Friday, April 23, 2010

Great Bread/Bakery and Cooking Links

Once in a while, I come across a blog or a site that is very helpful, or has great value for those of us interested in baking great bread.

Sometimes it's a site that does great research, then shares that information with folks like me and you.  Other times it may be a site who's purpose is to teach - not just what works for bread, but for life as well.  You know, the whole picture.

So here are my favorite baking/bread sites, and why I love what they do:

The Prepared Pantry:
The good folks who run this site do their research and sell great ingredients from a small town in Idaho, but don't let the small town idea put you off.  The folks at really know what they are doing.  It's easy to see that they love what they do, and they love to share what they have learned with others.

They offer everything from free baking 101 information, free ebooks, including a 250 page "How to Bake" reference book, quick reads about the science of leavening, and they sell high quality ingredients.  

They sell baking products at great values, and they share awesome recipes that they have developed and tested themselves.  I get my cinnamon chips from The Prepared Pantry (see my Cinnamon Chip blog).

Sign up for their eNewsletter.  It's full of great values and great baking information.

Bread Beckers:
This site is a wealth of information regarding breads, whole wheat, whole grains, gluten free information, baking products, and the gospel of using whole grains in your diet.

Sue Becker is the inspiration for Bread Beckers.  She has a very compelling story regarding her family and their use of whole grains. 

Sue has a free CD called "The Bread of Idleness", where she explains and shows why using whole grains are so important.  Below is a comment from a Bread Beckers patron.

"Amazing testimony!"
Mary L. on 2/11/2010 8:48:01 AM
Remarks: What an amazing testimony of Sue Becker's faith in, and guidance from, the Lord regarding the ways to vibrant health. Everyone I know that has listened to this CD has either began milling their own wheat, or is saving to buy a mill in order to realize the true health benefits of eating real bread and whole, unprocessed foods. Thank you for your passion and dedication to this ministry, and thank God for you, Sue!

Sue is passionate about whole grains.  Order her CD.  It's free for the asking.

The Beckers are also devoted Christians and use their knowledge and faith to share the Bread of Life in more ways than one.  They also run The Real Bread Company, a family owned bakery where they bake and sell "real" bread (whole grain).

In addition to being successful businesses, Bread Beckers and The Real Bread Company are also out-reach organizations to teach others about the importance of eating healthy, using natural ingredients, and having faith in God to direct our lives for good. 

America's Test Kitchen is my favorite site for true and tested recipes, cooking information, on-line how to videos, baking products, taste tests, and more.

This site is everything you could hope for, for an all-in-one source of some of the best cooking, how to, and recipe information on the web today. The same group also runs Cooks Illustrated, Cooks Country, and Cooks Country TV, all very good sources for great food and how to make the same recipes yourself.

America's Test Kitchen also shares in depth product tests, taste tests, and a weekly television show on various networks where some of the best do-it-yourself (but not difficult) recipes are shared.  And they don't stop there.  The hosts explain why they do what they do, what works, what doesn't work, and show you exactly how the dish is done right.

The weekly eNewsletter highlights different recipes, equipment reviews, valuable how-to segments, and other useful information relating to cooking, baking, ingredients, etc.

They also have a good variety of cook books and magazines.  Unlike The Prepared Pantry and Bread Beckers, America's Test Kitchen requires a paid membership to access most of the information on the site, but it's well worth the cost.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why I Really Bake Bread

If I were single, I would bake bread. Why? Because it's a great way to learn something new, and because it tastes so good. I'd do it just for myself - and perhaps to impress someone else who is single.

But I'm not single.

I'm happily married with a great family, so I bake for two reasons:

1. It's fun.
2. And I can share what I bake with someone else.

Not long ago, I baked up a double batch of honey wheat. A double batch turned out four awesome loaves of golden brown goodness. We didn't need four loaves of honey wheat, but I knew that when I started.

But I hoped someone else needed a loaf or two.

On occasion I bake the same bread for a good friend. An older, single lady who gushes over each loaf I give her. However, I don't do it for the recognition (actually, she gives me candy - chocolate mint wafers). And to me, that's a fair trade. My bread for her smile.

So this last time when I baked up the double batch, I decided I would share the bread with two other ladies, again, both older and both single.

When I was young, I remember hearing and reading stories about serving and respecting my elders. That's what my parent taught us, and I remember the good feeling I had each time I reluctantly went with my father to help an older widow with her yard, or to mend a roof. My dad never took money for his service. To me, that was a great example.

The same is true for bread. Always make an extra loaf. It's fun to bake, and it's fun to give away. And someone else usually needs it more than I do.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Oh, So Easy Artisan Bread

A while back, I spoke of an easy to make recipe for hard, crusty artisan bread - the No Knead Bread method made popular by Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey, and published by the New York Times.

So I tried it - and it is easy, and it tastes like artisan bread should. Crunchy crust, soft crumb, mild, nutty aroma, and perfect for guests.
How is good bread made without kneading? It's all in the timing and the patience, and there is literally no kneading kneaded (pun intended). Once mixed, the dough sits for 18 hours, which creates great gluten on it's own. You'll see as I show how it's done below.

The original recipe calls for baking the bread in an enamel dutch oven, which I don't have, but a glass pyrex pie dish works just fine.

The key to simple but great artisan bread is steam. It's steam that creates the hard, crispy crust. The easiest way to create steam inside your own oven is to let the bread do the work. No need to throw extra water on a hot cooking sheet when the oven is hot, it's just the bread, the baking pan and a lid - nothing else.

So here's the recipe, adapted from Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery, with my additional notes.
  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour - (I use 2 cups white, 1 cup wheat)
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 to 1 5/8 cup water
  • Cornmeal, or wheat bran as needed. (I used additional flour)
Combine all dry ingredients and give it a good stir to mix the flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and mix the dough just until the dough comes together, not until it's smooth and well mixed. Leave it a bit shaggy, as Jim Lehey would say.

Dough just mixed - a bit shaggy.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter at about 70 degrees (21 celsius) for the next 18 hours or so. During that time, the 1/4 tsp of yeast will begin to react with the water and flour, and begin to create gases and alcohol, which create the air pockets we like to see in artisan breads.

Dough after 18 hrs rising. Notice the air pockets.

After 18 hours or so, take the dough and pour it out onto a floured counter and gently fold the dough in towards itself a few times. Again, no kneading, just folding. The dough will be wet enough that it will mold easily into itself again.

Heavily flour an old, clean dish towl, place the folded dough onto the flour, cover the dough and let the dough rise another two hours or so. Here's where I made a couple of changes. Instead of the floured towel, I used another floured, glass pie dish. This method is less messy, and I can see the dough rise a bit easier.

Folded dough ready to rise again.

After the two hours are up, heat up your oven to 450 degrees (232 celsius). Artisan breads require higher temperatures, which also helps create the needed steam as the bread bakes. Set your dutch oven, or in my case, a second glass pie dish inside the oven to heat up as the oven temperature rises.

It's important that the dutch oven or pie dish be very hot when you place the dough into the oven. This will help ceate steam quickly as the bread begins to bake.

A short tutorial on steam in the oven - Most commercial bakerys will have steam injected ovens. This makes it easy to push steam into the oven as the baker begins to bake hard crusted sourdoughs, baguettes, ciabatta, and other artisan breads. You won't be able to inject steam into your oven at home, so we create our own steam by the amount of water that is already in the bread dough.


When the oven reaches 450 degrees (232 celsius), and your cooking pan or pie dish is also heated, take out the dish, add some flour, cornmeal or wheat bran to the bottom, and place the dough into the cooking dish. Sprinkle some additional flour over the top of the dough (optional) and place a lid on the cooking dish.

Important - the lid traps the steam created by the water content in the dough. The steam creates the hard, crisp crust. Without the steam you only get a regular brown crust, just as you would for a sandwich loaf.

Bread in oven with lid.

Jim Lehey mentions that the steam needs to be working for 70 % of the cooking time to create the hard, crispy crust. I've tried it a number of ways, and he's right. I bake the bread for 45 minutes, and for the first 3o minutes, I keep the lid on the bread. The steam does it's work, and after 30 minutes, take the lid off, admire the light brown crust, and continue baking for 10-15 minutes to finish the crust to a deep golden brown.

After 30 minutes in oven, remove lid.

After 40-45 minutes in oven - bread is done.

Once the bread is done, place it on a cooling rack, resist the urge to cut it too soon, and let it cool at least 30 minutes.

Cooling on the rack.

Half loaf - nice air pockets.

The bread looks beautiful. Your kitchen smells like a bakery, and your family will think they have died and gone to bread heaven.

Bread is a wonderful thing. Everyday.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Breads and Dutch Ovens

I love baking bread.

I love the smell, the taste, and the way a perfect loaf looks when coming out of the oven.

And then cutting that first slice - it's warm, crusty, and oh, so good!

I have baked bread for years, always trying to figure out how the science works. I worked as a baker at a local bakery for a few years, and while learning the trade, always wondered about questions such as:

- Why does yeast work the way it does?

- How does white flour work differently than wheat flour?

- What makes a softer bread?

- What makes a lighter loaf?

- What methods create a hard crust vs a sandwich-type loaf?

The answers to these questions are many, but the principles are simple, once you understand how ingredients work together.

I recently learned a new technique with hard-crusted artisan breads. M
y favorite here is a 1/2 white, 1/2 wheat (Kamut) recipe that has a crispy crust, tastes a bit nutty and has great flavor.

Take a look at this article about the now famous No Knead Bread method from Mark Bittman.

Follow that read up with this You Tube video that shows how to make the hard-crusted bread at home.

Hard Crust - No Knead Bread

And last (for now), I love to cre
ate awesome breads in a dutch oven - not the frozen rolls, thaw-'em-out-and-bake-'em type, but real yeast breads and rolls that are baked outdoors in a dutch oven over coals.

So here's to Great Bread, and great bread-making techniques.


Cranberry Orange Glazed
Dutch Oven Rolls

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ahhh, Fresh Bread

The aroma of fresh baked bread - I love it. I don't know anyone who doesn't.

Bread makes a house a home. It brings friends and families together. Fresh bread is also the great comfort food. It's like a warm blanket that wraps around you on a chilly evening.

Good bread is a quest. I'm always trying to improve what I do. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's always fun and what I learn is always worth sharing.

So this blog is all about great bread.

What makes great bread?
What does great bread look and feel like?
How should great bread smell?

And best of all -

What is great bread supposed to taste like?

You'll find out as you follow the entries here, and hopefully learn some great information about what makes wonderful bread.