Tuesday, 27 January 2009

In Search of Bread

by N. @ Bad Human

One of the first and arguably most rewarding green changes we made was making our own bread. Unless you are buying artisan bread on a regular basis, your average store bought bread probably leaves something to be desired. 
Making your own bread can be as simple or as involved as you would like it to be and 
we started making our own bread using an Amish White Bread recipe that we found online here.  The only change I made was to cut the amount of sugar and yeast in half. Otherwise the loaves exploded over the edges of the loaf pan.  Of all the recipes I'm going to present this one takes the least amount of time and is the most common recipe that we make in both form and function . It's make a nice, all purpose bread good for toast, sandwiches or just snacking. 

one of the small loaves, originally uploaded by svacher.

After getting over my fear of yeast and mastering that recipe my husband and I wanted to try something with a little more flavor.  For Christmas we asked for and received Maggie Glezer Artisan Baking.  Most of the recipes require a sourdough starter, which we don't have, so we decided to try "Judy Unruh's Wedding Zwieback." You can use the recipe to make sturdy rolls but we used it in a pan to make sandwich bread.  I  think this is the best one we've tried so far but it takes a full two days to make.   This is the perfect sandwich and toast bread.  It slices beautifully due to its dense fine-grained texture.  If it only took a day I would make this our go-to recipe, but (practically speaking) it does take two, so we decided to keep looking.

Tuna Mayonnaise Sandwich, originally uploaded by SeetYing.

My husband prefers a chewier, crustier bread so, while at the library, we picked up "Bread Alone." If you are looking for a single book to take you from basic to artisan loaves this one is for you.  The author goes into great detail about the tools required and the various types of flour for the best loaves based on the style of bread being cooked.  This book still focuses a lot on sourdough recipes (this trend bothers me, since, while I like sourdough, I don't want all my bread to be sourdough) but did offer more variety than did "Artisan Bread."  All told, this recipe also took 2 days.  

We started with a Country Hearth Loaf; a loaf with a simple flour combination of unbleached white and whole wheat flours.  The recipe starts with a poolish (which is a base for a lot of different recipes) This takes 2-10 hours.  The poolish can also rise in the fridge for 12-15 hours after which it needs to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.  Next, the remaining ingredients will be added and then kneaded, by hand or stand mixer.  Now the dough needs to ferment for another 2-3 hours, after which it is deflated and allowed to let rest for another 30 minutes, divided into loaves and proofed for another 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  Finally you are ready to bake it! 

This recipe does require a baking stone and a small spray bottle. In the first 10 minutes of baking, the inner walls and floor of the oven are sprayed to steam the loaf.  After which the temperature is, and baking continues for another 20 minutes.  Personally, this is too high maintenance for me.  I realize the multiple rises makes it "better", but I don't have that kind of time.  I would forget or get sidetracked or it just wouldn't fit in my schedule.  That said, it makes nice bread, its chewier than the Zwieback or Amish recipe, and has a much thicker crust. I would consider this good soup because it is best eaten plain or with butter. It doesn't slice very well so it doesn't fit into the toaster, and if you make a sandwich with it you are going to get a mouthful with every bite!

Artisan Bread - Loaf 1, originally uploaded by jenniferdames.

Our most recent experiment was a Dutch Oven Bread Recipe and it's by far my husband's favorite. It's not quite as time intensive as the Zwieback or Hearth Loaf and the only special equipment needed was the dutch oven. We already own one and are always looking for ways to put it to good use. This makes a nice crispy crusted bread with a soft bubbly texture on the inside.  My one complaint is that it's never going to be loaf shaped so it's harder to toast.

Overall, I would say the Amish recipe is still a good, low maintenance go-to recipe.  If you've got a bit more time and a dutch oven the Dutch Oven Bread is crispy and has really nice flavor. If you find yourself with a lot of extra time I would vote for the Zweiback.  

You may think we've got something against whole wheat bread, however I would say that whole wheat flour has something against me!  I've not found a whole wheat or even mostly whole wheat recipe that rises well.  I'm sure this is due in part to the type of yeast I'm using but I use what's available and I need a recipe that will work with that. 

What's your favorite bread recipe?  If you have a good whole-wheat bread recipe that doesn't bear the consistency of a brick, please feel free to fire it off to us.