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Friday, September 9, 2011

Bread baking tips and tricks

On Wednesday, I shared my all-time favorite bread recipe. Today, I'm going to help you troubleshoot with some tips I've learned along the way.

Buy a bread machine.
My bread machine was a gift, but I would readily invest in one. I see at least on every time I shop at Goodwill or the Salvation army, so you could find one for cheap. I rarely ever use it for baking, but it is so easy to just add my ingredients and let the machine take care of all of the kneading work. It can be used to make anything from rolls for dinner to cinnamon raisin bread for breakfast. We've saved some serious money with our bread machine, and my dough comes out consistently better when I use it.

Find a friend.
If you know an older lady who has mastered the art of breadmaking, ask her for some lessons. I did, and it was a great time learning and chatting over rising dough.

Keep trying.
It took me a quite some time to get a decent loaf of bread, but I absolutely love baking now, and I've acquired a skill I'll use for years and hopefully pass down to my kids.

Dough tips:

  • If the dough doesn't begin forming a ball within 3-5 minutes, add more flour one rounded Tablespoon at a time
  • If the dough forms a dry ball, or several clumps instead of one smooth ball, add water one tablespoon at a time. You want the dough to feel sticky when you tap it, but not stick to you.
  • Oil your hands to help prevent sticking while you transfer it
  • Bread flour is best, it has more gluten, which helps the dough rise without falling down.
  • If you accidentally let your bread rise too long and it does fall, just flatten it out and make a pizza. Pretend you meant it that way.
  • Don't use baking flour, I did that once and made flatbread. Baking flour has very little gluten, which makes it great for baked good like cakes and cookies, but no good for bread baking. If you do make such a mistake (like I did), just call it flatbread and pretend you meant to do that...

Starter tips:

  • Feed your starter at least once a week. It can go longer, but will get angry at you. (Angry sourdough starter makes a more sour tasting bread)
  • You know your starter is dead if it turns orange or gets fuzzy. I've never seen this happen, though. Sourdough is hard to kill
  • If grey water shows up on top, that's called "hooch" (hehe), and you can just stir it back in or pour it off. It's really up to you.
  • You can feed your starter any type of flour, even gluten free ones. Just don't give it self-rising flour, the baking soda will mess with the acidity.
  • It's best to keep your starter in a glass bowl or jar. Your starter can react with metal and leach chemicals out of plastic. I still use plastic sometimes, though.
  • Stir your starter with a wooden or plastic utensil. Again, metal will react.
A final word:

My bread recipe does have some regular old refined flour in it, but it's half whole wheat, and bread flour helps the bread to rise higher and gives me a lighter loaf.

Also, a true sourdough bread would not have any added commercial yeast, but it would taste more sour. You can alter the recipe by replacing the water with additional starter and not adding the yeast. The rise time will be much longer. This "true" sourdough bread goes great with soup or as a side at dinner.

You can make a lot of things with your sourdough starter besides bread. I'm testing out some recipes now. There's even a recipe for sourdough chocolate cake out there that I'm curious about. I'll let you know if I try that one.

Do you have any bread baking tips to share? Have you tried baking sourdough bread yet? How's your "pet" starter doing?

*If you're interested in getting a well established starter and you live in the South Louisiana area, let me know and I'll be glad to share!

Join us Monday, when I'll be gearing up for my cloth diaper party with some info on why you should consider cloth diapering!

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