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Back to Basics / Baking Bread

September 05, 1996|JOAN DRAKE

Yeast bread dough that no longer sticks to the work surface or cloth and that springs back when depressed lightly with your fingers is properly kneaded and ready for the first proofing, or rising.

Air blisters will appear just below the surface.

Place the dough in a large, clean bowl that has been lightly coated with shortening. Turning the dough greases the entire surface and helps preventd the formation of a dry skin.

During proofing, the bowl should be covered with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set in a 75- to 85-degree place that is draft-free.

In a cool room, the bowl may be positioned on a rack over a pan of warm water or in an oven heated for less than a minute, just until it feels warm. Turn the heat off, place the bowl inside and keep the door closed.

During this proofing--or fermentation--period, the yeast cells feed on sugar and produce carbon dioxide. It's this gas that lightens the dough and makes it expand. The dough should not be allowed to more than double or it may collapse back into the bowl. Bread baked from dough that is over-proofed has a tendency to be coarse and dry.

When testing, if an indentation remains after the finger is removed, the dough has doubled and is ready to be shaped into loaves.

After the first proofing, yeast bread dough needs to be punched down so the gas can escape. Next pull the edges to the center and turn the dough over.

Allow the dough to rest about 10 minutes, then divide it in half. Form each portion into a loaf by either of the following methods:

* Gently pull the top surface of the dough toward the underside to make a smooth top. Pinch the seam and turn the ends under. Place seam-side down in the prepared pan.

* Roll the dough into a 9x7-inch rectangle on a lightly floured work surface. Starting at the narrow end, fold the bottom third up over the center third of the dough. Turn the dough and fold the remaining third over, then pinch along the seam and ends. Fold the ends over, turn the dough and place seam-side down in the prepared pan.

All-purpose loaf pans may be used for bread baking; the material from which they're made affects the bread's crust, however. For a good brown color, select anodized aluminum or darkened metal, which absorb heat.

Once shaped and placed in greased pans, each loaf should be covered with a towel and allowed to rise until doubled before baking.

Brushing the dough with various ingredients before, during or after baking also affects the crust:

* A whole egg or egg white beaten with a little water and brushed onto the dough just before baking produces a shiny crust.

* Milk brushed onto bread before baking gives a slightly soft or tender crust with a somewhat dull shine.

* Water brushed or lightly sprayed on baking loaves results in a crisp crust. Placing a pan of hot water on the shelf below the bread during baking creates steam and produces an even crisper crust.

* Butter or margarine brushed on baking loaves helps tenderize the crust.

Breads should be baked in a preheated oven. When done, they will appear to have pulled away from the sides of the pan and should slip out easily.

Test for doneness by tapping the bottom crust sharply with your fingers. If fully baked, it will have a hollow sound. If not, place the bread back in the pan and return it to the oven for five to 10 more minutes.

After baking, remove bread from the pans immediately and place the loaves on their sides on wire racks to cool.

Bread wrapped in a clean towel or loose plastic may be stored one to two days at room temperature. Wrapping breads tightly causes them to mold. For longer storage, wrap bread in foil and freeze in plastic bags. Date and use within three months.

BASIC WHITE BREAD

1/2 cup milk

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)

1 package dry yeast

6 cups flour, about

Scald milk in small saucepan. Stir in sugar, salt and butter. Allow to cool to lukewarm. Pour warm water into large warm bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water and allow to stand 3 to 5 minutes. Stir to combine.

Stir milk mixture into bowl. Add 3 cups flour and stir with wooden spoon until smooth.

Mix in enough additional flour, small amount at time, to make soft dough. Substitute hands for spoon as dough becomes stiffer.

When dough is still sticky but pulls away from sides of bowl, turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead until satiny and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes, adding slightly more flour if needed.

Shape dough into ball and place in large greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Let stand 10 minutes. Shape into 2 loaves. Place in greased 9x5-inch loaf pans.

Let rise, uncovered, in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Bake at 400 degrees 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from pans immediately. Cool loaves, turned on sides, on wire racks.

Makes about 16 servings.

Each serving contains about:

190 calories; 322 mg sodium; 6 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 36 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.13 gram fiber.

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