Please Learn How to Make Bread
Anyone can make piles of homemade bread that will far surpass the quality of store bought loaves. Once you learn this simple skill you will see how ridiculously complicated most bread has become.
Cooks and bakers who are afraid of yeast are simply forgetting its nature; yeast is not a precise chemical leavening agent but a living thing. Commercial (Active Dry) and Wild (sourdough) yeasts all consume sugars and oxygen, creating various acids and carbon dioxide. The acids provide flavor while the carbon dioxide, trapped within the structure of the dough, causes the bread to rise. The warmer the room, and the dough, the quicker the yeast multiplies. The more yeast there is in the dough, the more carbon dioxide there will be to raise a loaf of bread. With less yeast or in a colder room, the dough will take much longer to rise. Be patient. The dough will rise eventually.
So, with the simple distinction of Living Thing vs. Chemical leavening agent, one can be quite comfortable working with yeasts to make bread. Now please learn to make your own bread.
Whole Wheat Sesame Sourdough
This is my approximation of the bread served at Souen, the great macrobiotic restaurant off Union Square in New York City. Actually I am pretty sure they didn’t make the bread in-house. The flour:water ratio and dry yeast measurements are based loosely on a scaled down version of Ed Brown’s Tassajara Yeasted Bread. He taught me how to make bread in the first place. The idea for baking bread in a Dutch oven came from my dad who learned it from the famous no-knead bread recipe. I learned this killer method of making sesame crust when I trailed the bakers at Grandaisy (formerly Sullivan Street) Bakery also in New York. They had a big soggy sponge the size of a half-sheet pan that they’d roll the loaf around on before rolling it in another pan full of sesame seeds to coat.
3 cups water
1/2 cup to 2 cups rye sourdough starter, OR 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
6-7 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
sesame seeds, about 2 cups, spread out in a wide dish
If you want the bread to rise faster, use warmer water. Make sure it isn’t too hot; you should be able to easily hold your hand in there.
Add the yeast or starter to the water. Make sure the yeast dissolves, if you’re using dry yeast.
Add 5 cups of flour and the salt to the water and yeast and mix with a sturdy wooden spoon. Once it gets too thick to mix with the spoon, use your hand. I find it easiest to hold onto the bowl with my left hand and use my right hand to knead the dough.
There is nothing complicated about kneading the dough. You just want to make a nice soft dough. Quit thinking about how long it is going to take and concentrate on what you’re doing. Add enough more flour so that the dough is not too sticky, but not too dry. Six and 1/4 cups seemed about right when Ryan was learning to make the bread but who knows. If you accidentally add too much flour then add more water. Keep on kneading it until it is nice and soft and smooth.
Oil a large bowl and place the dough in it, and wrap it with a plastic bag. Leave it alone until you can see it is swelling. Remember you’re not looking what time it is, you’re looking at the dough. It might take an hour or three. When it is definitely swelling but not huge yet, put the wrapped bowl of dough in the refrigerator to rest overnight. This makes it all the more flavorful and gives you a chance to do something else for a while.
THE NEXT DAY:
In the morning, pull out the dough for an hour before you want to shape the loaves.
Shaping and Rising Again:
After an hour, cut the dough into 2-3 pieces and shape them into rounds. A good bread book or website will teach you how, or improvise. Get your hands under the faucet and rub down the outside of each dough round with water, then roll it around in sesame seeds to coat it. Place it into an oiled bowl and wrap again with plastic.
Heat the oven as high as it will go. Do you have a heavy, oven-proof Dutch oven type pan? Put that into the oven, including the lid, while the oven heats.
You can tell that the bread is ready to bake when you poke it and the indentation is slow to disappear. At first, the indentation will pop right back out. You will eventually be very good at telling when it is ready to bake but at first you just have to trust your gut instinct and accept the fact that you may not bake the loaves at exactly the right time. Just don’t bake them too early because you are impatient.
Get a knife ready, pull out the hot dutch oven and carefully get the risen loaf in there. Be careful. You don’t want the loaf to deflate and you certainly don’t want to burn your damn hands.
Once the loaf is in there make some quick cuts on the top of it. Put the lid on the dutch oven and get that hot thing back in the oven for 25 minutes or half an hour (depending on whether you made 2 loaves or 3; larger loaves will obviously take longer to bake).
Remove the loaf from the dutch oven and bake it another 10 minutes or so straight on the oven rack. You can put the second loaf in at this point. It will sound hollow if you tap it. Bake it until the bottom is pretty dark. Sometimes it is nearly black.
Let the bread cool a few hours or overnight before you slice it. It makes a difference.
Recently I have been making three loaves; freezing two in tightly sealed bags to have fresh bread all week.