Baking - Breads

Homemade Bagels

I remember making bagels in one of my baking classes and have often thought about trying to make them again, but it’s one of those things that seems like it would be too difficult and time consuming to be worth the effort. Out of curiosity I looked up a recipe in my favourite bread book (The Wooden Spoon Bread Book by Marilyn M. Moore). After reading through the recipe it actually didn’t look that difficult. So I got the necessary ingredients and let them sit on the shelf.

Fast forward a couple months and take a moment to be grateful for my incredible husband who took our kids away for a weekend so I could have a couple days to myself for the first time in two years! What to do with a couple days to myself? Make bagels, of course!

Bagels, as I’m sure you know, are much more dense than regular bread. They require the addition of a high gluten flour (vital wheat gluten), and the recipe I used called for barley malt extract to add that distinctive flavour that good, artisanal bagels have. It was pretty straightforward once I got started. They needed to be kneaded a bit longer than regular bread to help develop the gluten more, and they actually needed less time to rise, giving the more dense, less airy texture.

Once the dough was mixed – which is way easier to do for longer when you use the mixer – I divided it into 12 pieces, and rolled each into a ball. Then I poked a hole in the middle and stretched each one into a ring. The rings only needed to rest for about 15 minutes (compared with the normal two rising times of an hour or so each for regular bread).

Another big difference with bagels is that they are simmered in almost boiling water (flavoured with more barley malt) for about a minute before going into the oven to bake. This contributes to their shiny appearance once baked, and adds to the chewiness. They bake for 10-15 minutes at a very high heat (450F), and voila! Fresh, chewy bagels from your own kitchen. They were very delicious, and because I was by myself and not on a normal eating routine, I’m pretty sure I ate three the day I made them!

I think it took just over an hour from start to finish, but I was doing something throughout that whole hour – no breaks for letting dough rest and rise. But now that I’ve tried it and know the process, I’m hoping we’ll have fresh bagels in the house a lot more often!

The dense crumb of the bagels - chewy texture and great flavour!
The dense crumb of the bagels – chewy texture and great flavour!
Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Finding Local Flour

When we lived in Nova Scotia I enjoyed baking with a local rye flour from Longspell Point Farm in Kingsport, NS; I actually stocked up before we moved so I can keep making my favourite rye breads!

20140917_093719Now that we’re in London, ON, and getting to know this new area, I have to start over with finding good local ingredients. Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long to find some good flour. One of my husband’s colleagues told me about a flour mill just north of the city, so a few weeks ago my kids and I paid a visit to the Arva Flour Mill.

They offer several types of wheat flour, including pastry flour for cakes and pastry, and hard flour for breads. I picked up a bag of hard bread flour and have been enjoying the results ever since. It worked especially well in my favourite buttermilk rye bread recipe.

I tried making a batch of no-knead bread with it, and it actually didn’t come out very well. It seemed to be too sticky, so next time I may need to try it with either a bit less water, or a bit more flour. I also wonder whether the higher protein content of hard flour makes it need the kneading. Something to investigate in a future post! Until then, I will enjoy my regular breads made with this local flour, and look forward to trying some of their other flours in the future!


Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Water Temperature for Yeast

My post this week comes from a friend who asked:

How warm does the water have to be for the yeast to proof right? (Is, in fact, the temperature of the water related to the proofing of the yeast?) I was always taught to do lukewarm water (it’s possible my water is generally more than lukewarm—does that kill the yeast?) and then add some kind of sugar/honey for the yeast to eat, and then it will all work out right. But it never seems to bubble up quite like I want it to. How to change this?

This question made me automatically think back to the classes I took, and a formula we had to use whenever we made yeast breads. To get very technical for a moment, the recipes we used in our ‘professional’ book listed a temperature for the dough, usually anywhere from 78°F to 86°F. This is the temperature at which the dough should be for the best fermentation/proofing results (yeast has its best growth from 70°F-90°F). To figure out the right temperature for the water we had to multiply the desired dough temperature by three, then subtract the room temperature, the flour temperature and the machine friction temperature.

IMG_4168For example, a recipe for brioche in my book says that the dough temperature should be 84°F. Multiply that by three to get 252. The room temperature was 64°F, the flour was 58°F, and we always used an average temperature of 20°F for the machine friction. Take 252 and subtract 64, 58 and 20, and we get 110, so the temperature of the water should be 110°F. I can remember holding my thermometer under the water until it reached the right temperature, filling the measuring cup, and taking the temperature of the water again in the cup just to be sure. We also used fresh yeast for our recipes, so it didn’t need the initial proofing. However, the book instructs that if you are using active dry yeast, it should be “rehydrated in four times its weight of warm water (about 110°F).”* If the water is too warm it can definitely slow down the yeast’s growth, and warmer still will kill the yeast (140°F).

If you don’t have a digital thermometer, don’t worry. It would give you a more exact temperature, but it’s certainly not mandatory in order to get good bread. You can measure the temperature of the water like you would for a baby’s bottle. If the water feels hot on the inside of your arm, it’s probably too hot for the yeast; if it feels lukewarm on the inside of your arm, it’s probably okay; and if it feels cool on your arm, it’s probably too cold.

There are several other factors that can affect how your dough proofs.

  • Adding sugar or honey will definitely help speed up yeast’s growth. Yeast consumes the sugar and turns it into carbon dioxide and alcohol – the gas contributes to the leavening, and the alcohol is evaporated while baking. Extra sugar is not absolutely necessary, in fact many of the recipes I have don’t even call for sugar when you’re initially softening the yeast. As you make the dough the yeast feeds on sugars in the flour, but added sugar (as long as it’s in the recipe) can speed things along. If you have too much, it may make it go too fast, which can cause it to over-ferment and not come out very well.
  • Dough proofs best from 78°F to 86°F, so if you have the dough in a cool room it may not rise as well; conversely, if it is too warm it can slow growth, or kill the yeast (so don’t proof it on the vent of the oven as it preheats like I used to). I’ve heard several people say they use the top of their fridge, as it is generally warm to being with, and it is higher up in the room (warm air rises).
  • The length of time needed can vary. It is important to follow the recipe’s guidelines, but if your proofing temperature is higher than normal it will likely take less time than what the recipe calls for. It’s best to just pay close attention to the dough and watch for when it has actually doubled in bulk.

The most important thing is to keep trying. If it didn’t work well, adjust something for the next time and see if it makes a difference: add a little more (or less) sugar; try letting the dough rest in different places; try different temperatures of water; try different types of yeast if you have them available (active dry, instant, or fresh). Just make sure you keep track of what you did so you remember what works well. Happy Baking!

*Gisslen, Wayne (2005). Professional Baking (4th edition). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 51.

Baking - Breads

Rye Bread

I get confused sometimes about rye bread. Some have caraway seeds, some don’t; some have a sour dough base, some don’t; some loaves are round, some are long; some are dark, some are light, some are marble; and some I like, some I don’t. There’s a farm market bakery I get a lot of bread from and they sometimes make a dark rye bread that I really like. It’s got a nice chewy texture, no seeds, and no sour taste. That’s my kind of rye. Unfortunately it hasn’t been a very popular product, so they will only make it if someone specially orders it.

I have been rather lazy in my bread baking lately, so I have been getting a lot of my bread at the market; but the rye is also more of a specialty bread, so it is more expensive. I decided to take the plunge and try to make some myself.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago I made one attempt that failed. Well, it failed in the sense that the bread totally sank into a couple very flat loaves, but the taste and texture were quite good. We were still able to use it for sandwiches.

I didn’t give up. A couple weeks later I tried a different recipe, and it came out very well. It used a mix of unbleached all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and rye flour (equal parts of each), and it used dark beer. The beer gave the bread a richer flavour, and the texture was nice and chewy. I was very happy with how it turned out, and will be making it one of my regular bread recipes!


Baking - Breads

No-Knead Bread

Finally, after several people telling me about this over the years, I have made a loaf of no-knead bread. I used a link a friend sent, followed the recipe (almost), and ended up with a beautiful crusty loaf of fresh bread; no kneading by hand, no kneading by machine.

To make this bread, you mix up the dough, let it sit covered at room temperature for 12-18 hours, then bake it in a dutch oven at 450F. It’s really that simple.

You can find the recipe I used by clicking here. I say I almost followed the recipe because, of course, I made some modifications. Why would I do an exact recipe on the first try? The recipe did say you could add things to the dough, so I decided to go ahead and make a loaf of olive bread. I added about one cup of sliced olives, and I also added 1/2 tsp of sugar to help feed the yeast. I let mine sit for about 14 hours, mixing it up at night, letting it sit overnight and then baking it the next afternoon. The dough seemed to lose some of its volume when I transferred it from the bowl to the counter for its last rest time, but still baked up into a nice loaf.

Don’t worry, I will still use my new mixer for bread. The no-knead bread is a lot more like the artisan breads that are all the rage; thick, crispy crust, with a bubbly, chewy crumb. Call me old fashioned, but I like a nice soft bread for my breakfast toast, and I think the way to get that will be to knead the dough as usual. But this no-knead bread will be great for lunches and snacks!