Monday, January 23, 2012

Breadmaking, take two.

So, regardless of how few views my first post got, I still managed to inspire my own father to take up his electric mixer and try his hand at baking fresh bread. He was drawn in with the promise of fluffy white loaves and a house filled with the delicious aroma of baking bread - and was promptly let down, due to a bad batch of yeast, as we later discovered. His resulting loaves resembled tea cakes, dense and yellow in hue, and so filling, you can really only eat one slice at a time. Needless to say, I felt a little bad for having lead him astray(even though I had nothing to do with the yeast), so this morning, I paid him a visit, large bag of flour in one hand, a fresh jar of yeast in the other.Have flour, will travel.

First, I explained how to not read too much into the recipe, even though I did say to follow the directions. I know, I know, I'm giving contradicting information, and at this, my father accused me of cheating. What can I say, I tend to tweak recipes to my own liking when I cook! I under-mix my bread to avoid making something too tough to eat. When a recipe says to knead the dough for 10 minutes, I knead for five. It's also a good philosophy to follow if you want to avoid adding too much flour to a recipe, again keeping the dough from becoming too tough.

Was I really cheating? I was merely using the recipe as a guideline, which is hard to explain even in its simplest form - which brought about the next question: How do you teach the art of recipe adaptation? I don't know that you can. I suppose it can best be described as using your senses while cooking, and no - I don't mean common sense. I'm referring to touch, smell, taste, sight, and sometimes even sound. I knead my bread until it looks and it feels right. I always taste, no matter far from the finished product I might be. I proceed the same way with all my cooking, as you'll most likely see in future posts.

Back to cheating our way through bread making. The next step was to find an ideal environment for the dough to rise properly. I remembered an old Salton hotplate my mom keeps hidden in the back of the cupboard, and deemed it ideal for the task and an excellent substitute for my coffee maker. We insulated the hotplate with a towel, as it was a little warmer than necessary, but an hour later, we very pleased with the results.

To change things up from the last batch, I decided to follow the variation suggested by Miss Crocker and turn these loaves into cinnamon-raisin bread. We had added cinnamon and raisins to the dough before the first rising, and sandwiched a layer of cinnamon sugar into the bread when rolling up the dough to place them in the loaf pans. With the promise of a cinnamon-y swirl inside, we set the loaves back on the hotplate for a second rising. I suggested making a few miniature versions for my niece, who was watching the whole process very intently. Perhaps I'll be teaching her the art of bread-making next?

Fresh out of the oven, the loaves look perfect. The house smelled delicious. I was happy the lesson had been a success and, hopefully, this lovely afternoon in the kitchen had re-instilled my father's confidence in his baking skills. Perhaps, sometime in the near future, I'll come by for visit and find the house smelling of deliciously fresh-baked bread - and it will not have been my doing.
White Bread (as adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook, copyright General Mills 1969)

2 packages active dry yeast(2 tbsp. if you are using bulk yeast)
3/4 c. warm water (110 degrees F)
2-2/3 c. warm water
1/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. salt
3 tbsp. shortening (I like to use good olive oil when making a savory loaf)
9 to 10 cups all-purpose flour
Melted butter (I like to use good olive oil when making a savory loaf)

Dissolve the yeast in 3/4 c warm water. Into this mixture, add the 2-2/3 cup water water, sugar, salt, shortening, and 5 cups of the flour. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth(about 1 minute). Mix in enough remaining flour to make the dough easy to handle(not sticky).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough; divide in half. Roll each half into a rectangle, 18x9 inches. Roll up, beginning at short side. With side of hand, press each end to seal and fold ends under loaf. place seam side down into a greased loaf pan. Brush loaves lightly with melted butter. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Heat over to 425 degrees F. Place loaves on rack in center of over, not touching sides of oven or each other. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until deep golden brown, and sounding hollow when loaves are tapped. Remove from pas, brush tops again with melted butter and allow to cool on racks.

Makes 2 loaves.

To make cinnamon-raisin bread:
Stir 1 cup raisins and 1 teaspoon cinnamon into mix with first 5 cups of flour - otherwise, the raisins will want to escape during kneading! After rolling the dough into rectangles, brush each loaf with 1 tbsp. water, and sprinkle with a mixture of 1/4 c. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon. Continue with recipe as written above.

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