Saturday, February 7, 2009

On Bread

: : Being able to bake bread speaks to me of sustenance. Baking a cake or scones or muffins or any of the myriad non-yeast confections is rewarding; an achievement and perhaps part of a celebration, but it does not connect me to that same sense of providing something elemental and true.

: : I don’t remember how old I was when I first began baking yeast breads, so I must have been pretty young. I was lucky enough to have success with yeast breads at my grandmother Gagee’s and my Mom’s sides, so it never felt mysterious. But it certainly felt magical and powerful. It required me to follow a recipe, but it wasn’t too long before I was trying out the variations listed at the bottom of recipes found in cookbooks and magazines.

: : The single rise yeast breads are quick and convenient, but leave out the rewarding physicality of kneading the bread after the first rise, before shaping the alchemic dough into the final artistry of loaf or braid or roll.

: : Only one specialty tool is recommended to guarantee success with yeast breads and make the process easier: an instant read thermometer. I’ve used the same Cuisinart one for probably two decades. As a kid I remember Gagee and Mom teaching me to feel the optimal temperature of the liquid to use with yeast. It’s akin to testing baby’s warm milk in a bottle or baby’s bath water. But because yeast thrives in a very narrow temperature range, I rely on the instant read thermometer.

: : Despite that which I feel is lacking in the creation of a single rise bread, it is one of the quickest and simplest ways to achieve a loaf of home baked bread, with minimal fuss. Now, part of the experience of bread baking is the process, the rhythm, the fuss, if you will. But a single rise is pretty darn cool and really deserves to be part of your yeast bread repertoire.

: : All of which brings me to the following single rise recipe: English Muffin Bread by Fleischmann’s Yeast . I don’t want to get drawn into the whole discussion that there is no such thing in the United Kingdom as an English Muffin! So let’s think of this bread as a “Toasting Bread”. Here in The States, Pepperidge Farm used to make a Toasting Bread. Unlike mid to latter 20th century commercially made white bread, which had more in common with marshmallows than real bread, P.F.’s Toasting Bread had more texture, chewiness and flavor, even though it was still a white bread. Which is a pretty good description of this basic recipe.

I’ve been making this particular Fleischmann’s bread since the early 1980’s. I still have the recipe clipped from a magazine (dated 1981) and taped to a piece of cardboard! However, both the online version and the one clipped from the magazine emphasize the speediness of this bread by using a technique I dislike: hotter liquids mixed into the dry ingredients. The online version recommends using “Fleischmann’s RapidRise Yeast” (introduced in 1984) along with the same technique. But I’m a “proof the yeast” kind of gal and I always use “Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast”. Apparently it’s been around since 1945. While I have a vague memory of Gagee using “Fresh Active Yeast” in the little foil wrapped cubes, the Active Dry Yeast in the three envelope strip has definitely been the norm for most of my life. Now, when I know I’ll be baking regularly, I buy the Active Dry Yeast in the 4 ounce brown jar.

Lee’s Single Rise Toasting Bread
based on Fleischmann’s English Muffin Bread

Makes Two Loaves

5 - 5 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
I like to use a combination of 3 - 3 1/2 Cups of King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour and 2 Cups of King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
(measure flour by spooning lightly into cup)
2 envelopes Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Teaspoons salt
1/4 Teaspoon baking soda

2 Cups milk
1/2 cup water
Cornmeal (optional)

Heat the milk and water until warm (105° to 115°F). Add one tablespoon of the sugar and one tablespoon of the flour to the warm milk mixture, then add the yeast and stir. Let stand for about ten minutes. At the end of the ten minutes the yeast will have “proofed” (proven it is live and active and will work!) and the liquid will look somewhat foamy.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 5 cups flour, the remaining 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the salt, and the baking soda.

Gradually add the milk and yeast mixture to the dry flour mixture. Mix by hand with a large spoon until a stiff batter forms. (I would describe “stiff batter” as closer to a batter than to a dough ball which you would knead.) Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, if needed, to get the desired stiffness.

Place batter into two (8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch) loaf pans that have been well greased (and, if desired, sprinkled with cornmeal for the English Muffin effect). Cover and let rise in a warm, draft- free place until doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Bake at 400°F for 25 minutes or until done.  Carefully remove from pans and cool on a wire rack. 

This bread is wonderful toasted and slathered with butter. It can also be lightly toasted and used as a sandwich bread.

Here are some websites with measurement conversions:
Real Food
Online Conversions


Sue said...

Ooh, oohh, OOOHHH - I love fresh homemade bread!! My in-laws have a bread maker, but, even though it's normally pretty darned delicious, I do think it's cheating a little. I have made bread once or twice myself, but always avoid working with yeast. I think I'm scared of yeast, mainly becuase my mother always said it wasn't an easy product to use. I have a book with some divine yeast bread recipes and this has inspired me to give them a try.

I don't own one of the thermometers you've mentioned, but I think it'd be a worthwhile investment.

In today's world, there are so many preservatives used in the packaged bread we buy in the supermarkets, it'd probabaly be better for all of us to take the time to make our own bread. It's just finding that time on a regular basis. I guess that's the benefit of a bread maker...

Roo said...

Hmmm... Peter has warm hands, so good for bread, I, on the other hand, have cold hands, good for pastry. (It does work honest)

On the other hand, we both can cobble together a myriad of tweaks to a basic bread recipe from the breadmaker and conjure up all sorts of goodies, from malt loaf, tea bread, muffin (US not UK) mix, to panetone even!

Working with yeast is a just-so, get-used-to-it sort of thing. Liquid too cold, it won't work, too hot, you kil it, just right, that's experience ;o)

My mum baked her own bread, cakes, savouries. Saturday was baking day, with Tea (proper sandwiches and cakes) served on a Saturday in the front room and not at the dinner table(big treat), with us all around the TV, watching the end of the football results, then onto Doctor Who, or Dixon of Dock Green... a world away now ;o) One thing about all of this though, we never suffered from hayfever, or food allergies...

Roo said...

Oh and in my wafting of memories I forgot to say to Lee - over here we will toast ANY form of bread, but I do like the idea of a Toasting Bread, it sounds much grander ;o)

barbie2be said...

i have a fear of working with yeast. but i have vowed to get over that this year.

Pink Granite said...

Hi Sue -
I've had very good luck with this recipe since 1981. Because it's a single rise, it's pretty quick. Plus, I bet Jake would get a kick out of the science experiment aspect of baking bread!

The thermometer is about $10.00 U.S., so maybe 96 Rands??? and really is great for this as well as checking the temperature of meats and so on.

You're right that in baking from scratch you control the ingredients and therefore know exactly what you're eating.

I hope you give yeast breads a whirl!
- Lee

Hi Roo -
I'm familiar with the warm hands bread, cool hands pastry theory - and I can't argue with it. I never have been able to make a good pie crust!

Your family's tea sounds wonderful! And now I can more clearly picture your Mum as a baking maven in her kitchen!

Toasting so often brings out the flavor in bread or adds an additional dimension and certainly a texture. But this recipe really benefits from it.
- Lee

Hi B2B -
Perfect timing! Give this recipe and try and let me know how you made out!
- Lee

dancingmorganmouse said...

Would it work if I halved it? 2 loaves is a bit much for us.

Pink Granite said...

Hi DMM -
Yes. It's written for two packets of yeast, so even if you are using packets, it's still easy to cut in half. And while it sort of contradicts the idea of "fresh" bread, you can make one full batch and freeze one loaf for later. That can be helpful in hot and steamy summer months!
- Lee