Saturday, November 04, 2006

Preferment and the basic recipe...

The most important part of a good loaf of bread is preferment. This is a mixture of flour,water, sugar and yeast that is allowed to sit at least overnight in the fridge. The preferment is best used at least 12 hours after being made, and I've used it up to a week later with no problems. My basic preferment is

8 oz bread flour
15 oz water
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Mix together in a container that allows for expansion (I mix them together with a whisk), cap with a loose fitting lid or with plastic wrap and a few tiny holes poked through the plastic.

Your preferment will probably separate into a layer of flour on the bottom, water in the middle and a layer of spongy foam on top.

The Dough.
1 pound (16 oz) bread flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt

When it's time to make the dough, put 1 pound (16 oz) of bread flour into the bowl of your mixer. Add 1 teaspoon instant yeast, 2 teaspoons salt and the preferment. Put in your dough hook and mix until the dough just comes together, about 5 minutes. Cover with a towel and let rest 15 minutes to let the water saturate the dough, then turn on medium speed for 5-8 minutes to knead the dough.

While the dough is kneading, bring a teakettle full of water to a boil. Pour about 3-4 cups of hot water into a bowl in the oven and close the door. This creates a warm, moist enviornment that the yeast loves. When the dough is through kneading, transfer it to a greased bowl (I sprits a bowl with nonstick spray, then do a quick spray over the dough). Put the dough and bowl into the oven with the hot water and let proof (rise) for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, it's time to shape the dough. I will cover shaping techniques later, so I'll assume you can form a basic boule or put it in a loaf pan for now. Once the dough is shaped, refresh the hot water in the oven, and put the loaf back in for 1 hour. When the hour is up, remove the loaf and start preheating the oven (mine takes about 10 minutes to preheat). While the oven heats, scramble and egg and brush it over the surface, then use a serrated knife to make slashes on the top of the loaf. Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.

That is my standard bread recipe. Variations include substituting part of the bread flour with rye or whole wheat flour, the addition of other flavorings, and using different glazes.

Now you have the starting point I usually use for my bread. A better explanation will follow. Tonight I made 2 batches of preferment for use later this week.