Friday, June 15, 2012

Foodie Friday! #8: Yeast Breads

This post has been a long time coming - sorry about that! I wanted to put together something comprehensive, but that takes a far bit of time, so...you know how that goes.
White American-style sandwich bread.

I'm definitely not an expert, but I've been making bread on my own for a while now, because once you start, supermarket bread really doesn't cut it any more, and local bakery bread is a pricey indulgence in this part of the world. Thus, we take matters into our own hands! Quite literally, too. I started making bread before I owned a stand mixer; I was armed with nothing more than a wooden spoon. So, you can do this without a bread maker or a stand mixer; it's not the easiest project, but it's very doable. Take heart! All you need is yeast and flour; I buy yeast in bulk at Costco and keep it in the freezer. I keep a little jar in the refrigerator and refill as necessary from my freezer stash.
Cinnamon rolls; this was edited with an Instagram filter.

For starters, there is that Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day recipe floating around; I own the book, and it's quite good. The basic boule recipe is pretty fool proof, and you can keep the dough in your fridge (in a large container) for up to two weeks. It's possible to just take some out before a meal, let it warm up, and then bake for fresh bread. The authors have a website with a useful FAQs page. This will give you a crusty loaf, which you can shape as a baguette or a boule or whatever you please.

I have other recipes, though I'd say that's the easiest to start, and it's a great accompaniment to meals. Then you can move on to sandwich bread, cinnamon rolls, yeast bread coffee cakes, dinner rolls, pretzels...the possibilities are endless! You can also make your own hamburger buns, and there is also the option to add whole wheat flour to your bread (I usually do a 50/50 white/whole wheat mixture).

As far as breadmaking goes, relax. Breads are usually less fickle than cakes, I find, so if you can bake a cake (or even if you have never tried), you can bake bread. It's kind of soothing to knead it by hand, but also fun to watch the stand mixer slap it around. In general, keep a few things in mind:
  • Bread is forgiving. You can do a lot of things wrong and it will still probably come out decently. Stop worrying!
  • The initial investment is rather small. Yes, a fancy bread maker will go a long way if you want to do this daily or very frequently, but otherwise you can get along fine without heavy duty tools.
  • Knead a lot (besides the 5 minute recipe), and always err on the side of less flour. Excessive flour will make your bread crumbly.
  • Allow bread to cool thoroughly before attempting to cut it, or it will fall apart.
  • You can use a thermometer to gauge when your bread is done (insert the needle into the loaf); I confess I've never done this and have pretty much gained an idea of my oven's tendencies through trial and error. 
  • Adapting recipes for whole wheat means you need more liquids and various other compensations need to be made. Bridget from The Way the Cookie Crumbles (a fabulous food blog) has outlined a nice method of converting breads to whole wheat here.
  • Be positive! You might as well try. Sometimes the dough doesn't inflate a whole lot during the first or second rise, but it may rise during the baking process.
  • If you have a drafty home, you can heat water in the microwave, remove the water, and leave your dough in the closed microwave to rise (this creates a moist, humid, warm environment).
  • Don't give up :) I've baked quite a few duds in the past and still do every once in a while; dry bread can be cut up and baked into croutons, blitzed into bread crumbs (I store these in the freezer - no more buying bread crumbs!), made into bread pudding or brown bettys...the possibilities are endless.
Hoddeok, a pan-fried Korean yeasted sweet bread filled with brown sugar.
Here are some great yeast bread recipes (I have tried all of these):
Okay! Hopefully that was helpful in some way. If you have questions, I will try to answer them, but like I said, I'm definitely no expert. I also have no experience with a bread machine, so I can't help with that. You might also want to look at Pinkfish Tart for more baking tales - Jian is a pro and often makes bread in the tangzhong method, which I'm dying to try. So! Go forth, make bread! And tweet me some photos ;)