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Bread from Wheat to Eat

This was not the best batch of bread ever, but still illustrates my bread technique pretty well.  I've played around with different techniques for mixing, kneading, rising, proofing, and baking, and this is what I do most of the time.  

I start with whole wheat berries, which I buy 25 or 50 lbs at a time, so I have a collection of buckets for storing the several varieties I usually keep on hand (hard white, soft white, and durum are the usual suspects, plus whole field corn).

buckets        wheat

The wheat gets weighed out before milling, here 500 grams is about the limit of what my food processor motor can handle:


I set up the mill in the sink like this to help contain the dust and lining the sink with the towel also cuts down on the noise a bit.  I call the mill my baby jet plane, because the milling heads on this impact mill spin at 28,000 rpm and it is LOUD.  I never mill without earplugs.

mill         earplugs

Milling now, adding wheat to keep the hopper full as it blasts away.  Note the dust spot on the side of the sink.


Next, after unplugging the mill, everything stuck on the lid gets brushed into the bowl.  The metal teeth there are the milling heads.  The little cups also get removed because a few teaspoons of flour gather in there and need to be brushed out.  Then the whole thing gets emptied into whatever is needed for the next step--here, into a mixing bowl, but it could also go straight into the food processor.

cleaning         cup off         brushing out

Now in the food processor, I add about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of instant yeast directly on top of the flour.  I'm using the regular metal blade, not the 'dough blade' that came with it.

yeast, salt, flour

I have some sourdough starter that I'm going to add for a bit of extra flavor, but because it hasn't been refreshed in a while and is not strong enough to raise the bread, this 'psuedo-sourdough' will also use a full complement of yeast.

The starter lives in a neat little three-part ceramic crock that seals tightly enough to keep it from drying out, but loose enough to let fermentation gases out so it doesn't explode all over the fridge.

crock of starter

I used about 1 cup of starter that is about 1:1 water:flour, and mix it with the rest of the liquid used for the bread before adding it to the flour mixture.  Here, I'm just using another 1 cup of water, no honey or oils.

  taking measure
1 cup of starter
1 cup of starter plus 1 cup of water, and a bit

Pour it all straight in, and turn on the processor.  


A dough forms pretty quickly--within much less than a minute:


Now I let it sit for the 'autolyse' to hydrate the flour--10-20 minutes--before the kneading.  The dough is a bit stiff and dry, however, and I can tell that it needs more water--because it is rough and doesn't sag when the motor is stopped.  The 2 cups of liquid I added contained some flour, so my 'about 2 cups' wasn't enough.  

too dry

After the 'autolyse', I've turned it back on to knead, and added another 1/3 cup of water as it worked.  After about a minute, the liquid is absorbed and the dough is 'cleaning the bowl'

cleaning up

This is now a very soft, rather sticky dough, might have overdone the water a bit:


A tea strainer makes a great dredger to dust the work surface (a silpat sheet) with flour, thinly and evenly

dredging      prepped

And now the dough is dumped onto the work surface, and kneaded a few strokes to round it, before it gets plopped back to a bowl for rising.


The rounded dough here is a bit saggy:


The dough and bowl are put into a plastic produce bag, and if you handle it right, it's easy to capture abundant air in the bag so it is puffed up well above the rim of the bowl.  This gives the bread room to rise without touching and sticking to the plastic, and keeps it nice and moist.  The clip is tight enough to keep enough air in the bag but not so tight as to cause the gases released from the fermenting dough to pop the bag


After 45 minutes at room temperature, the bag is already misted on the inside with moisture;


and a few hours later there are a few little trails where water drops have formed and run through the condensation


The dough has gone a little over the top here, starting to sag back already before I got to it.  That's what happens when you're having too much fun in the garden to stop and tend it; fortunately, the bread will forgive the neglect.  Still, you want to catch it when it is still domed.


Turned out again onto the silpat, re-rounded with a few turns, and back to the bowl:


And into the refrigerator for rising overnight:


The next day, the dough is removed from the fridge, and returned to the work surface for dividing and shaping:


I divided this into six pieces for large rolls or small loaves--enough for one morning's toast or to eat with a bowl of soup.   Single serving loaves work best for me.  


The shaped loaves are set on a silpat-lined baking sheet, sprinkled with coarse semolina flour, and are put back in the bag for rising--in this case, I just open up the bag to a single layer of plastic, which just covers one baking sheet, loosely, and doesn't stick to the dough because it's already pretty damp on one side:


Now they proof for about 45 minutes.   The dough has to come to room temperature, and then rise, so this takes a while.  Here they're about doubled in bulk, and relaxed to a flatter shape.  Meanwhile, I've been preheating the baking bricks in the oven.


Last stop before the oven is slashing the loaves.  I'm still not very good at making the right kind of deep, angled cuts, which permit the dough to expand without having to tear the already formed crust.  I used my bread knife because I couldn't find the lame.


Now into the oven, onto the preheated bricks.  If I were really determined, I could carefully place the formed loaves directly onto the bricks, with a fresh layer of semolina in between, but here I take the lazy way out and just put the pans on the bricks.  I probably lose a bit of potential oven spring that way.

on the bricks

 This time I tried a new trick for keeping the oven steamy, which helps keep the crust soft until the dough is fully expanded.  I put a small cast-iron teapot full of boiling water directly on the bottom of the oven, beneath this lower tray of bricks.  In theory, it was supposed to keep bubbling and steaming away....

teapot in place

afterwards, though, there was still quite a bit of water in it, which I'm trying to show here, so I'm not sure how much steam it really made:

water in it

I check for doneness not by knocking their bottoms, but checking the temp.  For simple country rolls like this, I want 205-210 degrees internal temperature

check temp

And here are the finished loaves


Transfer to a cooling rack, out of reach of bread-thieving cats or other dangerous creatures, and you're done.

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