Some cooks find the idea of creating a loaf of bread, especially a yeast bread, from scratch intimidating. But with a little know-how, any baker can rise to the occasion.
“Yeast baking causes a lot of anxiety,” said Robyn Sargent, part of a contingent from the Vermont-based King Arthur Flour company who recently demonstrated baking methods at classes in San Antonio and Austin.
Good bread starts with the correct amount of flour. One mistake many bakers make, she said, is in the way they measure flour.
Don’t just scoop it straight from the bag with your measuring cup, Sargent said. Flour settles in storage or transit, so before you measure out a cup, stir it in the container to “fluff” it up. Use a scoop to sprinkle it into the cup and a straight edge, such as the back of a knife or a pastry scraper, to level off the top.
A cup scooped directly from a bag or canister could contain as much as 25 percent too much. In a recipe that calls for four cups of flour, that would mean putting an extra cup in the recipe.
Add flour a cup at a time and check the consistency as you stir. If the dough starts “following” your spoon or mixer dough hook around the bowl, it probably has enough flour. Weather conditions on the day you are baking, especially humidity, will affect the amount of flour dough will absorb.
In addition to flour, salt is an essential ingredient, Sargent said. Besides imparting flavor, salt acts on the gluten in the bread, giving it a tighter structure, which will help it rise. In addition, salt tempers the fermentation of the yeast.
Once your dough is mixed, it’s time for kneading. There’s no need to pound a dough into submission, and in fact, kneading it too vigorously or aggressively can spoil the loaf. To see whether you’ve kneaded enough, push into the dough with your finger. It should resist the pressure, and the indention you make should spring back quickly.
Next comes the rise. Put kneaded dough in a bowl and cover it. If you use a towel, make sure it has a smooth surface (dough is hard to remove from terry cloth) and a tight weave. Plastic wrap placed directly on the dough’s surface is another option, although you should oil the top of the dough to make sure the plastic doesn’t stick.
Here’s a recipe from King Arthur Flour’s well-tested collection that may help skittish bakers overcome their anxiety. The 100 percent employee-owned company, which is the oldest flour mill in the United States, features many more recipes on its website, www.kingarthurflour.com.
Honey Oatmeal Bread
1 1/2 cups quick rolled oats
2 packets (4 1/2 teaspoons) “highly active,” or 1 tablespoon active dry, or 2 3/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
2 1/4 cups flour
Combine oats with 3/4 cup lukewarm water and let rest for 20 minutes. If you’re using active or “highly active” dry yeast, dissolve it in 2 tablespoons of warm water with a pinch of sugar in a separate container. It should start to bubble as the oats mixture rests.
Add remaining ingredients (including the yeast/water/sugar mixture, if you’re using active dry yeast) and mix and knead until the dough feels springy. Dough will be stiff. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and allow to rise, covered, until doubled, about 2 hours. Gently deflate dough and shape it into an 8-inch log. Place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2×4 1/2-inch loaf pan. Cover pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it crowns about 1 1/2 inches over pan’s rim, about 1 hour, 45 minutes. Toward end of rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
If desired, brush top of loaf with milk and sprinkle with 2 additional tablespoons oats. Bake for 20 minutes, then tent aluminum foil loosely over top and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes. When the bread is done, it’ll be golden brown, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will register 190 degrees. Remove bread from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn out of pan onto cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing. Wrap well and store at room temperature.
Servings: 16. Serving size: 1 slice. Per serving: 155 calories, 3.4 g protein, 4.6 g fat, 24.7 g carbohydrates, 1.6 g fiber, 221 mg sodium, 11 mg cholesterol