Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On bread and wonder

Have you been wondering? This blog's title isn't just a name, I actually do make bread. And this loaf - well, this one has butter in it. Two things have happened recently: I've decided to try Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking with Julia, one recipe at a time. And I’ve stolen Jesse’s Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer! Which means it’s time to experiment. I thought I would start as simply as I could – with white bread.

Around the time I found this recipe, a short trip to the Oxford English Dictionary online turned up this gem for the meaning of “bread and butter,” our titular phrase:

4. a. attrib.; spec. Of or pertaining to the age when bread-and-butter is extensively consumed; boyish, girlish; esp. (cf. quot. 1817 in 1) school-girlish.

It’s perfect. This recipe is for exactly the kind of bread I imagine packing up in a little kid’s lunch, Cheddar cheese and ham in-between its easy crumb. Or, rather, this is precisely the kind of bread I wished my sandwiches were on when I was a little schoolgirl myself (aside from my penchant for Portuguese rolls, whose flour coating would so satisfyingly scatter over you when you bit into them).

Now, I learned to make French bread from my Dad. Then I got a little schooling in yeasts and seeds and patience from a boy, Corey, I went hiking with the summer I turned fifteen. And finally, I met Claudia. She taught a class on bread-making that I took last summer in Florence. Claudia is someone I think of often. She was… like the perfect loaf of bread, hard and crusty on the outside (I mean, she hit people) and yet all soft and crumb on the inside. She was caring and sensitive and yet she pulled baked loaves out of the oven with her bare, callused hands. Meet Claudia.

Claudia also made obscene faces at the bread machine in the corner of the room. Her accent was such that every time she told us to use the sheeter to flatten a dough, it sounded like she was commanding us to the “shitter.” Machines just weren’t the point of the class. We were there to use our hands, to feel the dough – “our babies,” she called them. And if you were bad to your baby, well you knew what was coming and you were afraid.

So it was with this in mind that I approached the Kitchen Aid mixer last week. It was metal. It was leaking oil. And it was mine to play with. Real ambivalence took hold. I broke, and made this recipe by hand. It was good – it was great! - but the curiosity was getting to me. So a week later I made the recipe again, this time with the machine. Mary Claire came downstairs at the height of my anxiety. I hovered over the bowl. I couldn’t feel the dough, I couldn’t tell what was happening. Still, somewhere around the seventh minute it started to look like bread dough. And sure enough, when I felt it, it was.

I couldn’t say whether either method produced a better loaf. I liked kneading the first time; I liked how fast it all was the second. Suffice it to say, there are some breads that are meant for hands, and arms, and the whole torso working into the dough. And then there are some for the thrill of electric convenience. I think I'll take both.

White Loaves
from Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia

2.5 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
7 cups (aprox.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

Pour 1/2 cup of the water into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, sprinkle in the yeast and sugar, and whisk to blend. Allow the mixture the rest until the yeast is creamy, maybe 5 minutes.

Working in the mixer with the dough hook in place, add the remaining 2 cups water and 3.5 cups flour to the yeast. Mixing on low speed, add another 3.5 cups flour. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together. Add the salt and continue to beat at medium speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Then add the butter one tablespoon at a time, and beat until incorporated. Don't worry if the dough comes apart when you add butter, beating will bring it back together. If you're doing all this by hand, it's going to take you about 25 minutes. Be patient.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Place it in a buttered bowl that can hold twice the amount of dough. Turn the dough around to cover it in the butter, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in size, maybe 45 minutes to an hour.

Butter two 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pans and set them aside. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and deflate it (gently! no punching!).

Divide the dough in half and work with one piece at a time. Using the palms of your hands or a rolling pin, pat the dough into a large rectangle about 9 inches wide and 12 inches long, with the short side facing you. Starting at the top, fold the dough about two thirds of the way down the rectangle and then fold it again, so that the top edge meets the bottom edge. Seal the seam by pinching it. Turn the roll so that the seam is in the center of the roll, facing up, and turn the ends of the roll in just enough so that it will fit in the loaf pan. Pinch the seams to seal, turn the loaf over so that the seals are on the bottom, and plump the loaf in your hands to get a sort of even shape. Drop the loaf into its pan, seam side down, and repeat with the other piece of dough.

For the second rise, cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap, and allow them to rise in a warm place (about 80 degrees) until they double in size again, growing over the tops of the pans, maybe 45 minutes. While they’re rising, center a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

When the loaves have risen (you should be able to poke the dough, and the impression will remain) bake them for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they’re honey brown. Remove the loaves from their pans as soon as they come out of the oven, and let them cool almost completely before cutting them.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Beautiful bread! Dorie Greenspan's recipes are wonderful.

Just last night I was thinking that I should ask you if we should link to each other's blogs--I see you're a step ahead of me!