Friday, January 30, 2009

Even a flaky blond can bake bread

And now, so can the daughter of a flaky blond.

Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures.

Let me back up a bit. Daisy is doing bread pudding for youth fair and she has to make the bread for the bread pudding.

Lucky for her, she has a weird mom who has experimented with bread-making before. I knew just the recipe to try for french bread.

Wednesday was a cold nasty day outside so having a warm kitchen filled with the smells of bread baking sounded wonderful.

If you have one of those wonderful Kitchenaid mixers with the doughhook then this is almost as easy as a bread machine recipe. If you don't have one, well the bread will be almost negative calories from the kneading.

So first you want to proof the yeast. I buy the jars of yeast and then keep it in the freezer. My jar said it expired in 2005 but when I proofed it, I could tell they were still alive.

So you take 1 1/2 cups of warm water that is at about 105-115 F and add to it 1 packet active dry yeast with 1 teaspoon sugar. The yeast love their warm bath and eat the sugar and grow. Let it sit about 5 minutes so that it gets foamy.

Then pour it into the mixer bowl along with 2 cups of all purpose flour. Let that mix a bit, and then add another 2 cups of flour plus the 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt.

Don't do what Daisy did. The measuring cup does not want to be in the mixing bowl. The mixer will break the measuring cup (thank goodness it was plastic or it would be a broken mixer.) Flour went e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e!!!!

Now here is where it gets tricky.

You might need to add more flour or you might be perfect. If the bowl is almost completely clean and the dough is in a wad climbing up the hook and then falling back down, then you have enough flour. You don't want a dusting of flour left in the bowl, but you also don't want it to have tar baby consistency. Let it knead for a few minutes. What gives bread its wonderful texture is thee gluten and air bubbles. The yeast produces bubbles (remember proofing it?) and the bubbles would escape the bread except the gluten acts like a chewing gum and holds the bubbles in. Also like chewing gum, you can't pop a piece in your mouth and expect great bubbles immediately. You have to chew the gum and stretch it for a minute or so before you can blow a bubble. Gluten needs to be worked too.

Take your ball of dough and place it in a bowl twice as big as it seems to need. You can oil the bowl first, place the dough in and turn it over (so that the dough has got a light coating of oil) OR you can put the dough in the bowl, spray some Pam on it, turn it and spray again. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warmish place for 1 1/2 hours when it should be about doubled.

Preheat the oven to 475- 500 degrees.

Grab the lump of dough and knead it, and stretch it and roll it into a loaf
that is about 21 inches by 3 inches. Place it diagonally on a cookie sheet that has been lightly greased (I don't know that greasing it is necessary).

Let it rise for another 30 minutes and then take a sharp knife or razor and cut diagonal slashes on the bread (think of the french bread you buy at the store, they just cut the surface of the bread before it bakes to make it look like that.)

Bake for about 30 minutes. If you want a chewy crust, place a small baking dish with water in the oven to keep the moisture level up.

The bread will be a lovely golden brown and will sound hollow when done. Let it cool at least somewhat before cutting.

That's all there is to it. Next time, I promise to get some pictures and post them.

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