Trying This Again…

Third time’s the charm right?  Well, this is officially the third time I’m giving blogging a go, so hopefully I’ll be somewhat more successful this time around.  I have all kinds of excuses for why it didn’t work out the last time.  I was living in Baghdad.  My computer with the Adobe design programs died (sniff sniff).  I didn’t like the “look” of the blog.

That last one was the real sticking point.  When I moved the blog from Chi Bao Le over to here, it was because I wanted more control over the blog design.  Having taken, oh, 8 graphic design classes through the University of Utah continuing education program in the fall of 2008 I thought I had plenty of skills to rock the design world.  Um, yeah, not so much.

After months of procrastination and fumbling about, I can honestly say I finally have the blog looking the way I envisioned way back in January 2009 when I created this site.  Such humble aspirations, I know.  The downside of finally getting the look just right is that I have no more excuses to avoid actually blogging.

I’ve had this post in mind for months.  Earlier this year, there was a period of time where I had three different friends come to me for help with yeast baking.  They were running into various difficulties and asked for some help/advice.  It got me thinking that maybe I should do a yeast baking tutorial on the blog.  There are probably plenty of these tutorials on the web, but sometimes I find it’s easier to follow when it comes from a friend.

I started baking with yeast when I was 11 years old.  I took a one day baking class from a lady at church and she taught me how to make a recipe for dinner rolls.  It was a bit of a tricky recipe.  Depending on the local climate, you had to vary the amount of flour.  When it was time for the dough to rise, you had to set the bowl in a sink filled with warm water and then, every 15 minutes for 2-3 hours you had to punch the dough down.  It made a sticky dough, which in turn made it difficult to shape into rolls.  I’m not sure why, but I was determined to master this recipe.  And I did.  For a period of time, I made them almost every week for Sunday dinner.  I even made them when we lived in the Marshall Islands.

That right there is why its worthwhile to master, or at least feel confident with, yeast baking.  Once you understand the process, you can bake anything anywhere in the world.  Which is good, because believe me, plenty of places in the world lack good American style yeast-raised bread.  In Baghdad, I made bagels, bread, cinnamon rolls… whatever baked good I craved, I could make, and that made the experience of living there far more bearable.

Couple things to remember when working with yeast:

  • Yeast is a living thing.  Which means you can kill it.  Which means it won’t work.  Yeast is happiest in a cozy, warm environment.  Just like Goldilocks and the porridge, not too hot, not too cold.  The best temperature for yeast (or at least the guide I go by) is wrist temperature.  Test whatever liquid you are using on your wrist, like you would a baby bottle.
  • Proofing your yeast will lead to a higher chance of baking success.  What is proofing?  Its the step in baking recipes when you add the yeast and a little bit of sugar to your warm liquid, usually water.  You let it sit for maybe 5-10 minutes to let the yeast get activated.  This is a good step for baking novices because it lets you see that your yeast is working.  The liquid will get all bubbly on the top.  If that doesn’t happen, then your yeast is probably dead and you don’t want to waste hours of your life finishing the recipe only to end up with a hard brick at the end.
  • If a recipe doesn’t ask you to proof the yeast, you can still do it.  Like I said, its a good step for beginning bakers.  Just add the yeast to the liquid, add a couple pinches of sugar, and let it go for 10 minutes.  Then add the yeast mixture to the rest of your ingredients.
  • Kneading is fun.  These days, most people have machines that do the kneading for them.  This is a good thing as kneading can also be hard work.  However, its a good way to work out a small amount of aggression and I personally think its always a good idea to have a tactile connection with your dough.  You want to feel your dough because it will give you a better sense of when the dough has been kneaded long enough, when you have the  right amount of softness or smoothness.  This is probably sounding all very new agey.  Just go with it.  I let the machine do the hard work, but when its just about “there”, I put the dough on the counter and give it a couple good kneads.
  • How do you knead?  Good question.  Fold the back half of the dough towards you, then using the heels of your hands, push down and away from you on the fold.  Give the dough a quarter turn, repeat the fold/push.  Then repeat the whole process again and again until the dough feels smooth and elastic.
  • Dough likes a warm, moist place to rise.  I have never had any problems finding a warmish spot in my apartment to let dough rise.  I take a kitchen towel and soak it under hot water.  I wring it out, then place it over the top of the bowl with the dough.  I put the bowl in a warm place and let it do its thing.  You can also warm your oven up a tad (just a tad… not too hot… then turn OFF the oven), place a bowl of boiling hot water in the oven and then put your bowl with the dough in there to rise.  You can do the same thing with the bowl of boiling water in the microwave.  Unless your place is really cold, I would just find a warmish spot and use the hot kitchen towel.  Its just easier, less fussy that way.  Plus, it has always worked for me.
  • Once your dough is shaped and ready for the final rise, cover it again with a hot towel and return it to the same warm spot to rise.

Sarah’s Bread

I think this is a very good recipe to learn on because it is an easy dough to work with.  I got this recipe last June when I met Sarah down in Georgia.  She made this bread for dinner and it was so good I asked for the recipe, which she kindly shared. (You never know if people are going to be possessive with their recipes.  Thankfully, Sarah is not one of those people.)

Part of the reason this is a good beginner recipe is because it is not a whole wheat bread.  Instead, it is a mix of white and wheat flour.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of whole wheat bread.  I find most whole wheat breads are dry and lack flavor.    Also, for anyone starting out in yeast baking, its significantly harder to learn with whole wheat recipes.  Whole wheat flour is heavier than white flour, which means the yeast has to work a lot harder to get the bread to rise.  Therefore, you have to be that much more careful about how you treat the yeast.  You have to knead the dough longer, and give it a longer rising time, etc etc.  I recommend learning on a recipe like this one, which is easier and more forgiving.  Once you feel comfortable working with yeast, branch out and try a whole wheat bread recipe or two.

2 pkgs yeast (4½ t) – Sarah uses rapid rise

⅔ c. sugar

1-2 T. molasses (depends on how much molasses taste you want, I always use the higher amount)

2 c. warm water (i.e. wrist temperature)

1 T. fine sea salt

¼ c. vegetable oil

1½ c. 100% whole wheat flour

4½ c. unbleached white bread flour

In a large mixing bowl add yeast, sugar, molasses, and warm water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Starting to proof. Just a few bubbles on top.

After 10 minutes, lots of bubbles.

Add salt and vegetable oil. Mix well.

Then add both flours. Mix well, then knead for 5-7 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. You can do this by hand or by machine, although it will be much easier by machine.

At the start of kneading. Clearly, the dough is a bit of a mess. It will take a good 5-10 minutes to get it smooth and elastic.

At the end of kneading. As usual, I finished it off by hand. You can see how the dough is nice and smooth at this point.

Place dough in a large, oiled bowl, cover with a hot, damp cloth and place in a warm spot to rise. Let rise until doubled, about an hour to an hour and a half.

I like to let my dough raise in this nifty bucket I picked up from King Arthur Flour. It makes it very easy to see when the dough has doubled. Also, you can see the damp kitchen towel I've draped over the top to help add moisture to the raising environment.

And here we are an hour or so later. I love how the bucket makes it so easy to see how much the dough has risen

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide in half, smooth the dough and shape into loaves (roll out the dough into a rectangle, roll it up lengthwise, tuck the ends under and place in the loaf pan). Cover again with a hot, damp towel and set in a warm place to rise. Let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Dough in the bread pans, ready for a second rise. Again, I'm going to cover these with the damp kitchen towel.

End of the second rise. You can again see how much the dough has expanded in about an hour's time.

Bake at 350°F for about 29-35 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then remove the bread from the pans and let cool on wire racks.

Voila! Beautiful homemade bread.

This bread freezes beautifully, as does most bread.  I usually cut the loaves in half and freeze all but one half.  Then, as I am about to finish one, I take one out of the freezer to defrost.

If you have comments, suggestions, questions, please comment below.  I love getting tips from other bakers, and if you run into problems when trying this or any of my other recipes, I’m happy to help troubleshoot.

3 thoughts on “Trying This Again…

  1. Rochelle

    I love it!!! Not that I ever need an excuse to bake, but it’ll be fun seeing what new recipes you post that I can try over here. I already use some of your recipes religiously, so having more to choose from only sweetens the pot. 🙂 After seeing the magic you could make out of practically nothing, you are the only person I know that needs to be writing a food blog. Good luck this time around – can’t wait to see what you write about next!

  2. Jessica G

    Love the new blog! The tip about proofing is key, I’m going to start doing that and see if it helps out with my success rate!

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