Back to baking bread

With the warm weather over the summer, spending time in a hot kitchen and baking bread for hours was low on my list of things to do. However, with the cooler temps of Fall approaching I decided to put my kneading hands and yeast knowledge to the test. I was spurred on by my friend Michael’s Oktoberfest celebration, and my desire to bring something homemade to share.

I decided to make Bauernbrot, which is a German farmer’s bread made in a simple round shape without a loaf pan. This was the first time I had experimented with a different type of flour. The original recipe called for rye flour, however my local store didn’t have that. Some of the reviewers of the recipe said they had tried it with whole wheat flour as well, so I picked up some of that.

IMG_1607The recipe I linked above is pretty simple, though some others that I found included milk in the dough. I opted for the simpler one though and set to work making it Friday night. As luck would have it, we’re having a heat wave here in the Midwest, and I ended up baking in a VERY air conditioned house because the outside temps were in the 80s. I did my traditional yeast warming, heating water to around 115 degrees (F) and then dissolving the yeast into it. I’ve found 110-120 degrees a nice spot to get really healthy yeast. Some of my initial loaves have overflowed their rising bowls, which tells me that the yeast are doing their job.

I mixed up the dough, and the first thing that I noticed is how different whole wheat flour is, texture wise. It was a much rougher and stiff dough than I’m used to, and it took a lot to knead. Eventually I had a nice, smooth dough which I left to rise for almost an hour. During that time it more than doubled in size, which made me happy. I pulled it out of the bowl and divided it in half before doing another short kneading session.

Once the loafs were formed I put them on the cookie sheet to rise one more time before baking. This also gave me the opportunity to do some other different techniques. One of the keys to this bread is to make sure the dough does not dry out. I used two techniques to help this, first I covered it with a slightly damp cloth. Second, I brushed it with buttermilk every 15 minutes or so.

Once the second rise was done it was time to go into the oven. This recipe called for steam and so I put some boiling water into a pan on a shelf lower than where I was putting the bread. Since steam was involved I knew I had to limit the amount of “peaking” that I did. After around 30 minutes I declared them done and put them onto a cooling rack.

I waited a few minutes for them to do some initial cooling and then sliced off a bit to try it. It is a very hearty and tasty bread with a bit of density to it. It’s not over-dense, like some loaves I’ve made poorly, but it’s certainly up for getting things spread on it. The recipe suggested meat and cheese or just butter so I tried both, and it was very delicious.

Hopefully, this will be the first of many more loaves that I bake in the coming months!

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A bread update

I’m baking a couple of simple loaves of white bread tonight, one of which will go with me to a retreat I’m attending this weekend. I’ve never attempted to get one of these done on a weeknight, so I was a bit concerned if I could actually get it done without going crazy. However, I’m discovering that the more I do this, the easier it is each and every time. I know what the dough is supposed to feel like, and I think I finally have the flour content dialed in correctly (we’ll find out when we cut into it I guess).

It’s kinda cool to think that just a few months ago I was trying this with trepidation, and now I’m feeling very confident in what I’m doing. I’m sure that means that soon I’ll completely fail at a batch, but I will hopefully be able to treat it as a learning experience. Thankfully I have a very forgiving family. Even my youngest son tonight was wondering when the bread would be available for toasting.

Another cinnamon bread success

This past Sunday we started up our new RPG campaign, and I spent the morning baking up some of the cinnamon bread that we liked before. I was feeling pretty confident this time and had it all mixed up pretty quick. One thing I’ve noticed about this recipe is that it needs a bit more flour than 3.5 cups. I’ve been doing more like 4-4.5 to get it to not be quite as sticky.

The other thing different that I did with this batch is to divide it into two different loaf pans, instead of a single one. The last time it overflowed the single loaf pan, and made it hard to slice with such a large head on it. When rolling it out this time I made it very, very thin and then divided it into two sections. I sprinkled on the cinnamon sugar mixture and rolled each half up tight. I ended up with two rolls that didn’t quite fill up either pan, but that wasn’t a huge concern.

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When they came out of the oven they looked perfect, and when I sliced into them they had this beautiful tight spiral of cinnamon. My wife made up some icing and they tasted like hearty cinnamon rolls. They were a huge hit at the RPG party, and everyone had a couple slices. I will be making these again for our family Christmas time, that’s for sure.

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A bread adventure

Sunday, I decided to try some bread again, however this time my wife suggested trying something different. Something either sweet or savory that we could make again and bring to a holiday gathering. We talked about it a bit and I decided to do a cinnamon bread. Most of the recipes I found were really for what I would call more akin to a coffee cake, as they had no yeast or rise in them at all. I found one from the Pioneer Woman though that was exactly what I was looking for.

The bread aspect of the recipe was a little different than I’m used to, as it had eggs involved. I need to research a bit more on when it’s appropriate to put in eggs and when not to. I followed the recipe though, including using my stand mixer to do the kneading. This recipe called for 10 minutes of kneading in a mixer, and I knew I didn’t want to do all of that by hand. Once the 10 minutes was done it was still a bit too sticky, so I added a touch more flour and kneaded it another 2-3 minutes until it looked like the dough I was used to.

I set it aside to rise and two hours later it was ready to add the cinnamon sugar mixture. I plopped it on the counter, rolled it out flat and spread a healthy dose of butter, sugar, and cinnamon around it. I then carefully rolled it up and set it in my loaf pan to rise for another couple hours. When I came back to it, I realized that perhaps I need a bigger loaf pan, as what I discovered was a massive heap of dough that was overflowing the sides.

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I carefully placed it in the oven and waited the requisite 40 minutes. The kitchen was soon filled with the smell of fresh baked bread and cinnamon. It was amazing, and we could hardly wait for it to cook.

Once I took it out of the oven it had risen even a bit further, and was now a beautifully colored, albeit overflowing, loaf of bread. IMG_0262.JPG

Here’s what it looked like outside loaf pan.

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We waited a couple of hours for it to cool, and then started slicing (pic up top). I slathered my slice with butter and it was amazing. I can’t wait to try it as toast as well.

I’m super happy with how this turned out, and it was a ton of fun to make and see develop. With every recipe I’m learning more and more about how things should “feel” and that’s helping me make better and better product. I’m anxious to delve into some of the artisan breads as well and try to see what I can do with nice simple ingredients.

Some bread baking

A couple weeks ago I decided to try my hand at baking bread. When I was much, much younger we were gifted a bread machine, but as young people we only used it once or twice and that was about it. I saw some pics on the twitter feed of Wil Wheaton of some of the bread he’s been making and it got me inspired to give it a go myself.

I decided to go with a very simple white bread recipe, until I get better at feeling how the dough should behave. The recipe I used was very simple and apart from the yeast,  contained ingredients I already had at hand. One of the benefits of being a beer brewer is that I know how yeast is supposed to behave and smell. So I knew right away when I re-hydrated the packet of bread yeast that it was exactly the way it should be. It smelled like yeast, and looked like yeast, so therefore, it was yeast.

I got everything mixed together, and then my wife reminded me that when bread recipes call for flour I shouldn’t be packing the scoop tightly. I ended up only using about 1/2-2/3 of the flour the recipe called for because of this. I got the dough kneaded and then left it to rise, hoping I had everything done right. Sure enough a couple hours later it was ready to be punched down and formed into the loaves. I made a traditional loaf in a loaf pan, and then a round loaf on a cookie sheet. A few hours later and they came out of the oven, perfect as could be.

We brought some over to a gathering (with some compound butter my wife made), and within a few days the bread was all gone. I decided to try again this week and since my wife was making a stew that goes over bread really nicely, opted to make some small dollar buns with half of the dough. I also decided to give my stand mixer a try with it’s bread hook. This worked OK, but I feel that until I have a better handle on how it all should “feel” I should probably stick to mixing by hand.

I got everything formed and baked, but things didn’t come out perfectly. Because I was trying to create small dollar loaves I ended up severely over-kneading the dough and ended up with some weird textures on the top of the buns. They also tasted a little too flour-y, and had more of a dumpling character to them. However, the simple round loaf I made with the rest of the dough turned out much better. Maybe a bit too much flour, but not too bad.

I’ve really enjoyed making bread, and I’m anxious to try a third batch to make sure I’m feeling comfortable with the techniques before branching out into other creative styles. I’m considering some soda bread or potentially a sourdough with some homegrown yeast.