Friday, April 17, 2020

my first legitimate batch of bread

It's been a long time coming—years, actually—but I have finally baked my very first batch of legitimate bread. Not keto bread, not pie crusts, not cornbread, and not pizza dough: honest-to-God bread. I couldn't have done this without my buddy Charles's help and encouragement, so I offer a big tip of the hat to him. This is my second success with one of his recipes.

Charles emailed a set of instructions that—while thorough, precise, and easy to follow—needed to be converted into recipe form. I did the conversion on my home laptop while my brisket burbled away in the oven. An email exchange with Charles led me to the realization that my French yeast was actually perfectly fine (see the second yeast test), so I went ahead and made my bread with that yeast. Charles's instructions talked about the possibility of switching out some ingredients for others; I used honey instead of agave nectar, and I didn't have bread flour, so I used regular all-purpose flour. My kitchen scale proved invaluable because it could measure weight down to the gram. I accidentally added about 10 g of extra flour, but I decided that that wouldn't be tragic, and I turned out to be right. Bread-making is a precise art and science, but there's a wee bit of wiggle room—at least for some recipes.

In pictures, here's how my bread-making journey went. Let's start with the post-kneading phase. Charles's instructions warned that the dough would be sticky, but that I shouldn't give in to the temptation to flour my work surface while kneading: the dough would become less sticky over time. This proved to be half true: the dough did indeed reach a point where it became so firm and elastic that it stopped sticking to my tabletop, but even toward the end of the knead, it kept sticking to my hand. (I used my left hand to hold a small, plastic bench scraper; I used my right hand exclusively to knead.) I was able to rescue most of the hand-clinging dough, though, so that wasn't a big problem. After kneading, I was supposed to close the dough up in an airtight container and let it rise for an hour, so here's a pic of the dough being put into a clean, airtight container:

Most bread-making instructions will say some version of "let rise until doubled in size." I don't know whether my own bread doubled in size, but it got close:

I was then supposed to punch the dough down to de-gas it, then let it rest a few minutes before cutting it into twelve pieces and making dough balls. Charles gave specific instructions on how to make dough balls: form an "O" with your thumb and forefinger, then gently push the dough through the "O" and flatten the puckered bottom of the sphere before placing it on the tray. The process felt vaguely naughty, as if I were probing my girlfriend's butthole with my fingers—sometimes gently, sometimes roughly. I didn't follow Charles's advice about using the kitchen scale to get evenly sized balls. Charles's email did, in fact, contain a warning about how "no one wants uneven balls," but I looked down at myself and realized that all men are born with uneven balls, so I shrugged and eschewed the scale. The result was predictably uneven, but not horrifically so:

The dough needed another hour to proof, et voilà:

The final steps involved preheating my tiny oven (it doesn't take more than 2-3 minutes to preheat, given its size), painting the tops of the dough balls with milk to aid with browning, and then baking the bread for about twenty minutes at about 350°F (approx. 180°C). My oven is a wee bit underpowered, and there's a hot spot at the back of it, so I had to turn on the top burners during the final ten or so minutes of baking. I also rotated the tray of buns a few minutes before the end to ensure even browning. The buns came out great:

The only thing I should have done was to lay down some parchment paper or apply a layer of butter or oil to facilitate the removal of the buns, which stuck to the bottom of the pan just a wee bit. It wasn't tragic; the buns hadn't burned to the pan's bottom, so there was no unpleasant carbonization to deal with, and cleanup was easy enough.

All in all, this was a surprising success for a first-time bake.


Charles said...


The thing is, baking bread is not really that hard, it just takes a little while to get the hang of it. For example, the more kneading you do, the better your technique will be, and you'll learn how to avoid having the dough stick to your hands (mostly). It really comes down to a swift motion, and not being afraid to be a little ungentle with the dough.

Also, as you said, there is certainly some wiggle room, so it's generally not catastrophic if you don't get things exactly right.

I was definitely thinking that I should say something about parchment paper or greasing the pan if you were using a non-stick baking sheet or pan, but I guess I must have forgotten to include that in my instructions. In the future, though, if you ever have bread stick to a pan or sheet, let it cool for a while before trying to remove it. As the bread cools it will soften up a bit, and it will often come loose or at least be easier to remove. If it's burned on, though, that is another story.

Anyway, glad that things worked out. You are on your way to becoming a master baker!

Kevin Kim said...

The bread cooled down all night and into the next day, but I still needed to use my silicone spatula to release. As I wrote, though, that wasn't tragic by any means. None of the bread ripped or tore, so it was all good.