Baking with The King: King Arthur workshop full of good information

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 23, 2009

By Maggie Blackwell
For The Salisbury Post
The fine art of making bread has its rise and fall several times in our lifetime, beginning, I guess, in the 70’s when the “back to basics” had its flourish. Mother Earth News had begun publishing in 1970 and many of us were devotees of the simpler lifestyle.
Bread machines became popular sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s, and it seemed everywhere you turned, there was a square loaf of fresh bread.
Last month, I attended a bread-making class presented by King Arthur Flour and I realized breadmaking must be popular once again. At last count, 430 people attended the 2-hour class, although more trickled in later. The King Arthur Flour folks were blown away by the attendance, as their normal attendance is about 150 people. They believe the economy had led to a resurgence in the popularity of homemade bread.
At the risk of promoting a product, I’ll simply say King Arthur flour is the only flour I use. The company was started in 1790, when the first “George W.” was in office, and they are quite picky about what type wheat they use, what type roller they use to crush it, and what else goes into the flour. There is no bleach in it, or hydrogen peroxide, and they don’t let it sit for 3 weeks to turn whiter. Their website has about 1200 recipes, and they provide a hotline staffed by experienced bakers so you can call if you’re in the middle of a baking crisis or just have questions.
Carolyn Hack, the instructor, seemed to know everything about bread, which I will attempt to share here. Following her directions to the letter, I made the sweet filled braid easily and it was fantastic. By the way, the clever George W. remark was hers, not mine.
As Hack added ingredients, she gave invaluable insights on each one, including little-known facts and “what-ifs.” Here they are:
The first step to making yeast bread is always to mix yeast with warm water. How warm? Use your digital thermometer: stick your finger in it. It should feel like a warm bath. Too hot, and you’ll kill the yeast. Too cold and it won’t “wake up.”
If your water is hard or has lots of chemicals, set it out in an open container for 20 minutes before using so the chemicals can evaporate.
Active-dry yeast is the most common type of yeast; store it in the freezer to keep it fresh.
Mix the yeast and warm water in a small bowl, then measure your other ingredients separately. This gives the yeast time to bubble up. When you first mix the yeast and warm water, give it a stir. It should bubble up and rise in the bowl.
When you return to your yeast mixture, if it has a “high water mark” and has settled down a little, you can use it, and it should work out okay. If it’s lying in the bottom of the bowl, throw it out and try again.
Possible causes of yeast not bubbling up:
water was too hot
yeast was stored improperly
soap residue was in the bowl.
It’s critical to measure consistently. For the most accurate measurement, you can weigh your flour. A cup should weigh 4 to 4.25 ounces.
If you don’t weigh it ń I don’t weigh mine ń it’s really important to scoop your flour correctly. Dipping the measuring cup into the flour is not the right way. Instead, use a scoop to get flour out of your container, then sprinkle the flour from the scoop into your measuring cup. When it’s mounded on top, use a table knife to scrape it level with the cup.
This makes a huge difference in your bread. Scooping directly into your measuring cup can give you 6 ounces instead of 4. In a recipe calling for 4 cups of flour, that comes to a whopping 8 extra ounces of flour in that loaf of bread. If your bread turns out heavy, that might be why.
If your recipe calls for variable amounts of flour, say, 4 to 5 cups of flour, always start with the least amount called for, and add more if needed.
Butter and yogurt: If your bread recipe calls for yogurt, you can use plain, low-fat, or fat-free ń they all work. Butter can be salted or unsalted ń but if you use salted, cut back a bit on the salt in the recipe. Yogurt and butter act as preservatives because they both have acid in them.
Eggs: Beat eggs before putting them in. This ensures the yolk and white are well-blended. Eggs give dough a golden color and help the bread stick together.
Sugar: Sugar’s purpose in bread is to tickle the yeast so it will create oxygen bubbles in the bread. When yeast doesn’t work, the bread is dense and heavy, rather than light and airy.
Salt: You can use table salt, sea salt, or kosher salt. Just remember the larger the crystal, the more you need. So if you use sea salt, mound it in your teaspoon. Use a level spoonful of table salt.
Vanilla: Experiment with other extracts if you like.
Zest: Lemon and orange zest add complexity. Be sure not to capture the white pith that lies directly below the rind. It is bitter and can cause your bread to taste acrid.
Flour: Store flour in a cool, dry place, or in the freezer. If your home is inclined to have pests, place a bay leaf in your flour. It won’t affect the flour’s taste, but repels pests.
Can you use whole wheat flour in place of white? Yesóup to 50%. If your recipe calls for 4 cups of flour, you can use up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour, with the remainder being white. The chemical composition of whole wheat flour is like little razor blades. These cut the glutens in the dough, so using too much will keep the dough from rising.
You can surely use the dough hook on your mixer to create the dough. Realize that overmixing will create dense dough. It will not rise properly and will have a dry, poor crust.
Before kneading, take the dough from the bowl, put it on a cloth-covered board, invert the bowl over it, and go make a cup of tea. Giving the dough 5 to 7 minutes to rest helps it turn out better.
Always make sure your hands are really dry before kneading. If they are damp, the dough will stick; you’ll add flour to make it unstick, and it will turn out too dense.
Fold the dough in half towards you. Push it away with the heels of your palms. Give it a 1/.4 turn and repeat. Knead for only about 5 minutes.
Cover the dough and place in a warm place for the prescribed time. When the time is up, press on the center with a finger. If your finger leaves a belly button, it has risen perfectly. If it springs right back, it has not risen long enough. If your finger leaves a deep hole, your dough has over-risen and may not turn out.
The purpose of punching down is to release trapped air. Most people ball up their fists and punch into the bowl several times. A better alternative is to pick up the dough and pat it firmly for a few minutes.
Freeze dough after patting down. Form it into a disk, not a ball, and store in a freezer zip lock bag, or cover it with one layer of plastic and 2 layers of aluminum foil.
When you’re ready to use frozen dough, take it out and let it rise overnight. When you prepare dough that you plan to freeze, use a bit of extra yeast.