Many people are making bread these days and there’s nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the house. Here are some answers to frequently asked bread making questions.
Never allow salt to come into direct contact with yeast because it removes the water that yeast needs to live. Instead, add salt to the flour used to make the dough, so the flour can act as a buffer.
A heavy-duty stand mixer is a great appliance for making bread dough. You can use the dough hook for mixing and kneading. If the dough isn’t coming together with the dough hook, switch over to the paddle attachment and mix just until the ingredients are combined, then switch back to the dough hook.
After the dough is mixed, let it rest. Professional bakers call this period, autolyze. It lets the flour fully hydrate and strengthens the gluten in the flour before kneading. Cover the work bowl with plastic and let the dough stand for 20 minutes and then knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Dough made with a high proportion of whole-grain flour should feel tacky when you are kneading it. In general, moist or even sticky dough makes the best bread. Don’t add too much flour to the dough or the bread will bake up dry and tough.
How can you tell when the dough has been kneaded long enough? Use the windowpane test. Pull off a golf ball knob of dough and pat it into a rectangle. Pulling slowly and consistently from all four corners, stretch the dough into a thin, translucent membrane. If the dough tears easily, knead it longer. This technique won’t work with dough that includes seeds, nuts, or raisins, as they will tear the dough even if it has been kneaded sufficiently. If such ingredients have been used, check for stretchy and resilient dough.
Many bakers use a bowl to hold bread dough, but a straight-sided clear plastic tub is ideal for keeping track of dough as it rises. Mark the beginning level of the dough on the outside with a pen or a piece of tape, and then you can easily see when the dough has doubled. You can also use a glass bowl, but the doubling is a bit harder to define in a slope-sided container. Gently poke a finger into the dough. If the hole doesn’t refill, the dough has probably finished rising.
Many crusty artisanal are baked with steam to help keep the crust soft and pliable, allowing the bread to expand fully. Professional ovens have built-in steam injectors, but home bakers have to be more creative. One recommended method: When you turn on the oven to preheat it, place an empty heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet or pan on a rack near the top of the oven, When the bread dough is added to the oven, toss a handful of ice cubes into the pan and close the door. The ice will melt quickly and create a burst of steam. While the oven door is open, cover the glass on the door with a towel to catch any drips (the cold water could crack the glass) and remove the towel before closing the door.
A common way to test bread for doneness is to rap on the bottom of the loaf and listen for a dull thump. Using a thermometer is more reliable. Insert an instant-read thermometer in the bottom of the loaf, being sure to the tip reaches the center of the loaf. Butter and egg laden breads are finished when their internal temperature reaches 185 to 190 degrees F. Leaner and crispier breads are ready at 200 to 205 degrees F. For breads baked in loaf pans, insert the thermometer just above the rim of the pan, angling the tip down to the center of the loaf.
“Work With What You Got!”
©Tiny New York Kitchen © 2020 All Rights Reserve
Some people are natural bakers and some people learn as they go. I’m guessing that most people are the “learn as you go” types. Here are some little things that, are not giant revelations, but are useful tips to help you through your holiday baking.
Unwrap Butter Before Bringing To Room Temperature
Many recipes call for softened butter and if you’re using it, here’s a trick. Instructions for softening butter usually directs one to leave the butter on the counter until it reaches room temperature. It’s much better to unwrap the butter straight from the refrigerator and let it soften in the mixing bowl. When butter is cold, it lifts cleanly off the wrapper as opposed to much of it sticking to the paper and the mess it makes.
Use Butter Paper To Grease Pans
If you don’t unwrap your butter when cold and you have butter-globbed butter wrappers, use them to grease pans.
Use A Large Slotted Spoon To Separate Eggs
For separating eggs, break the whole egg into a small-size bowl. Grab the yolk with a metal slotted spoon. Use the wall of the bowl to help and let the white slink off the edge of the spoon, jiggling if the white is stubborn. The white doesn’t actually go through the wholes of the spoon, but the holes somehow seem to facilitate their departure. Do one at a time and transfer each one after so as not to taint the batch should a yolk break. If you are using just the whites and don’t need the yolks right away, stick them in the freezer for later use.
Use The Right Kind Of Measuring Cup
Use spouted cups for the measuring of wet ingredients. Use the scoop/cup type for dry ingredients. It’s hard to get an accurate amount of flour or sugar in a big glass measuring cup, and it’s hard not to spill oil or water when it’s filled to the brim in a scoop measuring cup. For wet ingredients, get to the eye level with the quantity marks and make sure they are even. For dry ingredients, spoon ingredients into the cup and then level it off with a knife.
Better Yet, Use A Scale
Unlike the rest of the world, American recipes use cups for measuring. Baking can be an exact science and as long as the recipe includes weights the scale is the most accurate way to measure.
Don’t Measure Over The Bowl
If you measure your ingredients over the bowl you just may get more in the bowl than you intended. Measure to the side of the bowl, even if it means having to wipe up a few grains of salt from the counter.
Know Your Oven’s Moods
Each oven heats differently. Ovens have hot and cool spots, which might explain uneven baking. Get into the habit of moving shelves around (middle rack is a good bet) and setting a timer to rotate pans halfway through baking. Test your oven by turning your oven to 350 F degrees, line the racks with slices of white bread and cook until they start to toast; remove them and analyze the results for a pattern. Are they even? Are the ones from the back darker than the rest?
Use An Oven Thermometer
Your oven dial may not be giving you an accurate read. The best way to avoid this is by purchasing an oven thermometer that sits inside the oven. Many bakers do this and having the ability to monitor the temperature in real-time allows you to adjust as needed.
All candy thermometers are not created equally. Here’s how to calibrate your candy thermometer: Put the candy thermometer in a pot of water and bring it to a rolling boil, with constant and vigorous bubbles. The boiling point for water is 212 F (100 C), which is what your thermometer should read (if you are at sea level). You can leave it in there for a few minutes to make sure the reading is accurate.
Dark And Light Pans Are Not Perfectly Interchangeable
Are your cookies always overdone on the bottom? Are your roasted vegetables not getting browned enough? This one makes perfect sense. Dark pans absorb heat, light pans reflect it. Use light pans for cookies and cakes that don’t want a brown crust. Use dark pans for roasting vegetables, making pizza, or baking anything in which you want more of a crust.
Swapping Pan Sizes And Shapes
You might now want to use the pan that the recipe calls for. Pick up a copy of, Joy of Baking, and use the Baking Pan Sizes page. It has a list of every pan and its capacity, so that you can switch things around and swap pans with compatible capacities or adjust if needed.
Wear An Apron
Your apron will take a beating, but it will save your clothes!
“Work With What You Got!”
©Tiny New York Kitchen © 2019 All Rights Reserved
There are those foods that can be rather difficult to figure out how to eat without looking like you were born in a cave. Here are some useful tips for properly eating perplexing foodstuffs.
Pluck off artichoke leaves and scrape the tender part (not the prickly point) between your teeth (preferably after dipping in melted butter). Work your way to the delicate inner leaves, and then use a knife to cut off the remaining small leaves and feathery innards. Cut the artichoke “heart” into bite-sized pieces and eat with a fork.
Eat asparagus with your fingers if served raw as crudités. Eat with a fork and knife if served with dinner.
Break bread into bite-sized pieces, and butter it or dip it into olive oil just one piece at a time.
Eat entire crab, including shell, either in sandwich form or using a fork and knife. Remove inedible pieces from your mouth with a fork.
Place meats, vegetables, and other fillings on a flat tortilla. Roll up and use your fingers to eat fajitas from one end.
Spear bread, vegetables, or fruit with a fondue spear and dip into cheese or sauce. Remove food from spear using a dinner fork, and eat from a plate. DO NOT double dip. Spear uncooked meat cubes and place spear into fondue broth or sauce. When cooked, transfer meat to a plate using a dinner fork and cut into smaller pieces to eat.
Wear a lobster bib to avoid fishy splatters, Crack shells with shellfish crackers and extract meat with a small fork or pick. Cut larger pieces with a knife, and eat with a fork after dipping in melted butter. Clean your hands by dipping fingers into finger bowls, and use lemon (if provided) to cut extra grease. Dry your hands with your napkin.
Use a knife to push peas onto a fork. Do not mash peas before eating, or eat peas from a knife.
Use a small fork to extract mussels, clams, or oysters from the half-shell. Season with fresh lemon or cocktail sauce. In informal settings, you may quietly slurp shellfish from shells.
Using a soup spoon, spoon soup away from your body and then quietly sip from side of spoon. Tilt bowl away from you to spoon up remaining drops.
Twirl pasta with fork tines into bite-sized portions, and allow any dangling pieces to fall back onto your fork. You may also rest fork tines against the bowl of a spoon while you twirl pasta.
Extract clam from shell using a small fork, and use a fork and knife to remove inedible neck. In informal settings, it is permissible to use fingers.
“Work With What You Got!”
© Victoria Hart Glavin Tiny New York Kitchen