Basic Bread


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Today, we're going to bake the first of three variations on a basic loaf of bread.

Meanwhile, keep feeding your sourdough starter. We're going to bake our third loaf using it.

We've made several different kinds of bread and gotten different results based on changing up the ingredients.

So today, let's focus in on four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast.

It's been interesting for me as I researched various books and sites for recipes. Many of them don't list water as an ingredient. As you read books and posts written by professional bakers they always list the amount of water. In fact, they often list a percentage for the various ingredients.

Percentages are a bit weird in baking formulas. The percentages are not a percent of the final dough, they are a percent relative to the flour's weight.

The total amount of flour is 100%.

If I use 100 g of flour and 72 g of water we say that our dough is 72% hydration. (I'm assuming there are no other liquids in the formula)

The reason this is important is it makes scaling recipes up or down easy. Say I want to use 420 g of flour, then I use 72% of 420 g or 0.72 & 420 g which is 302 g of water.

The other reason we love to look at the percentage of water is we can quickly judge if something is a wet dough or not. For example, I was going to make my focaccia with 70% hydration but I read the tweet that suggested 80% and said I could take it up to 100%. So I chose an amount in between that was easy to measure out in measuring cups for those who didn't have a scale. Our hydration was over 90%. You might remember that it was a very wet dough.

Our sourdough starter has been maintained by dumping out 2/3 of it and adding back equal weights of flour and water. This means that our starter is 100% hydration. This is called a "liquid levain" or "liquid starter". We can create more solid starters that are closer to the feel of dough and are about 68%.

In most basic bread recipes the salt is about 2% although often people are skewing that lower. I tend to use about 1.8%. So take your flour weight and multiply it by 0.18. In today's recipe it's closer to 1.9%.

Also in most basic bread recipes you use 1% of fresh yeast. Most home bakers don't bake with fresh yeast. They use dry powdered yeast of one kind or another. I use instant yeast. If you aren't using fresh yeast you use 1/3 as much by weight or about 0.33%. With that in mind you can see that we used a huge amount of yeast in the Hamburger Buns recipe.

The other variables are how you handle your dough and the temperature of your environment. I'm giving times for my house in the spring. On warmer days the dough rises more quickly than the times given. I may use less yeast to compensate or just reduce the times. On colder days it takes more time. I may put the dough (as others have suggested online) in an oven that is turned off but has been warmed briefly to just above room temperature.

Time is very important in a professional bakery where the different breads are contending for the same oven and have to be ready right on time. For us at home, if our bread isn't risen enough, we can wait a half hour and check again.

Let's bake.

We will use all purpose flour, 72% warm water, around 2% salt, and around 1/3 % yeast.

For one loaf I used:

Mix those ingredients together. Knead them until you have a slightly sticky, strong (you can stretch it and it fights back) dough.

Put the dough in a bowl or other container and cover it in a warm place. After an hour, wet your hands and pull from one side of the dough and fold it on itself. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and do it again. Repeat until you've gone all the way around the bowl.

After another hour repeat the process. We call this "a fold". Let the dough rise another 45 minutes.

Put the dough on a lightly floured counter and gently shape it into a round loaf. I dusted a basket with flour and put the loaf in to rise one last time after cover the basket with a towel. You can use a bowl.

Let the dough rise another two hours.

After an hour, preheat the oven to 460 degrees F / 235 degrees C. If you have a stone it should be in the oven. Other people bake in a dutch oven or cloche. If so heat that in the oven.

After the dough has risen, tip the bread out onto the stone or into the dutch oven or cloche - or onto a baking sheet. Use a knife to slash the top of the bread from north to south and from east to west. This will help the bread expand the way you want it to and not randomly.

About 20 minutes in, if you are using a dutch oven or cloche, carefully take the top off and let the bread bake exposed to the air. In any case, check the bread to see how it's doing.

Another 15 minutes should be all the bread needs to be a beautiful brown. Check at 10 minutes to be sure it's not cooking too quickly. The main clue that you should check if your bread is done is when your kitchen smells overwhelmingly of freshly baked bread.

When the bread is brown give it a gentle squeeze to see if the crust is crunchy and thump the bottom to hear if it's cooked inside. If not (and you'll get a feel for if it is over time) back a little longer. If the bread is browning too much, reduce your oven.

Let the bread cool for a half hour. It's still baking inside. Let it finish.

Once it's cooled, enjoy.

This bread is good and makes a great sandwich and will be wonderful toast tomorrow.

It's good - but it's not great. Next time we'll make a better bread.

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