Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bread Tutorial II--The Tools

This will be a much shorter post since this time I'll be focusing on the types of tools which make bread makingeasier. Oh, not the measuring cups and such. I assume you already have ones you like on hand, yes? Use those.

The first thing you'll need are quality bread pans. If you're going to be making a lot of bread, this is no place to be cheap. I'm sorry to say that I did go cheap and now I'm paying for it. I bought metal pans, and I regret that too. If I'd been smarter I would have laid out the money for quality glass or Pyrex pans. (Especially since it was really only a few dollars more.) Mostly this is because of quality issues unrelated to the actual baking process. For one, they're hard to clean. They're "non-stick" in name only. Sometimes even when I oil them really well, the bread still sticks and by the time I pry it out I have half a loaf, with the rest still being in the pan. And there's always a layer of crusted on bread that we can never seem to fully clean off. At times I've had to use a knife to pry out the bread, which leaves scratches in the sides and makes the bread harder to get out next time. *Sigh* After a long time of use metal bread pans will rust, too. No one likes that aftertaste of rust when eating bread. (And I know this happens because when I was making bread growing up, I'd sometimes end up using my mom's old metal ones and then wonder what that odd metallic taste was.) I've also been told that glass actually ends up with a more even heat transfer which helps bread to bake best.

I certainly enjoy using my Pyrex pans for rolls (I use the 9x13) and my glass pie pans for when I make more dome-shaped loaves. They do very well as far as evenly heating the bottom of the bread. They're also very easy to clean and I've never had a problem with bread sticking. (Well, alright, once, but that was user error since I burned the bread.)

A good stand mixer is unnecessary, but helpful. I made our bread by hand for years until Shane's parents gave us our mixer last year and all you need for that is a nice big bowl and a wooden spoon. (Why wood? Because I prefer it over plastic, but you could go either way. I don't see metal working out too well, though.) At the very worst, making bread by hand is a good arm workout and I never noticed a quality difference. The mixer does make things much easier, though, and I enjoy having it. There are quite a few mixing tools for KitchenAids, but the one you want is actually called a dough hook and it looks like this:

I've never tried using anything else for mixing dough in the mixer, and there's a reason for that. The whipping tool and the regular paddle-type mixer would do an awful job of mixing dough to the consistency it needs to be. Save those for more delicate things like cookies, cakes, and frosting.

A lot of people swear by using a dough scraper, which looks like this. I've never actually used one, nor have I seen a need to. But I hear they can make cleanup a breeze. I've also seen how you can "make" one out of an old credit card. Dough scrapers are meant to cut through bread dough. I just pull mine apart when I'm ready to separate it for loaves, and (as my mother before me) simply weigh the two halves in my hands (switching it once or twice to make sure there's no bias from my stronger, dominant hand/arm) to make sure they'll come out somewhat even in size. No need for scales, no need for a special tool to cut the dough. The reason it can be helpful in the cleanup is that you can literally scrape your counter or tabletop and any dough which might have been left sticking to it. But since I flour my surface decently, there's never anything more than a tiny bit of flour leftover and that's easily taken care of with a damp cloth.

When dough is rising the first time, it's also important to have a dish towel to spread over it. I use a lightweight one which can be easily wetted and then wrung out to be only slightly damp. (Though I don't always dampen it.) This helps keep stuff off your dough (like bugs and dust) and helps to keep the moisture in so that the dough doesn't form a nasty crust over the top while it's sitting out and vulnerable. It doesn't matter so much for the second rise, though, because then you want it to start forming crust. I've also seen bread not rise as well as it should the second time because I put a towel over it and that was just enough weight to keep it slightly deflated.

This last isn't a tool, or at least not one you'd buy specifically for bread making. But it's important: get to know your oven. You'll need to know things like, does it cook evenly? (Ours burns in the back.) Will it hold a temperature? (Not in the winter, it cycles on every few minutes when it's super cold outside, so I try not to bake much when it's very cold even though it could help heat the house. It's just too inefficient.) Which rack works best for bread?

Bread will still rise a bit in the oven so it's best to give it some head room. Also, if it's too close to the heat source you'll likely burn the top (or bottom, through the pan). (Don't worry...I've done that.) If I'm really ambitious and try to do more than two loaves of bread at a time it involves some fancy maneuvering. I can just barely get two normal loaves of bread on one rack and something shorter, like rolls, on the other. But because they block each other off from some of the heat they won't cook evenly. I have to set the timer for only half the time and then go switch them top to bottom halfway through or I end up with burnt tops on one set of bread, burnt bottoms on the other. I could conceivably push the bread pans to the back and squeeze a small Pyrex pan of rolls or another type of bred in front, but whatever's in the back would still burn. So unless I'm in a hurry, I stagger my bread. This helps me to keep efficiency by only heating up the oven once, but not overloading it and not needing to open it a whole bunch to switch things around. If I'm only making one set or type of bread, I set them squarely in the middle. But your oven might be different! In my mom's it's best to put the rack as low as possible. I've never used convection heat for bread, which can be incredibly efficient and so you might need to only bake for half the time. Getting to know how your oven bakes is more important than any of these other tools.

No comments:

Post a Comment