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GOOD COOKING

Passion and Loaves

September 16, 1993|ABBY MANDEL

Bread-making ranks as one of the most passionate culinary processes. So passionate are bakers, in fact, that in spite of the burgeoning number of high-quality bread shops around, many persist in making their own bread because of the intense satisfaction it brings.

The bread experience involves the foaming of the yeast, the seductive feel of the softly kneaded dough, the magical rising of the dough until it's doubled, the pervasive aroma as the bread bakes, and then that great moment when the loaf--still warm from the oven--is savored by those lucky enough to be lingering in the kitchen.

New bread bakers are wary of what seems like an extended period of involvement. Actually, most of the bread action goes on unattended. Bread is easy to make. Once you've gone through the steps for the first time, you'll be surprised at how uncomplicated and undemanding it is.

A conventional-sized food processor is a good choice for the job because it mixes and kneads the bread dough quickly and perfectly in an enclosed work bowl. Just take the dough out of the work bowl, gently stretch it to test whether it's elastic, soft and smooth. If the dough is still firm and tight, pop it back into the processor for 10 to 30 seconds more until it meets the test. That's all there is to it. In less than two minutes, the mixing and kneading are done.

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The feel of the dough is the same whether it is mixed and kneaded with the dough hook of a mixer or in the processor. It just takes longer in a mixer, from six to 10 minutes. Though it's preferred by many bakers, I find hand-kneading moist, sticky dough to be difficult.

A practical note about proofing the yeast. Be sure to use very warm water that registers about 105 to 115 degrees on an instant-reading thermometer. Lacking a thermometer, test the water with your finger. The water should feel very warm but not hot.

Homemade bread is best served the day it's baked since it lacks preservatives. Freezing is a good alternative. As soon as the bread is completely cool, place it in the freezer, unwrapped, until frozen. Double-wrap the loaf in separate airtight plastic food bags. Return to the freezer for as long as three months. If the bread is thawed while still wrapped, it will be fresh and inviting.

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This is a light cracked - wheat bread; it's a versatile bread dough because it's not too heavy. It makes great sandwich bread as well as toast. If you want to increase the bulgur wheat, it will be necessary to use two packets of yeast. To brown the bottom of the loaf, remove the loaf from the pan after it has baked for 30 minutes and place the loaf directly on the oven rack for five more minutes.

LIGHT CRACKED WHOLE-WHEAT BREAD 1 package active dry yeast 1 tablespoon sugar 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (105 to 115 degrees) 2 cups bread flour, plus more if needed 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, plus more if needed 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons bulgur wheat Generous 3/4 teaspoon salt Oil Glaze

Stir yeast and sugar into water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

To make in processor fitted with metal blade or mixer with dough hook, put bread and whole-wheat flours, 2 tablespoons bulgur wheat and salt into work bowl. Turn machine on and slowly add yeast mixture. Once it's absorbed, add 1 tablespoon oil. Mix until dough almost cleans sides of work bowl (this should be very sticky dough). If dough is too moist, add more flour by tablespoon, working each addition in completely before adding more. If dough is dry and crumbly, add more water by tablespoon, again working in before adding more. Once dough is sticky but still workable, mix until dough is kneaded, uniformly elastic and smooth, about 40 seconds in food processor, about 10 minutes in mixer.

To make by hand, combine bread and whole-wheat flours, 2 tablespoons bulgur wheat and salt in large bowl. Make well in center. Pour yeast mixture into well. Work yeast mixture into dry ingredients. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Transfer mixture to flour board. Knead dough until uniformly elastic and smooth, about 12 minutes.

Transfer kneaded dough to large plastic food bag. Squeeze out air and seal at top. Let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Grease 6-cup-capacity bread pan. Punch dough down and shape to fit pan. Oil 1 piece of plastic wrap. Drape plastic wrap over pan, oiled-side-down. Let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Bake at 400 degrees on rack in lower third of oven, about 30 minutes. Gently remove loaf from pan. Place loaf directly on oven rack. Bake until bottom of loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped, about 5 minutes more. Let cool on wire rack. Brush top of loaf with Glaze. Sprinkle with remaining 2 teaspoons bulgur wheat. Makes 1 (8-inch) loaf, or 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

207 calories; 379 mg sodium; 27 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 38 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.40 gram fiber.

* Glaze * 1 large egg 1/2 teaspoon salt

Use fork to mix egg and salt in small bowl.

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