Monday, June 2, 2008

A Need to Knead...

Last year on this blog, I wrote a post about conquering one of my baking fears: Cheesecake. All went well and my first cheesecake turned out, dare I say it, nearly perfect. Knowing I had that accomplishment behind me, I decided to attack another one: Bread.

Now, why should bread be a big deal? We eat it all the time, it's everywhere, and even a machine on your countertop can make it with very little input from you. Well, for me, the yeast and the kneading are those components of breadmaking that worry me. As a reminder, the reason I have any fears in baking are this: I hate to fail. I have this need to do things right the first time, I hate do overs. Is that realistic? Is it reasonable? Not really, it's just me. Unfortunately, not only do I hate to fail, I know I'm going to fail at certain things, so I tend to play it safe in the kitchen and avoid those things that lead to failure. My big 3 fears as I learn more about baking are these: Cheesecake, Bread and Pie Crust. Now, I know some of you reading this probably look at this list and laugh, thinking, "those are so easy, no problem". Well, for some of you, I'm sure they are quite easy, and, as I said, the cheesecake turned out to be no problem at all. But I don't have anyone training me, I'm learning from books, TV and the internet, which, while good, just isn't the same as hands on training. Nevertheless, I needed to move on, and King Arthur Flour gave me the little boost to get rolling.

The Baker's Banter blog at King Arthur Flour had a post for High-Fiber Cinnamon Swirl Bread. It looked really good, and the step by step posts on the blog made it look fairly easy. So I decided to give it a try. Having made scones using my food processor to do the dirty work, I was looking forward to baking bread using my trusty Kitchen Aid Mixer for my mixing and kneading. Only problem, we're out of town on vacation, and though I have a full kitchen at my disposal, I didn't have my stand mixer. So, hand mixing and kneading it would be.

I mentioned one fear of mine being yeast. Seems simple enough, but I get caught up with activating the stuff and the different types I find at the store: Active, Rapid Rise, Instant. I just followed the directions on the recipe and I had a beautiful, bubbling little blob to start my recipe. No problem, the little buggers did fine. As for the kneading, well, I consulted some of my references and dove in hands first. The only thing I wasn't sure about was how long to knead. I know both under kneading and over kneading can cause problems for a recipe, but I seemed to recall something about kneading for about 15 minutes. Right or wrong, I decided to play it a little safe and go for 12 minutes because I have pretty strong hands and was probably working it fairly hard.

Well, long story short, I was pretty pleased with the end result. The loaf wasn't beautiful, but it did rise, had good texture and tasted and smelled wonderful. Good stuff. Fear of breadmaking can now be put aside. I'll be more likely to try some bread recipes now that I have performed this task without a major failure. Thanks KAF for giving me the inspiration to tackle the second of my baking fears. The last remaining, pie crust. Stay tuned.

High-Fiber Cinnamon Swirl Bread from King Arthur Flour
2 tsp instant yeast or active dry yeast
1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water
1/3 cup (2 5/8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened or melted
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur, Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (4 2/4 ounces) Hi-Maize
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup (1 ounce) Baker's Special Dry Milk or 1/4 (5/8 ounce) nonfat dry milk
3 tbsp (1 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp water, to brush on dough

  1. If you're using active dry yeast, dissolve it with a pinch of sugar in 2 tablespoons of the lukewarm water. Let the yeast and water sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded. If you're using instant yeast, you can skip this step.
  2. Combine the dissolved yeast (or instant yeast) with the remainder of the ingredients. Mix and knead everything together - by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle - till you've made a smooth dough. Adjust the dough's consistency with additional flour or water as needed; but remember, the more flour you add while you're kneading, the heavier and drier your final loaf will be. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, it should take about 5 minutes at second speed and the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl, perhaps sticking a bit at the bottom. In a bread machine (or by hand), it should become soft, smooth and elastic.
  3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, for 1 to 2 hours, or until it's nearly doubled in bulk. Rising may take longer, especially if you've kneaded by hand. Give it enough time to become quite puffy.
  4. While the dough is rising, make the filling by whisking together the sugar, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons flour.
  5. Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. Gently stretch and pat it into a 6" x 20" rectangle.
  6. Brush the dough with the egg/water mixture; you won't use all of it, but save what's left. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the filling, leaving one short end bare.
  7. Starting with the short (6") end covered with filling, roll the dough into a log. Pinch the ends to seal, and pinch the long seam closed.
  8. Transfer the log, seam-side down, to a lightly greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" (medium) loaf pan. Tent the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap.
  9. Allow the bread to rise till it's crested about 1" over the rim of the pan, about 1 hour. Again, it may rise more slowly for you; let it reise till it's 1" over the rim of the pan, even if that takes longer than an hour. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degress F.
  10. Brush the top of the bread very lightly with some of the reserved egg/water mixture, and sprinkle with additional cinnamon-sugar. Bake the bread for about 40 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil after the first 20 minutes. The bread's crust will be golden brown, and the interior of the finished loaf should measure 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.
  11. Remove the bread from the oven, and loosen the edges with heatproof spatula or table knife. Turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing.
Yield: 1 Loaf

Additional notes on my loaf: I didn't have an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan available, so I used a 9" x 5" and it seemed to work fine. I didn't have Hi-Maize, so after checking with KAF, I added a 3rd cup of AP flour in place of the Hi-Maize. To help improve my rising since I was kneading by hand, I let the dough rise in a gently warmed (but off) oven. For my preference, I might add a little more of the cinnamon/sugar mixture inside my loaf. Finally, my load deflated a bit on one side - I'm not sure why, I may have bumped it when I was getting ready to put it in the oven. Overall, it was fantastic. Below are some photos of the process:

Activating the yeast.

Getting ready to mix the ingredients.

Ready to rise.

Spreading the cinnamon/sugar.

Sealing the seam.

The finished loaf. The hole is from the thermometer.

Another view.

The inside - for a first ever loaf of bread, I'm pleased.