Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back to Basics: The First Loaf

I don't actually remember the first loaf of bread I made very well.

I know it happened at our old apartment in Brighton, with its teensy stove and ancient refrigerator (the one with the freezer compartment inside, that was too small to hold much of anything and required defrosting every couple of months). I didn't have a stand mixer in those days, and the biggest surface in the kitchen was a cheap card table, not the sturdiest of surfaces for kneading. I overfloured the dough, naturally, and the results were dense and on the dry side. I seem to recall it was a while before I tried again, but I did. And again. And somehow it turned into routine, this business of making bread, the way things do when you're busily living life and not paying it too much attention. You pause and look around and suddenly wonder how you got here? I suppose that blogging, like most other writing, is an attempt to capture the steps of the journey.

But the bread. I'm pretty sure this was the recipe I used that first time, since this is my oldest bread book--Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads. Lo, these many years later, I have still only made a handful of recipes out of it, and annually I swear I'm going to do something about that. Friday's schedule required that I take some time out of work to watch the kids while D went to a doctor appointment. We were out of bread. I wanted to make something other than my usual, and I didn't have much time to think about it, so I pulled out this one, like an acquaintance you haven't seen in ages and suddenly feel an urge to call.

I've abbreviated the written recipe somewhat, assuming that most people use mixers these days. One thing that I hadn't noticed before and thought was interesting is his kneading time instruction. 10 minutes by machine is much longer than most other recipes recommend, but I suspect it is much closer to the time required to fully knead a batch of dough.

5-6 c bread or AP flour
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 package dry yeast
1/4 c nonfat dry milk
2 c warm water
3 Tbsp shortening (I used butter, I generally don't have shortening around)

In a large mixing bowl, measure 2 c flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and dry milk. Pour the water into the dry ingredients and beat to blend thoroughly. Add shortening, continue beating. Add 1 cup flour and beat 3 minutes on medium speed. Continue adding flour, 1/4 c at a time, until the dough becomes a shaggy mass. Attach the dough hook and continue adding flour until the dough forms a soft, elastic ball around the hook. Continue to knead for 10 minutes. If the dough sticks tothe sides of the bowl, add sprinkles of flour. Should it try to climb over the protective collar the top of the hook, hold it back with the edge of a rubber spatula.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and leave at room temp until the dough has doubled in bulk, about an hour.

Turn back the plastic wrap and punch down the dough. Turn it onto a floured work surface and knead for a moment to force out any bubbles. Divide the dough into two pieces with a sharp knife. Shape each piece into a ball and let it rest for two or three minutes. Form a loaf by pressing the dough into a flat oval roughly the length of the baking pan. Fold the oval in half, pinch the seam tightly to seal, tuck under the ends, and place seam down in the pan.

Cover the pans with wax or parchment paper and leave until the dough has doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the loaves in the hot oven for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350F for an additional 25-30 minutes. When the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom crust, they are done.

Turn the loaves out onto wire racks to cool. If you want a soft crust, brush with melted butter while still hot.

No comments: