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"Bread without a timetable"--for white bread?

Thanks4Food Aug 17, 2011 06:27 PM

I'm interested in trying Smitten Kitchen's "Bread without a timetable" http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/09/whe... and I wonder if any of you have tried it--or something similar--and if this same method can work for other types of bread.

My bread machine just broke and I'd like to be able to make my own, but I am not a baker and don't feel very confident about it. Any advice for easy bread baking--if there is such a thing--would be appreciated. Any books you can recommend that don't get too scientific about it?

  1. Thanks4Food Aug 18, 2011 08:41 PM

    Woo-hoo! Made my first ever baguette today! (The whole wheat one from the above link.) Very good and very decorative. My only boo-boo was that it slightly unrolled so that the slashes came out on the side instead of the top. I imagine it's because of it being wheat dough that it didn't "stick" very well?

    8 Replies
    1. re: Thanks4Food
      j
      jvanderh Aug 18, 2011 09:26 PM

      Cool! I usually form the loaf by stretching the sides around and pinching them at the bottom, but painting the seam with some water may help if you're rolling it up. Once you get used to it, you can pretty much just throw together a wet dough. The yeast and salt amounts don't have to be exact, and you get used to how wet the dough is supposed to look before long.

      1. re: jvanderh
        o
        oldunc Aug 19, 2011 06:23 AM

        Hint for wet doughs- a Silpat makes a good working surface (for forming loaves etc.)-it will still stick, but not as much as to most things, and you will need less flour for handling.

        1. re: oldunc
          j
          jvanderh Aug 19, 2011 07:37 AM

          I pretty much just plop it onto a cutting board and shape it with wet hands. Haven't had any particular problems with sticking while shaping, and it rises in its cooking vessel.

          1. re: jvanderh
            o
            oldunc Aug 19, 2011 08:43 AM

            Evidently you're not making it as sticky as I do for some things.

            1. re: oldunc
              j
              jvanderh Aug 19, 2011 08:47 AM

              Even with dough that's too loose to hold its shape, wet hands work great. If you've worked in enough flour to make any semblance of a loaf, it's just a matter of working very quickly- couple of quick tucks, and slap it in the dutch oven.

              1. re: jvanderh
                o
                oldunc Aug 19, 2011 11:24 AM

                Dutch oven???? Anyway, this is kind of interesting. I use the wet hands method more often than not for cookies, but never tried it (or, I think, heard of it) for bread, which is an entirely different thing. Do you find that it has an apreciable effect on the crust of the finished product, or anything like that? It's common enough to brush with water just before or during baking, but not to leave it wet for this long. Also, are you using any oil or butter in this bread? My stickiest dough (other than English Muffins, which aren't really a dough) is for baguettes, and contains no oil at all. I can't imagine using enough oil to effect the stickiness or aversion to water noticeably, but I've been surprised before.

                1. re: oldunc
                  j
                  jvanderh Aug 19, 2011 01:29 PM

                  Yep, dutch oven. For reasons I don't remotely understand, covering the bread for the first part of cooking makes the crust crunchier. I flick the extra water off my hands after wetting them, and I don't think it's enough water to do much of anything to the dough. I occasionally do whole wheat, but almost always do just a basic white flour/water/yeast/salt dough. It is a very wet dough and it's very, very, very sticky stuff. I handle it very little. I spray the dutch oven with cooking spray, wet my hands, scoop the globs of dough out of the ziploc, drop the dough on the cutting board, rinse off/re-wet my hands, pick up the dough, smoosh it together, and form it into a rough ball-- like just stretch and pull on four sides and tuck underneath. With dough that's several days old, you get so much ovenspring that it practically shapes itself. You just have to get it into sort of a blob. If you want to roll it out, want the crust to look perfect, or make a fancy shape, you do need flour, but sometimes a round loaf is just fine and it's nice not to have to make a mess.

                  1. re: jvanderh
                    o
                    oldunc Aug 19, 2011 03:21 PM

                    Maybe I'll try it someday, though I've always done fine with dusting my hands with flour and, as you say, working fast.

    2. o
      oldunc Aug 18, 2011 06:46 AM

      Basic bread is really not difficult- the times in recipes are approximations at best, as conditions have a considerable effect, and all the processes have a wide range of acceptable result. You mainly need to remember that you're dealing with living things (yeasts) that are as anxious to reproduce as any others. Longer times can sometimes improve flavor or performance, but on a very basic level;
      Sponge-- You're OK as soon as it foams, though usually give it a bit more time. To a great extent, this stage is a holdover from a day when yeasts were far less dependable. You can make good bread without it.
      Dough-- This is the disadvantage of learning to make bread in a machine- the dough is best judged by feel. For basic sandwich style bread, you should keep kneading and adding flour until it loses stickiness. Exact kneading times are not needed- generally more (and second kneadings) will lead to a finer texture. Many rustic types of bread, such as the typical baguette, are best with very little kneading.
      Rising-- depends a lot on conditions, but doesn't need precision. Typically, it's considered ready if, when poked with a finger, it doesn't rebound. Second risings are a matter of texture- for sandwich bread, a good idea but not vital.

      Lots of recipes are available- a general guide for basic bread (1 lb. loaf) is 3c. flour, 1c. water, 1Tb. Yeast. Salt is usually used (you don't need it- tales of yeast gone mad from lack of salt are just tales). Most recipes will call for some sort of oil or melted butter, sometimes sugar to help feed the yeast. You can go all sorts of directions from there, of course, but you will get a feel for what's working pretty quickly.

      Bread flours are a good idea for most breads- they are made with a stronger (more glutinous) flour for a stronger, stretchier feel, and typically contain malted barley flour, and essential flavour ingredient for some breads. Some types of bread, such as French bread, Ciabata and pizza crust, usually are made with softer flour.

      1. j
        jvanderh Aug 17, 2011 06:32 PM

        I love Artisan bread in 5. The recipe is available free online! Basically, you make a wet dough and stick it in the fridge.

        7 Replies
        1. re: jvanderh
          Thanks4Food Aug 17, 2011 06:49 PM

          Thanks! Just the title gives me hope. :-)

          I just requested it from our local library--4 copies all out at the moment. Must be popular.

          1. re: Thanks4Food
            j
            jvanderh Aug 18, 2011 06:38 AM

            The master recipe is 925g flour/725g water/25g salt/14g yeast (or here by volume: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/200...) and you can start playing with it without having the book. What I usually do is to mix up the dough, divide it into two bags (gallon sized) and leave the tops open a little bit to allow the dough to expand. I pop them in the fridge and use it 3-10 days later. I also highly recommend baking in a covered vessel (use the tallest one you've got around. Old dough gives serious ovenspring!) and taking the lid off 3/4 of the way through the cooking time. Also, if you've got the time, let the dough rise for an hour or two before baking. Both of these things help make sure that the bread gets cooked through before the crust gets dark.

            1. re: Thanks4Food
              j
              jvanderh Aug 22, 2011 02:44 PM

              I have just discovered that my Kindle edition of Artisan Bread in Five has a loan function. Give me a holler at 002753@gmail.com if you'd like it.

              1. re: jvanderh
                Thanks4Food Aug 27, 2011 02:47 PM

                FYI, I sent you an email yesterday. Wasn't sure if I needed a Kindle myself. Thanks!

                1. re: Thanks4Food
                  j
                  jvanderh Aug 28, 2011 08:07 AM

                  Thanks for letting me know; I don't check that account often. You should have the loan in your inbox now. If you have any trouble, just let me know.

                  1. re: jvanderh
                    Thanks4Food Sep 1, 2011 10:47 AM

                    Hey! I made my first "boule" today! It looks beautiful! It's going to kill me to wait till my husband comes home to cut into it.

                    Oh guess what: the book came in from the library today. :-) I also noticed that they have a white loaf recipe, so I'll be trying that next for my husband's sandwiches.

                    Thanks so much!

                    1. re: Thanks4Food
                      j
                      jvanderh Sep 1, 2011 11:37 AM

                      Very cool! Happy baking.

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