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“The primary purpose of education is not to teach to earn your own bread, but to make every mouthful sweeter.”

— James R. Angell

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Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips Logo

2020-06-05 It Doesn't HAVE To Be Difficult!

Sometimes, OK - all too often, we make baking bread harder than it has to be. Feed the sourdough starter for three days. Make a preferment for 12 to 18 hours. Bake the bread in a dutch oven or a wood fired oven that has never cooled in the past 150 years. Only use pure salt puddled from pure water on the coast of Bali Ha'i, using flour milled in a stone mill and sifted by naked virgins under a new moon using wheat that was organically grown with proper attention to biodynamic principles 500 miles from the nearest fertilized or pesticide treated field. We all have our own rituals!

But sometimes we just want some bread, not an endless descent into ritual. Really, it shouldn't be all that difficult! I recently needed to compare two ways of using an Ankarsum mixer (which will be discussed in a separate newsletter or blog entry). I didn't have any sourdough starter ready and didn't want to make any. I didn't want to create a poolish or biga or sponge! And as for old dough, fugettaboutit! I just wanted to make bread.

I started going through recipes and couldn't find just a plain, simple, yeast bread recipe. And then I remembered that many years ago the good folks at General Mills had given away a pamphlet entitled, "Making Artisan Bread". It's a beautiful little book that covers a lot of territory. If you'd like a copy, just click on the link above.

Among other things, it has a great baguette recipe. So, I thought I'd make that! Just flour, water, salt and yeast. Easy peasy! A quick look in the book showed the recipe was for 25 pounds of flour and used compressed, or fresh, yeast. I scaled the recipe to make two 1 1/2lb loaves that I was going to bake as pan loaves.

Here's the formula:

Volumetric Measure (Cups)IngredientWeightBaker's Percentage
2 2/3 CupsWater640 Grams68.64%
7 1/8 CupsBread Flour (See note 1)930 Grams100%
2 tspSalt14 Grams1.5 %
1 tspInstant Yeast5.2 grams.6%

Note 1 - General Mills suggests you use their Harvest King or Better for Bread flours, which are the same except for the packaging. I didn't have any so I used King Arthur's Sir Galahad. Any good flour will work well, and those are very good flours!

Their instructions, on the last page of the pamphlet, are only a little more complicated than mine. Add ingredients to the mixer in the order given. Mix until well developed. I like 5 minutes of mix on low speed, a 5 minute rest, and then 5 more minutes of mixing at low speed. (You can knead by hand, of course.)

Cover the dough and let it rise. It should double in size in about an hour. Scale into 770 gram loaves. Preshape into rounds, let rest for 20 minutes, then shape into pan loaves, put the loaves into pans, cover and allow to rise. You could make baguettes instead, - it's YOUR bread after all!. Start heating the oven to 425F. Let the dough double in size again, 30 to 60 minutes.

Put the breads in the oven to bake for 25 minutes, then turn the loaves an bake another 20 minutes.

By the time I turned the loaves, Beth was commenting how something smelled SO good! And she was right, the house was full of a delightful aroma!

Once the bread was done, it was very difficult to let it cool before we sliced it. Much butter was melted on still warm bread (maybe we didn't wait long enough) and there was soft moaning.

The bread was an absolute delight. It was interesting in other ways. We all "know" baguettes don't last very long. In part that's because they rise so quickly. It seems to be more the shape than the speed of making the bread. I made the loaves a week ago and they are still toasting nicely.

Give yourself permission to make an easy bread. A really easy bread.

Until next time, may your dough always rise, even if it only has four ingredients!

3 thoughts on “2020-06-05 It Doesn’t HAVE To Be Difficult! Mike’s (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips”

  1. June 8, 2020

    Hey, Mike, I liked your recipe adaptation for Artisan Baguette from the General Mills pamphlet “Making Artisan Bread”. I made it this morning. I followed your recipe almost exactly, except that I substituted my fresh-milled hard red whole wheat flour. It turned out great. I used active dry yeast that has been in the freezer for years; I proofed it and it worked fine.

    Next time I’ll try a long rise, probably overnight in the refrigerator.

    Boy, the flour situation is dire. I keep going to my grocery store looking specifically for King Arthur whole wheat flour (so I can try making sourdough not using flour milled in my Nutrimill, per your suggestion of a few months ago). The flour shelves have been pretty empty, but now they’re filling up with Gold Medal all-purpose flour. Last week they had some Bob’s Red Mill flours, but still not ww. I’m running low on wheat berries, both soft white and hard red, that I’ve been stocking from Bob’s, so I went online yesterday to order more. It’s a sad situation. They have hardly anything online to sell. I emailed them asking when they might have something, but we’ll see.

    1. Hi Rosalie,
      Thanks for the report! I’m glad the recipe worked out. I’m guessing you had to add a bit more moisture to it.

      As far as it goes, I’m happy with Gold Medal All-Purpose and Better for Bread flours. KA is good, but more a miracle of the marketer’s art than the millers.

      As to wheat berries and whole wheat, you might check out health food stores and Winco (if you have that chain in your area). They are happy to sell 25 and 50 lb sacks of wheat berries at reasonable prices.

      Another GREAT source is Restaurant Depot, if you have one near you. Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, they let anyone buy there, not just people in the food service trade. Most flours are around $14 for 50 lbs there. At the stores near us I’ve seen GM Whole WHeat, GM Special Patent, GM All-Trumps (sadly, the bleached and bromated version), KA’s Sir Galahad and a number of other flours I’m not familiar with. I’m told the stock varies from store to store.

      Good luck!

  2. I always appreciate hearing from you, Mike. None of your options is a possibility for me. I’ve done a bit of online research (it turns out Bob’s Red Mill no longer carries the soft white berries, and the hard red only in smaller quantities), and I found some possibilities.

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