Friday, January 18, 2013

Kitchen Chemistry

Whenever one of my colleagues at ASH offered his Kitchen Chemistry elective, I knew we could expect homemade ice cream in a couple of months. The kids loved the class, and the neighboring teachers did, too. Yummy!

I experience my own kitchen chemistry every time I step up to the kitchen counter. Today it was artisan bread and my homemade Greek yoghurt. The yoghurt deal is pretty much down pat. I do not have many goofs with that. Sometimes the end product is better than others have been, but the yoghurt is always edible.

As for the artisan "no knead" bread, that is another story. Yesterday I tried it again. As for me, it was a tad salty, but I can "fix" that the next time around. But for the rest, this was a good loaf. There should be three more in this batch of dough in the fridge. I found the recipe on Pinterest from You will notice that I gave the recipe my own twist.

Artisan Bread Recipe January 2013
(L: is Linda=Me)
Makes four 1 pound loaves.

3 cups lukewarm water (L:1/4 cup of this used with 1/2 teaspoon sugar to proof yeast)
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated fast acting yeast (2 packets)
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt (L:will try 1 tablespoon next time)
6-1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached all purpose white flour *

* (My favorite way to make this bread now is to use half bread flour, half all-purpose flour and throw in 3/4 cup wheat bran into the dough.)

tip: After baking, if your bread is gummy on the inside, try either increasing the amount of flour by 1/4 cup and/or increasing the baking time by 5-10 minutes.

Also, If the dough is just too sticky for you to work with comfortably, increase the flour in your next batch.

Mixing and Storing the Dough

1. Warm the water slightly. It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. (L: used water cooker for 1/2 and cold tap water for 1/2. Tested with finger.)

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5 quart bowl or a plastic container with a lid. (L:used plastic shoe box[new] with lid from Dollar Store)

(Note: I dump all this in my KitchenAid mixer, let it mix it for just about 10 seconds and then put it in the plastic container. I just find it easier to let the mixer do this part).
(L: rather do the mixing with a wooden spoon inside the box where the dough will rise)

3. Mix in the flour - kneading is unnecessary. Add all of the flour at once, measuring the flour by scooping it and leveling it off with a knife. Mix with a wooden spoon - do not knead. You're finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes. The dough should be wet and loose and shaggy.

4. Allow to rise. Cover with a lid (not airtight). Lidded plastic buckets designed for dough storage can be purchased many places. (I used a plastic square food storage container from my local grocery store. I just punctured a small hole in the top). (L: I used the same shoe box as I mixed it in. I put it in a cold oven with no extra heat or light. Dough had risen in 2 hours.)You want the gases to be able to escape a little. You can also do this in a large bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and puncture a small hole in the top. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on top), about two hours. Longer rising times will not hurt your dough. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try this method, it's best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.


5. Shape your loaf. Place a piece of baking parchment paper on a pizza peel (don't have a pizza peel - use an unrimmed baking sheet or turn a rimmed baking sheet upside down). Sprinkle the surface of your dough in the container with flour. Pull up and cut off about a 1-pound piece of dough (about the size of a grapefruit), using scissors or a serrated knife. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball as you go. Dust your hands with flour if you need to. This is just to prevent sticking - you don't want to incorporate the flour into the dough. The top of the dough should be smooth - the object here is to create a "gluten cloak" or "surface tension". It doesn't matter what the bottom looks like, but you need to have a smooth, tight top. This whole step should take about 30 seconds! Place the dough onto your parchment paper.

6. Let the loaf rise for about 30 - 40 minutes (it does not need to be covered). If it doesn't look like it has risen much, don't worry - it will in the oven. This is called "oven spring". (L : I placed the unbaked loaf on the parchment and the cookie sheet bottom in the oven with the light on [~100F] for the 30 minutes. Not much rise during that time.)

7. Preheat a baking stone on the middle rack in the oven for at least 20 minutes at 450 degrees F. Place an empty rimmed baking pan or broiler pan on a rack below the baking stone. This pan is for holding water for steam in the baking step. (If you don't have a baking stone, you can use a baking sheet, but you will not get the crisp crust on the bottom. You will still have a great loaf of bread. Baking stones are cheap and easy to find - Target carries them - and are a must for making pizzas, so go out and get one as soon as you can.)
((L: I used an old rusty pizza pan for the water and baked the bread on the parchment on top of a cookie sheet. Bottom of bread came out brown and crusty!))
8. Dust the loaf with a little flour and slash the top with a knife. (L: used scissors) This slashing is necessary to release some of the trapped gas, which can deform your bread. It also makes the top of your bread look pretty - you can slash the bread in a tic tac toe pattern, a cross, or just parallel slashes. You need a very sharp knife or a razor blade - you don't want the blade to drag across the dough and pull it. As the bread bakes, this area opens and is known as "the bloom". Remember to score the loaves right before baking. (L: made three slices with the scissors and dusted with a little flour)

9. Bake. Set a cup of water next to your oven. Slide the bread (including the parchment paper) right onto the hot baking stone. (L: or cookie sheet!)Quickly pour the water right into the pan underneath the baking stone and close the oven door. This creates the necessary steam to make a nice crisp crust on the bread. Bake at 450 F for about 30 - 35 minutes, (L: small one pound loaf, but 35 minutes) depending on the size of your loaf. Make sure the crust is a deep golden brown. When you remove the loaf from the oven, you will hear it crackle for a while. In baking terms, this is called "sing" and it is exactly what you want.

10. Cool. Allow the bread to cool for the best flavor and texture. It's tempting to eat it when it's warm, and that's fine, but the texture is better after the bread has cooled.

11. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use for up to 14 days. Every day your bread will improve in flavor. Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them. When your dough is gone, don't clean the container. Go ahead and mix another batch - the remaining bits of dough will contribute flavor to the next batch, much like a sourdough starter does!

The Italian Dish

###Photo of Linda's Artisan Bread

1 comment:

Mrs. Micawber said...

Looks great! I like to use ice cubes for steam - a bowl full tossed onto the floor of the oven when the dough goes in.

I'll bet this bread gets better and better - by the time the dough is four days old it probably has an amazing sourdough-type flavour. Thanks for the recipe!

P.S. I slash my dough with a serrated bread knife. Works great and doesn't drag.