Bread by the Numbers

Professional bakers cook by the numbers too. This recipe explains how to make a good sandwich bread by the numbers. The recipe works with both white and whole wheat flours. The recipe keys off of the number of loaves desired.

This recipe uses a “starter” made from flour, water, and yeast. The starter provides the water, yeast, and 200 grams of flour for the first loaf.

Tools

  • Kitchen scale to measure flour
  • Bread machine, mine is a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. We will be using both the frazzle spade and the dough hook.
  • Bread kneading bowl. Mine is a hand me down from my grandmother. A silicone bakers mat also works well.
  • 1 quart mixing bowl used to brew the starter
  • 4 quart mixing bowl used to store the flour
  • Serving spoon for adding flour
  • Rubber spatula for scraping down the bowl, frazzle spade, etc
  • Bread pans, one per loaf. I prefer heavy Silverstone finished pans.
  • Electronic chef’s thermometer to check water temperature and test bread for doneness.
  • Bakers apron to keep the baker relatively un-floured.

Tool rational

Wearing a bakers apron reduces the mess on me.

I find that using a stand mixer to turn the ingredients into dough gives repeatable results and greatly reduces the kitchen mess. Although it is convenient to use, it must be used with care. Like any power tool, it can hurt you. Tools, hands, etc are an interference fit between the mixing element and the bowl wall. This beast can break fingers and otherwise make a mess of you. I sit the mixer with the motor away from me to minimize the risk of accidental operation of the motor control during tool changes and ingredient addition.

Flour is a highly variable ingredient. It is difficult to measure by scooping because it can compress in the measure, round in the measure, be scant in the measure, etc. Trying to scrape a rounded measure level tends to be messy so I just shovel it out into the bowl on the scale until I have the calculated amount.

I find the heavy Silverstone pans give a good loaf crust and permit the loaf to be turned out without use of a lubricant. By keeping the pan dry, it doesn’t build up a layer of gunk. Once cooled, the pans are cleaned by rubbing down with a dish fowl to remove any dust or crust matter that was shed when turning out the loaf.

Ingredients

The amount of flour is approximate. Flour can vary in its moisture content with the weather, age, storage, etc. Sometimes not all of it will be taken up. Other times, a little extra will remain in the bowl. I find measure by weighing gives a more accurate result. If the dough is a bit sticky, a tablespoon or three of extra flour will result in a properly dense and non-sticky dough.

Calculating amounts

The ratio of four to water is 5 to 3 by weight. Determine the number of loaves to bake and calculate the ingredients using  the following per loaf rules.

  • Water, 250 grams or milliliters per loaf
  • Yeast, 1 teaspoon per loaf. I use granulated jar packaged “bread machine” yeast.
  • Sugar, 1.5 tablespoons per loaf
  • Salt, 0.5 tablespoons per loaf
  • Optional butter, 1 tablespoon of soft or melted butter per loaf
  • Flour, 5/3 times the weight of water. 833 grams makes 2 loaves.
  • Baker’s oil spray (canola is OK)

If making whole wheat bread measure out about 1/3 to 1/2 of the calculated weight of whole wheat flour. Add white flour until the whole amount is in the bowl. Dry mix the whole wheat and white flour until a uniform mixture results.

Reserve the following ingredients to make the starter

  • Yeast, 1teaspoon
  • Water, 250 grams
  • Flour, 200 grams

With my mixer and oven, it is practical to make 2 loaves per batch. Three would be a bit tight in the mixer bowl and my oven can manage 4 loaves by properly arranging the pans.

Tempering the ingredients

The evening before baking, calculate the amount of ingredients needed, remove all ingredients from storage (I keep my flour in the fridge), measure out the water plus some extra into a pitcher or a 1 liter Nalgen water bottle, and allow all to warm to room temperature (70 to 80 degrees F). All preparation and fermentation will be done at room temperature including dissolving the yeast.

Procedure

My personal process to making bread requires five passes

  • Making the starter
  • Making the dough
  • First rising
  • Loaf forming and second rising
  • Baking

Making the starter

Do not follow the directions on the yeast jar for dissolving the yeast. Use of “warm” tap water drawn from the hot water faucet is likely to murder your yeast. I made this mistake for years before reading about proper yeast technique in Bread Alone, a really good bread baking cook book. Instead, follow the directions below which dissolve the yeast as part of the mixing process.

  1. Calculate the ingredient amounts needed using the rules above.
  2. Measure out flour and water for the starter reducing the amount of water by 250 grams (milliliters) and flour by 200 grams. Reduce the yeast by 1 teaspoon.
  3. Prepare the starter by dissolving one teaspoon of yeast in 250 milliliters (grams) of water. I mix my starter in a 1 quart pyrex bowl with a snap on the vented cover.
  4. Once the yeast is dissolved, mix in 200 grams of flour until a uniform mixture results.
  5. Cover and set the starter bowl on a dinner plate and move it to a quiet location. An energetic batch of starter can pop the cover and overflow the bowl. Today’s batch did that. And starter is a sticky mess to clean up.
  6. Allow the starter to ferment at room temperature. I place mine in the oven to keep it out of the way and away from the greyhounds.
  7. Once the starter has doubled in bulk (it will fill the bowl), it is ready. If all goes well, this will take about 2 hours.

Mixing the dough

I mix my dough using a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. My mixer is a hand me down from my aunt Nellie Sue. The governor had failed so she purchased a replacement. I asked if I could have the old machine. A trip to a local appliance shop replaced the failed governor and made the beast almost good as new. It has a definite experienced look about it with the paint and cord a bit yellowed but it is still strong as an ox.

  1. Prepare the mixer by mounting the bowl and frazzle spade on the mixer.
  2. Add the salt, sugar, remaining water and remaining yeast to the mixing bowl. Mix on slow (1) until all is dissolved.
  3. Add the starter to the mixing bowl and mix on slow (1) until a homogeneous mixture results.
  4. Add the remaining flour by serving spoons until a homogeneous sticky mixture results. From time to time, stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to until all of the flower is incorporated into the dough. Leave the mixer on slow and mix with the frazzle spade until the machine begins to stall.
  5. At this point, the dough will be much less sticky. If the dough is still sticky, continue mixing adding some extra flour by tablespoons until the dough tacky and fairly dry to touch.
  6. Stop the machine and switch to the dough hook. Start the mixer on slow (1) until the machine begins to stall. Switch to 2 and continue until a good stiff dough results.
  7. Mixing usually takes less than 10 minutes from start to ready for hand finishing. At this point the dough may be slightly tacky. The first kneading will correct this. Stop the mixer, dismount the bowl, and transfer the dough to the kneading bowl.

Kneading and first raising

The mixer will not prepare a dough that is ready for first rising. A few minutes of hand kneading finishes the mixing process. I knead my bread in a kneading trough that is a hand me down from my Grandma Walters. Mom retrieved it on on of her visits to the old home place and handed it down to me. This bowl is long and shallow with a flat bottom. The width is about the same as the length of a bread pan. The bowl is dug out from an old growth hardwood log. A lot of the character of my bread results from completing both kneading steps in this bowl. The bowl has a patina of yeast that adds a bit of wild yeasty character to the bread. This bowl is scraped down with a board knife and any left-over flour brushed out. It is never washed.

  1. Flour the bowl. I just grab a hand full and rub it out on the bottom. I also flour my hands at this point.
  2. I turn the dough out of the mixer bowl into the kneading bowl and knead the dough by hand until it looses its stickiness and becomes elastic.
  3. Using your palm heels, mush the dough out, roll it up, rotate 90 degrees, roll it up, and mush it out. Repeat this process over and over. The dough will become increasingly elastic and loose any remaining stickiness.
  4. After a bit (about 5 minutes), the texture and feel of the dough will stop changing. Further kneading beyond this point is not productive so it is time to stop and form the dough up for the first rising.
  5. Make a ball of the dough.
  6. Spray down the mixing bowl with bakers spray. Canola oil spray is OK. This keeps the dough from sticking to the bowl.
  7. Place the dough ball in the mixing bowl.
  8. Spray down the dough. This applied coat of oil prevents the dough surface from drying out during first rising.
  9. Cover the bowl and set it aside while the dough rises until doubled in bulk. This will take 2 to 3 hours

Forming loaves and second rising

The second kneading and rising transforms the dough from a lump into loaves. I do this as follows.

  1. Divide the dough into lumps of roughly equal mass, one lump per loaf.
  2. Knead a lump until it stops changing texture and density
  3. Form the kneaded dough into a loaf (oblong lump) and place it into a loaf pan. This is basically a continuation of the kneading process. At the end of the last kneading, you should have a long roll of dough with tapered ends about as long as the pan. The second rising in the loaf pan will cause the dough to fill the pan volume.
  4. Repeat the kneading and shaping process for the remaining loaves and toss each into its pan.
  5. Set the loaves aside to rise. I like rising in the oven to keep the product out of the way and in a draft free environment.
  6. The bread is risen when the top of the rounded loaf peaks above the top of the pan and the dough comes within a centimeter or so of the top of the pan walls.

Baking

I use a baking procedure found in Bread Alone. This process starts the bake in a hot 450F oven.

  1. Remove the dough from the oven.
  2. Remove any un-needed racks from the oven
  3. Place the oven rack in the middle position. Too low will burn the bottoms. Too high will not brown the tops of the loaves.
  4. Remove anything else from the oven that should not be baked. Never energize the oven without checking it for stuff that can melt or burn such as forgotten left-overs.
  5. Turn the oven on and set to 450F. Allow the oven to preheat. This will take about 12 minutes.
  6. When the oven is preheated, load the bread onto the shelf and close the door. Be organized and be quick about loading the oven.
  7. Reduce the oven setting to 350. The hot start gives a nice crust without burning the crust.
  8. Bake for about 40 minutes.
  9. The bread is done when the tops are golden and the internal temperature is at least 165. Tapping on the crust will find it stiff and will make a hollow thump.
  10. Remove the bread from the oven and secure the oven (turn it off).

Cooling and turning out the loaves

Handle the hot pans with oven mitts or pot holders. The hot pans can give you 2nd degree burns.

  1. Set the pans on a roasting rack to cool for about 5 minutes.
  2. After about 5 minutes, turn the loaves out. Grab the pan with pot holders, invert, and shake. The loaf should pop out.
  3. Set the loaves on the rack to continue cooling for another 5 minutes or so. These ten minutes cooling complete the baking process.
  4. Set the pans aside to cool. When they are cool, wipe them out with a dish fowl. No need to wash them. Just remove any dust or other loose foreign matter.
  5. Once the bread surface is bath water temperature, it may be cut and eaten.
  6. Allow the bread to continue cooling. Bag and freeze extra loaves until needed.

Leaving the bread in the pans until completely cool will cause the loaves to sweat. When you turn them out, the crust will be soggy which is bad. Cutting the loaves prematurely will find the loaves still a bit soggy inside. Ten minutes from oven to knife is about right.

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