Soup season is in full flow so it seems only right to take a look at how to make a great loaf of bread to go dunking in your favorite soup!
Throughout recorded history, bread has been popular around the world and is one of humanity’s oldest foods; having been of importance since the dawn of agriculture. Doughs are usually baked, but in some cuisines breads are steamed (e.g., mantou), fried (e.g., puri), or baked on an unoiled frying pan (e.g., tortillas). Salt, fat and leavening agents, such as yeast and baking soda are common ingredients; though bread may contain other ingredients, such as milk, egg, sugar, spice, fruit (such as raisins), vegetables (such as onion), nuts (such as walnuts) or seeds (such as poppy). Referred to colloquially as the “staff of life”, bread has been prepared for at least 30,000 years. The development of leavened bread can probably also be traced to prehistoric times. Sometimes, the word bread refers to a sweetened loaf cake, often containing appealing ingredients like dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts or spices; such as pumpkin bread, banana bread or gingerbread.
Fresh bread is prized for its taste, aroma, quality, appearance and texture. Retaining its freshness is important to keep it appetizing. Bread that has stiffened or dried past its prime is said to be stale. Modern bread is sometimes wrapped in paper or plastic film or stored in a container such as a breadbox to reduce drying. Bread that is kept in warm, moist environments is prone to the growth of mold. Bread kept at low temperatures, in a refrigerator for example, will develop mold growth more slowly than bread kept at room temperature, but will turn stale quickly due to retrogradation.
The soft, inner part of bread is known to bakers and other culinary professionals as the crumb, which is not to be confused with small bits of bread that often fall off, called crumbs. The outer hard portion of bread is called the crust. The crumb’s texture is greatly determined by the quality of the pores in the bread.
The Basic Steps Of Making Bread Are:
Activation of yeast/Making a sponge
Some home cookbooks call this proofing the yeast, but proofing in a professional bakery is the final dough-rise step before baking, and refers to a specific rest period within the more generalized process known as fermentation.
By adding yeast plus warm water and a sweetener, the baker can verify the yeast is alive and active. The water should be 95° F to 105° F. Yeast cells die at 120° F. After setting for 5-10 minutes, active bubbles should appear on the top of the mixture.
A sponge is a mixture of an active culture, warm water, sweetener and flour. This was the traditional way breads were made, before baker’s yeast. By using a sponge the bread will have an improved taste and texture.
Salt is added only after the yeast has been developed because the salt can kill yeast cells that it comes into contact with, so there needs to be an active colony of yeast to survive. The purpose of the salt is to add flavor, tighten the gluten structure, and helps to give color to the crust.
Flavor ingredients such as nuts, seeds, herbs and oil are added before more flour. If dried fruit is used it is best to soak it, otherwise it will pull moisture from the bread.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients otherwise flour can spread everywhere.
Kneading helps align the gluten proteins to make the dough stretchy and able to capture the gas bubbles that are developed from the yeast during the rise period. It is nearly impossible to overwork a dough by hand but care must be taken if using a machine. Often 10-15 minutes of kneading by hand is necessary. The dough should feel elastic and cohesive.
Shape the dough into a ball and place into an oiled bowl. Cover with a towel and plastic wrap and let is rise in a warm place. The oven with simply the light on is usually sufficient.
The dough should double in size and you should be able to poke the dough with your finger and the indentation should not fill in.
Punching down the dough will redistribute the yeast, allow for new air bubbles to form and allow for the prolonged fermentation to add greater flavor to the bread.
Push your fist into the center of the dough and then fold the edges into the center. Slide the dough onto the table. You may perform this a couple times to make the bread lighter and airier.
Divide the dough
Divide the dough into the portions you want to make. If you want to make one large loaf you may leave it as is.
Rounding the dough helps to align the gluten strands even more and should result in a dough with smooth skin without seams or cracks. To do this place your hands, palms down, on top of the dough. While pulling the dough with your palms, move your hands down the side of the dough and pinch the dough underneath the dough ball with your pinkies touching. Turn the dough ¼ turn and repeat. Repeat this until the dough is smooth and round. Around 10 times.
Shape the dough
You can leave the dough round or you can shape the dough into different sizes and shapes.
Proof the dough
This is the final rise of the dough before it is baked and it should rise to about double its size once more.
Dock the dough
Place slashes in the dough’s top surface to allow the steam to escape as the dough cooks.
An optional glaze of cornstarch and water or egg may be added to give the outer crust a nice color and shine.
The bread will be done when the internal temperature reaches 200° F and when tapped with a knuckle on the bottom will have a hollow sound.
It is important to let the bread rest before cutting into it. If the bread is cut while still warm you can crush and condense the crumb.
This blog has been adapted from one of Chef Nic’s cooking lessons. To learn more visit us at http://www.theupbeetkitchen.com
Modified from Bread, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bread&oldid=607313766 (last visited May 6, 2014). The text of this work is released under CC-BY-SA 3.0