Here is a quick little post to share more of one of my little obsessions: bread baking.
I love making my own bread. It's more than just the health benefits of homemade bread over store-bought bread, though there are many, not the least of which is ensuring only real ingredients are in each loaf. I just love the feel of the dough, the chemistry of it all, the smell of bread baking in the oven, and of course the taste! It still amazes me to see flour, yeast, and water come together into something so delicious.
Here are my latest loaves - honey whole wheat.
I've been reading The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. it is amazing and I am learning a lot. I've been reading about starters, which are basically preparation of part of the dough ahead of time to develop more flavor. It is working really well so far and has the added benefit of making my bread last longer before going stale.
I'm still playing around with my recipe, but I will share the version I have been using lately. It is really good! It does require a bit more work, but not much. And you need to plan ahead a little to make sure the timing works for you. Let me tell you, it is very much worth all of the effort!
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 teaspoon honey
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
2 cups warm milk (110 degrees)
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoon melted butter
1-1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups (13-1/2 ounces) whole wheat flour
3 cups (13-1/2 ounces) bread flour
Put together the starter one day before you want to bake your bread. To make the starter, first whisk together the warm water and yeast. Whisk in honey. Allow to sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour. The mixture should look and feel like a sticky bread dough. Cover loosely and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Refrigerate overnight.
To make the bread, bring the starter to room temperature. Place it in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a small bowl, whisk together the warm milk and yeast. Add the yeast and milk to the starter. Add the melted butter and honey. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours and the salt. Add to the mixer bowl and mix with the paddle attachment until everything is combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes. The dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky. If the dough feels too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time while kneading, being careful not to add too much.
Lightly oil a large bowl, then place the dough in it, turning so that the top of the dough is also coated with oil. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about one hour.
After the dough has risen, turn it out gently onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a loaf and place into lightly oiled or sprayed (with non-stick baking spray) loaf pans and let rise for about an hour or until each loaf is nicely domed.
Just before the time is up, dip a sharp paring knife into water and gently score the top of each loaf. You score the loaf by gently scratching the surface, with a paper cut motion, rather than plunging the knife into the loaf. The water will keep the knife from sticking and dragging in the dough. You can skip this step if you like, but scoring the loaf will give you a better rise in the oven and keep the loaf from splitting.
Twenty minutes before the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place a metal pan in the bottom of the oven and allow it to heat with the oven. Use a heavy metal pan with 1-2 inch sides to do this. Do NOT use glass, which will shatter when you add the hot water later. Start 1-2 cups of water on the stove and bring it to a boil (I use a tea kettle). Have a spray bottle filled with water handy (room temperature).
When the loaves are ready, put them in the preheated oven so that the loaves themselves are in the center of the oven and directly over the preheated pan. Carefully pour the boiling water into the pan at the bottom of the oven, being careful not to touch the hot steam and not to pour water onto the loaves. Quickly close the oven. After 30 seconds, crack open the door and lightly spray water from the bottle onto the walls of the oven. Do NOT spray any glass, any lights, or the loaves. Repeat the misting two more times at 30 second intervals.
This all creates steam that will allow your loaves to rise higher in the oven and have a better crust. You can skip all of this if it seems like too much trouble, but I have found that it is worth the small effort.
After the third misting, turn the temperature on the oven down to 350 degrees F. and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from the pans immediately and allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before cutting.
These loaves freeze really well. After they are completely cool, wrap each loaf tightly in plastic wrap and then tightly in aluminum foil before putting in the freezer. Otherwise, you can store the loaves at room temperature in an airtight container and they will keep for about a week.