Baking bread was my favorite way to work out ideas when I was in college. There's the repetitive motion of the kneading, learning to trust your instincts, punching down the dough...and the amazing smell of bread baking. The recipe that I like is from S. John Ross; I was turned onto it back when I hung out in an AD&D chat-room. I once made 15 loaves for a lunch, all in my college apartment kitchen. But I haven't pulled an all nighter in years and home bread baking wasn't fitting into my work schedule so I stopped baking my weekly loaves and lost my touch.
Up until last weekend that is. I decided to make a loaf of my usual bread on Saturday to have with the generally unexciting spaghetti. I got all my ingredients together, proofed my yeast and started incorporating my flour. The last time I made bread was for a similar dinner a few months ago but I tried to do all the mixing and kneading in the stand mixer. I have learned that my eyes are not as skilled as my hands. When you knead the dough by hand then you know when it needs more flour or if it needs to be kneaded more. When you do everything in the mixer then you pray that you can trust the recipe and that you have perfect humidity in your kitchen. Yes, I could probably get better if I practiced making bread with my stand mixer but I like the feel of the dough in my hands.
I was a little rushed, dinner was late, so I didn't let the dough proof long enough. So the crumb wasn't great and the middle was too dense, resulting in a doughy center. Something that I've learned with brewing is that I have to assume that anything yeast related will take longer in my house during the winter because we keep the thermostat below the optimal temperature for yeast. What does that mean? Yeast likes a 72°F environment and we keep the house at 65°F.
Sunday's dinner was pizza and I made two batches of crust from scratch using a modified version of the Joy of Cooking recipe. Because I'm lazy and obviously don't learn from previous mistakes; I made the first batch in the stand mixer. After 20 minutes on the hook it STILL wasn't window paneing (when you stretch out the dough until it's a thin enough membrane that you can see light through it). I was on a schedule, dinner was at 6, so I started the next batch and hoped for the best. I did the next batch by hand. I proofed the yeast, mixed in 2/3 of the flour then turned the dough out onto a floured counter to start kneading and incorporating in the rest of the flour. It took me about half an hour but the result was worth it. The first batch was for crap but the second batch was very tasty and I'd eat it again.
Kitchen Penguin, do you have a point? Yes...trust your hands when cooking; using tools to speed up processes can be great but learn to trust your hands before you use the heavy machinery. Also, don't try to do three batches of dough in a weekend if the heaviest lifting you see on a regular basis is filing paper; that's something to work towards.
From my kitchen to yours. - KP