Baking your own bread is easy, satisfying, and it takes surprisingly little time. Use a food processor to take the hard work out of kneading, and reduce rising times by using fast-action yeast.
Alternatively, let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator so that it is ready to bake the next day.
• Substituting dried yeast: When substituting dried yeast for fresh in a recipe, use 2 tsp (10 ml) dried yeast for / oz (15 g) fresh yeast.
• Using fast-action yeast: Add fast-action yeast directly to a dry flour mix, not to liquid, or its action will be delayed.
• Freezing dough: If you are making the dough that is to be frozen before baking, increase the quantity of yeast by about one third since freezing will kill some of the yeast.
• Adding potato water: Save the water from boiled potatoes to add to bread mixes. It will feed the yeast, giving a good rise, and add to the flavor.
Baking Large Loaves
Testing for doneness to make sure that a large loaf is cooked properly, turn it out of the pan, and tap the bottom with your knuckles. If it sounds hollow, the bread is thoroughly cooked. If not, return it to the oven for a few minutes to finish cooking.
Combining doughs: If some members of your family like whole-wheat bread and others prefer white bread, bake the two kinds of dough end to end in a large loaf pan. Then you can slice the loaf from either end.
Helping Dough Rise
Covering with plastic wrap: To encourage the dough to rise, place it in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap that has been brushed with oil. The dampness and warmth created inside the bowl will speed up the rising.
Baking crusty loaves: For a really crisp crust all over a loaf, take it out of the pan when it is cooked. Then return it to the oven, placing it directly on the shelf, for five minutes more to make sure the crust is crisp all over. Cool the loaf on a wire rack before storing.
Making soft crusts: For soft crusts on bread rolls or loaves, dust the tops with flour before baking, and cover with a clean dish towel when cooling. Also, add milk to the dough mix instead of using just water.
• Adding ascorbic acid: When using fresh yeast, speed uprising times by adding a 25-mg tablet of ascorbic acid for every 8 cups (1 kg) flour.
• Warming flour: To help the dough rise on a cold day, warm the flour first in an ovenproof bowl in the oven at 225°F (110°C). Alternatively, put the flour in a microwave on High for 10 seconds.
• Using a microwave: Place dough in an oiled bowl, brush with oil and cover with waxed paper. Stand the bowl in a shallow dish of hot water, and microwave on Low for four minutes. Let stand for about 20 minutes. Repeat the process until the dough is doubled.
• Testing the rise: To test whether the dough has risen enough, press it lightly with a floured finger. The dough should spring back without leaving an indentation.
Even the most basic bread is transformed even distribution, or knead in chunky additions, by adding extra flavors to the dough. Stir such as olives, just before shaping. Brush tops of herbs or spices into the dry flour mix to ensure loaves or rolls with glaze for last-minute flavor.
• Chopping ingredients: Knead a few chopped olives, herbs, walnuts, or sun-dried tomatoes into plain bread dough for a Mediterranean flavor.
• Mixing flours: Reduce the strong flavor of buckwheat flour by mixing it half and half with rice flour.
• Adding spicy glaze: Brush the tops of loaves with a mixture of oil and curry paste or pesto sauce before baking for a spicy, golden crust.
• Glazing with herbs: For a crisp, savory crust on bread, dissolve 2 tsp (10 ml) salt in 2 tbsp (30 ml) warm water, and brush over the tops of rolls. Sprinkle with herbs and bake.
Making Savory Breads
Adding celery salt: Give plain bread a subtle, savory flavor by substituting celery salt or garlic salt for table salt. If the salt crystals are large, dissolve them first in the liquid that will be used to mix the dough.
Making Sweet Glazes
Brush bread loaves or rolls with warmed honey as soon as they are removed from the oven for a glossy, sweet glaze. Alternatively, brush with corn or maple syrup for the same effect.
Shaping and decorating dough: Bread dough can be shaped before baking, be adapted for large loaves or small rolls. If you whether in a loaf pan or on a cookie sheet, are short on time, decorate dough by scoring Traditional shapes such as braids or twists can lattice pattern on the surface with a sharp blade.
To decorate a plain loaf quickly, use scissors to cut slashes across the top of the dough before rising or baking. The cuts will open out when the dough rises, making a patterned top.
Making Round Loaves
Shaping a cottage loaf Top a ball of dough with a smaller ball. Poke a hole through the center with your finger to secure them.
Cutting across: Cut a deep cross in a plain, round loaf before proving, using a floured, sharp knife. The cuts will open out to form an attractive crown shape when the loaf of bread is baked.
• Using seeds: Scatter sesame or poppy seeds over soft rolls after glazing to make an attractive and tasty topping.
• Marbling dough: Make two batches of dough one whole¬wheat, one plain. Pull off small pieces, then knead together before shaping to give the dough a marbled effect.
• Sprinkling pans: After greasing loaf pans, sprinkle lightly with cracked wheat or rolled oats before adding bread dough to give the crust a nutty texture.
• Baking rolls in clusters: Instead of baking rolls separately, pack them closely together in a pan or place on a cookie sheet. Serve them to be pulled apart as required.