I love the smell of bread. Bread rising, bread baking, even the smell of this sponge is delightful, and I’m currently enjoying this week’s batch of bread processing in the kitchen, even as I post pics from the batch I made about two weeks ago.
This recipe is from Mary Jane’s Farm Magazine again, this time the April/May 2010 edition if you care to backorder it. Page 36.
I think it makes an awesome everyday bread recipe, and it’s not that hard to be successful with this bread even if you’ve never baked bread before.
If you’ve wanted to bake your own bread, but wanted to, or wanted better outcomes, this post with pics of every step is my offering of help, cause I love it, and love to share the things I love.
Okay to get started. Oh, and again, because this is in a magazine, I’m not posting the actual amounts, just what I did differently, and the pictures of what each step should look like. However, these pictures and instructions will help you with any bread recipe that starts off with a sponge method, and the kneading and shaping instructions apply to any sort of bread that is made from dough (as opposed to a quick bread made from a batter).
A sponge is basically all the liquid for the recipe, all the yeast, with all or some of the sweetener (honey in the case) to feed the yeast, and some of the flour, usually 1/3 to 1/2 of the total amount called for in the recipe. Basically you make up a thick, batter-like consistency with these partial ingredients and let the yeast get all activated and happy before you make them try to work with the rest of the weight of the flour.
To get this magazine and other great issues, order this back-issue bundle.
Warning: a ridiculous number of pictures follow. I wanted to be thorough. You may be thoroughly sick of bread dough pics before the end, however.
Step 1: Combine yeast, water and honey, then add only the first half of the flour.
Whisk to incorporate air. Add second half of flour and stir. This makes the sponge for the bread. Both the sponge step and the dough step have a range of the amount of flour needed.
NOTE: I use King Arthur Whole Wheat flour, and can usually get away with the minimum amount of flour recommended for the mixing stage, kneading in just a bit more at that step. More on this later. For more understanding on how water/flour ratios work, read the first part of The Bread Bible. Awesome stuff.
Step 2: Cover and let rise till doubled. This pic shows the sponge after it rose.
Here it is after I stirred it just a tad so you could see how the gluten strands had developed (See how stretchy it looks?)
Notice also how bubbly it is, and how it started filling right back in where I’d disturbed it.
Step 3: Mix in remaining ingredients, adding flour a little at time. I use the minimum amount of flour in any recipe, leaving some to be incorporated in the kneading process. The goal is basically to use the smallest amount of flour that will leave the dough tacky but not sticky (in the case of whole wheat bread like this anyway, there are other types of bread that use wetter dough, but that’s a different story!)
To do this, I stir with a wooden spoon until everything is just barely incorporated, then I stick my hands in and mix for a few minutes in the bowl. As soon as it’s mostly holding together, I dump on the counter top and finish mixing, then start kneading.
Step 4: Knead for 20 minutes. Hint: don’t look at the clock. Set a timer and don’t look at that either. Look out the window, daydream, think about your family, the texture of the bread, stuff you want to do later when you’re not kneading and the time will pass quickly. Watch the clock and it feels like 20 minutes became several hours. Not cool. It’s actually an enjoyable activity and it strengthens your hands and wrists at the same time…
NOTE: if you’re going to let the dough rise in the same bowl you mixed it, now is a good time to throw that bowl in the sink and fill with warm water. That way, it’s easy to wash it when you get your dough finished.
How to Knead Bread by Hand
Fold the dough over on itself…
…and push away from you with the heels of your palms. Put your back and shoulders into this!
Rotate the dough a quarter turn and fold and push again…
If your dough gets sticky, then incorporate a little more flour. When you’re done kneading it should be elastic, meaning that if you press your finger into it, the depression will fill up quickly,
Also, tacky means that the dough shouldn’t stick to the counter, though some of it might stick to your fingers when you press them into the dough.
When finished, you should have a nice, tacky (to the touch, this bread is super classy, I assure you!), elastic ball of dough
Step 5: Oil your bowls and divide your dough if needed.
I put about a teaspoon or two of olive oil in the bowls, rub it around with my hands and then rub my oily hands on the dough before placing it in the bowl.
How to Divide Bread Dough
This recipe makes 4 loaves of bread, and this dough rises really well, so I have to divide it into two bowls. My largest bowl is a 7.5 quart mixing bowl and the smaller one is 5.5 quarts. It’ll pretty well fill up the smaller one and most of the bigger one as it rises. If you need to divide it, use a pastry cutter/bench scraper and cut it, don’t pull it apart. Pulling to the point of breaking can damage your gluten strands.
Step 6: Place your dough in your oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise.
Note: easiest way to oil plastic wrap is to place it on the bowls, drop a few drops of oil on it, rub it around, and then flip it over
Okay! Bread has risen! It’s time to shape it into loaves.
Note, if you peel your plastic wrap off and lay it flat, oily side up, you can re-use it for the shaped rise!
Step 7: Butter and flour your loaf pans and Shape loaves.
How to Shape Loaves of Bread
To Shape loves, divide dough into four even sections. You can weigh them if you really want to, I just eye it
NOTE: you don’t want too much flour on the counter at this point as if the dough gets too flour-y, it will have trouble sticking to itself when you get to the final shaping step.
Then with your finger tips, gently push the dough into a rectangle-ish shape, being careful not to deflate it all the way.
Fold the dough in an envelope fold, starting with one of the shorter ends, fold one third of it to the left, and then over-lap with the remaining third to the right.
Next, start rolling from the end closest to you, tucking the dough under firmly with your fingers, and pressing it together.
Then tuck the ends under…
…and place in pans for a shaped rise.
Step 8: Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise till doubled.
Here’s a before pic…
…and here’s after it’s doubled, and all ready to go in the oven.
Step 9: Slash and bake your bread.
How to Slash Bread
With a very sharp knife, make 3 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch deep incisions very quickly across the top of the bread.
NOTE: Don’t slash the bread unless you have a very sharp knife… you’ll end up deflating it. I’ve learned this the hard way.
Step 10: Remove from pans and cool.
To remove bread from pans, run a knife all the way around the edge (a butter knife is fine), and then invert pan over cooling rack.
Resist the temptation to cut the bread until it’s at least mostly cool as it’s still finishing the baking process at this point, and it will finish better if left whole