads in the supermarket. They appear to be used for making dainty little sandwiches like smoked salmon. But you can also make them yourself with this great mix from Ikea. It's called Brodmix Flerkorn.

This is a case where it's cheaper to buy the mix than it is to stock all the ingredients that would go into the loaf. I wish I could remember how much I paid for this mix (makes one loaf), but I don't. I want to say 2.99? I will update the price when I buy some again at my next visit to IKEA.

This really is as easy as making pancakes from a mix. Well, easier as you have to stand, pour, watch and flip pancakes. With this bread you quite literally shake, add water, close, shake again, pour it into a greased bread pan, let it rise and then bake. No kneading, no nothing. You don't even need any dishes other than the pan to bake it in as you mix it right in the box! Seriously!

So, what is in this bread?

Here's the ingredients: Wheat flour, wheat flakes, rye flakes, course rye flour, sunflower kernels, wheat starch, linseed, malt (from barley), sourdough powder (rye flour), salt, dried yeast.

Now, I can't be 100% sure it's whole wheat flour, but I think it is. If not, it's still chock full of great stuff and provides a good source of protein and dietary fiber. Take a look at the nutritional facts.

See how easy it is to make? I just add water to the milk like carton, shake and then pour it out into the pan.  The rising time is short (45 minutes) and then you bake it for an hour.

I'm showing some pictures of it as it should look in the pan after mixing (in a greased pan).

And how much it rises in 45 minutes. It doesn't rise much.  See how it is now to the rim of the pan? That's it. It won't grow much more in the oven either. You can even see in the picture on the box, that it's not a tall bread, but that bit of rising does help in slicing it as otherwise it would be like slicing a brick.

My older son doesn't really like bread, but he likes this. It goes great with cheeses and spreads. My husband eats this as sandwich bread. He is European though and didn't grow up on Wonder Bread. It  might be a bit too nutty for sandwiches if you aren't used to it, but it's a favorite in our house. And super great for those days I'm just not up for making a detailed loaf.

Notice there are no funny ingredients in that list I typed out. It really is as if I made it myself - just cheaper which is funny to say as it's not cheap, but for me to stock up on specialty flours and powders and flakes would mean a big up front investment, storage investment and then hoping I use it all up before it goes bad. So, in this case, it's cheaper to buy the mix than to stock all the ingredients as I would never make this or like things often enough to justify large quantities of most of those ingredients.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I can't keep up with the demand!

I made bread two days ago - three loaves - one whole grain and two white and it's all gone. I made cookies three days ago and they are all gone - and I made a ton.

Seriously, if I want to keep up with the demand, I really need to bake every day and even me, a person who loves to bake, that's hard to keep up with.

Even dinners are tough. I made a HUGE pot of chili two days ago. It lasted two days. Man, I remember when that would last 3 and I would freeze some too! Sigh.... growing boys! Guess I'll be adding some more pictures today of whatever I decide to make tonight.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Let me tell you about yeast

Yeast is yeast, right? I used to think so. And then I started to get confused. What is bread machine yeast? What is active dry? Rapid rise? Instant? Traditional? And why does one of my bread books say, "If you are using the newer yeasts, cut the rising time in half." There's newer yeast? Oh, and yes, there is cake yeast or compressed yeast that you can buy in cubes in some stores and you can make your own "wild caught" yeast too. To make it even more confusing there's nutritional yeast and brewers yeast. There's probably more too - I'm just still ignorant about it.

So, yeasts.

Most of us who dabble at making breads once in awhile usually buy yeast like this:

Or this:

This is the most expensive way to buy yeast, but if you don't bake with yeast often, it's probably the simplest and easiest way to go. Yeasts do go bad. Or better put, it will eventually die. So, if you don't make breads often, don't buy much.

You can still buy it in bulk in some stores though. Our local Whole Foods used to carry baker's active dry yeast in bulk bins. That way I could get as little or as much as I wanted for about 75% less. However, they no longer carry it. A local organic store here carries yeast in bulk for much cheaper too (as I hear some big box clubs do to), but in a big vacuum sealed bags like this:

But, notice all the different names: Active dry yeast. Traditional active dry yeast. Rapid Rise yeast and then fresh active yeast (seen below):

I picked all Fleischmann's for photos because I wanted to show that it's the same company that is using all these different names too. Fleischmann's is not the only company making/packaging yeasts. You'll also see Red Star too and perhaps a couple others.

But how do they differ?

Well, Fresh Active yeast/compressed yeast/cake yeast is just that - fresh and active. They have a very short shelf life and need to be kept refrigerated. Some older recipes will specify this type of yeast, but you can use other yeast in it's place (see conversion info below).

Active dry yeast many times needs to be proofed (as their granules are bigger and don't dissolve as well into the dough without proofing) and it most often requires two risings of the dough.

Instant/Rapid/Bread Machine yeast are all the same yeasts and they do not need to be proofed, only require one rising and are well, faster!

Here is a great description from this site that talks all about yeasts and how to use them and interchange them:

Frequently Asked Questions

How much dry yeast is in 1/4 ounce envelope? 
About 2 1/4 teaspoons. 

How should I store yeast? 
Store unopened yeast in a cool, dry place, such as a pantry (or refrigerator). Exposure to oxygen, heat or humidity decreases the activity of the yeast. After opening, store in an airtight container in the back of the refrigerator, away from drafts. Use within 3 to 4 months; freezing not recommended. 

Can I use expired yeast in my recipe? 
For best results, buy and use yeast before the expiration date. Yeast loses its potency as it ages, resulting in longer rising times. Proof yeast to determine whether it is still active. 

How do I proof yeast to test for activity? 
To proof yeast, add 1 teaspoon sugar to 1/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°F). Stir in 1 envelope yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons); let stand 10 minutes. If the yeast foams to the 1/2 cup mark, it is active and you may use it in your recipe. RapidRise™ yeast loses its fast rising capabilities if dissolved in liquid, and will require two complete rises. 

Can RapidRise™ and Bread Machine Yeast be used in Active Dry recipes? 
Yes. Simply follow the One-Rise Method detailed on every package. For best results, add undissolved RapidRise or Bread Machine Yeast to dry ingredients first. Add liquids and fat heated to 120°to 130°F. To use the traditional Two-Rise Method, add sugar to water before stirring in Yeast 

Can Active Dry Yeast be used in RapidRise recipes? 
Yes, but with limitations. The Active Dry has larger granules and it is necessary to dissolve completely for the yeast to work. Therefore, Active Dry works best if dissolved in warm water (100° to 110°F). 

What is the difference between Instant Yeast, Bread Machine Yeast and RapidRise Yeast? 
Mainly names, but these are all the same yeast! Use interchangeably. 

What is the difference between fast-rising yeast (RapidRise/Bread Machine Yeast) and Active Dry Yeast? 
RapidRise and Bread Machine Yeast are different strains than Active Dry Yeast. RapidRise and Bread Machine Yeast are grown with a higher level of nutrients and are dried to lower moisture content. The particle size of RapidRise and Bread Machine Yeast are finely granulated to allow complete hydration of the yeast cells during the mixing process. The Active Dry Yeast larger particle size should be dissolved in water to achieve complete hydration prior to adding to the mixer. In addition, RapidRise and Bread Machine Yeast contain ascorbic acid resulting in increased loaf volumes. 

How do I use Fresh Active Yeast? 
Fresh Active Yeast is the product that Fleischmann's has been manufacturing for over 130 years. It is also traditionally known as compressed or cake yeast. It has not undergone the drying process, so it does not need to be dissolved before use: soften the cake in warm water first OR simply crumble the yeast into dry ingredients (if directed by recipe). Fresh yeast requires two rises. Yeast is available in two different sizes: 0.6 ounces and 2 ounce household cakes 

How do I substitute dry yeast for Fresh Active Yeast? 
One .6 ounce cake is equivalent to 1 envelope of dry yeast. One 2-ounce cake is equivalent to three envelopes of dry yeast. Follow the directions on the package recommended for the type of yeast you substitute. 

Can Active Dry Yeast be used in bread machines? 
Bread Machine Yeast is specially formulated for bread machines and recommended by most bread machine manufactures. It is finely granulated to hydrate easily when combined with the flour. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is added to promote good loaf volume and structure. Active Dry Yeast may be used but may not yield optimal results. 


What this doesn't go into detail about is how these differing types of baker's yeast affect the flavor of the bread. Maybe most people don't notice the difference, but if you experiment a bit, you learn that doughs that rise for longer, ferment a bit, have a better flavor. Well, if we really, really think about it, what's most people favorite breads? Sourdoughs and other artisan breads and that's because the yeasts have had time to change the dough to help it  develop more flavor. 

If you really get into baking breads and you will see all sorts of new terms - preferments, poolish, bigas, etc. All of them are basically yeasted starters that add more life and flavor to your bread. This extra long preparation of breads is what makes artisan breads so wonderfully tasty and pricey. They take longer because of letting the yeast develop longer. Want to know more? Check out King Arthur's great description of preferments:

What does this mean for you and me? People who want to get into baking to make it cheaper or to make it healthier or both? Well, for me, an amateur baker, it means that I don't buy instant, rapid rise or bread machine yeast. It doesn't develop enough flavor in the dough as it just rises too fast to give the dough some definition.  I use active dry yeast, or traditional yeast. I also stay away from the cake/compressed yeast just because it's expensive and it is short-lived.  Since I bake a lot, I buy the vacuum sealed 1 lb. bag of active dry yeast. I store it in an air tight container in my pantry. I don't refrigerate as I will go through it fast enough.

If it's bulk, how can you be sure which is which if it's not labeled well or it's a newer label that you haven't seen before? Well, they look different too. Active dry yeast are tiny beads. They look like this: 

Instant or bread machine yeast will look like this:

So basically, if you see they are almost a powder, or very small pellets, it's probably a form of instant.  If they are bigger pellets or are round, it's active dry yeast.

As far as preferments go for developing flavor even further I do sometimes make preferments, but so far I haven't dabbled beyond any preferments that takes longer than 2-3 hours. Maybe someday I'll get really into bread baking, but for now, this is fine and my family is satisfied.

Last thing I will mention is absolutely do not buy brewer's yeast or nutritional yeast for baking.  These are nutritional supplements. Brewer's Yeast is used for medicinal purposes and for forms of Vitamin B. Nutritional yeast is also for complex B Vitamins as well as being a complete protein to be used in vegetarian and vegan diets. Neither of these yeasts are active, so therefore your bread would never rise/grow if you tried to use these instead of baker's yeast.

Never knew there was so much to it, did ya?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An easy peasy white bread anyone can make!

This recipe is a modified version of Bernard Clayton's Cuban Bread. I've tweaked it to get the right consistency. I've probably made this particular bread a couple dozen times because it is easy, quick and delicious AND it's cheap! Ways to make it cheaper? DO NOT BUY yeast in packets or those teeny tiny jars. Go to a health store and buy it in bulk (might be in a bulk bin or in a bulk package). You will cut the cost of yeast down by 75%. Just be sure it's not nutritional yeast or brewers yeast, but active dry yeast.


6 cups bread flour (you can use all-purpose flour too)
2.5 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)
2 packets of yeast OR 5 teaspoons of active yeast (rapid rise)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of salt

That's it - nothing else.

So, how to make it:

First mix 4 cups of the flour, the yeast, sugar and salt. Add the water (don't worry, you will not kill your yeast. Mix that in your mixer (or by hand) for 3 minutes. (Please follow your mixers directions for bread so you don't kill your machine!)  Then add the remaining flour a half cup at a time. Once all the flour in incorporated, mix/knead for 8 minutes. It should look like this:

Cover the bowl with saran wrap (or with a lid). Let that rise from 15 minutes to an hour until it's doubled in volume. How fast it rises will depend on your yeast, the room temperature and just the quirkiness of bread baking. I usually put it in a warm place if I can.

Once it has risen, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Now... here is where it's tricky. Now you are going to form it into a ball and create tension. I have a granite counter top so I rarely need to add flour to the surface - try to avoid adding flour to breads when you shape them (if you can help it) as that can dry it out. Here's a great tutorial on how to shape this loaf, called a boule:  You don't want to sprinkle flour on yours once it's shaped though as yours is not going to proof in a basket.

Next step. Scoring the bread. On a loaf of bread that has been rising, this is tricky. On a loaf that you have just shaped? easy peasy! Take a serrated sharp knife and create some  deep slashes (Don't cut all the way through or halfway through, but do cut it). It will start to immediate open. That's good. When it bakes, it will spring up in there and will leave your loaf with a nice artisanal look. Here is a video on various slashes. it shows how deep: I do just three or four slashes on my bread - either three parallel lines or three or four near the center radiating out (see loaves below).

Scoring and slashing are not just for looks though. A good slash will prevent your loaf from doing something like this (this loaf was in a pan, but without slashing, it can happen to ANY bread). A bread will expand at the point of least resistance. You want it to be through your slashes. Not the side of the loaf like a hernia.

Get a cup of HOT water (boiling would be fine, but not necessary) and put it on a spare cookie sheet (with a rim) in the bottom of your oven if your elements are covered or the lowest rack if your elements are exposed. This will provide steam for your bread so it will form that artisan crust. I have some old yucky cookie sheets that I have kept just for that. You want it to be a large pan so that the water has a chance to boil and evaporate - a pizza pan (with sides) would work well too. Do you NEED to add water to the oven? No. You will still get a nice loaf, just not as nice of a crust on it.

Now, the super, duper easy part about this bread and what makes it so fast is that your dough is now ready to go in the oven. You read that right. Do not let it rise after shaping and scoring.  It does the final rise in the cold oven while heating up. Place that firm boule where you've created that great tension on a cookie sheet with either silicone mats, parchment paper or sprayed with baking release spray. You can put both boules on the one cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet with the bread in the middle of the cold oven. Make sure there's nothing above it so that your bread can rise! Now turn on your oven to 400 degrees

DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN while baking especially at the beginning or you'll release the steam from the oven. Bake until the internal temperature is around 205-210 degrees or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. That bakes, for me in about 45 minutes.

When it's done. It might look like this: 

I will say though that it looks different every time. This particular loaf was baked in a traditional oven. Sometimes I bake it in the convection oven (I have double ovens - one is convection, one is not).

When I bake it in the convection oven, it doesn't get the same kind of crust (as the steam gets blown out of the oven.  It might look like this, instead: Note the lack of sheen?

I will also state that sometimes it doesn't grow all nice and pretty - loaves are unpredictable, but they will taste the same!

There you go. An easy, beginners loaf that is simple, inexpensive and FAST.