Easy Homemade Bread
If you enjoy the cost savings from making your own soy milk as I do then you're probably frequently confronted with the problem of what to do with the okara, or left-over soy pulp. I've found a use for it that makes the whole family happy. And it's healthful, too!
My recipe is based on the Jim Lahey method, which requires no kneading and utilizes an overnight ferment to add fullness to the flavor. I usually usually 50% whole grain and then add the okara from a batch of soy milk.
The process takes very little hands-on time but does require advance planning. The first step takes about five minutes (a little longer the first few times through) and the second step occurs some 15 to 18 hours later. I usually do the first step at night just before bed, and the second when I get home from work the next day.
I have been making variations of this bread for years now. I started out with the basic recipe as first published in the New York Times. This bread was easy to make and delicious. My family still loves this basic recipe, but I tend to avoid making it too often because it relies solely on unbleached white flour and I am trying to sneak healthier whole grains into the family diet.
To that end, I've been experimenting for years with different flour combinations. I've found that as long as I continue to use 50% white bread flour, I can pretty much get away with any other combination of whole grain flours that strikes my fancy.
Whole grain flours tend to go rancid if not used promptly. This is due to oils in the germ. The germ is stripped out of white flour so white flour does not have these oils. With whole grains, though, I find it is more economical to buy the grains whole online and then grind them myself as needed. For some reason, I tend to have better luck if I grind the flour a day or two ahead of use. I also find that freshly ground flour requires less water then store-bought and thus add the last bit of water judiciously as I mix the dough.
In my view, this type of bread-making has a number of advantages over more traditional methods. They include:
The recipe does have some downsides to it however. Its biggest weakness comes from its biggest strength; the long ferment means you will need to plan your bread-making at least a day in advance, and then once you've made the dough you'll need to remember to toss it into the oven the next day.
Another more insidious downside is that you may find yourself enslaved by the rhythms of making this bread. Once your family is used to eating this bread regularly it will be hard to get them to go back to commercial breads.
Okara is the soy pulp that is left over from making soy milk. Including it in this bread is entirely optional and I made this bread for years without it. Once I got myself a soy milk machine, though, I found myself with okara on my hands and needed a way to use it. Wikipedia tells me that "okara that is firmly packed consists of 3.5 to 4.0% protein, 76 to 80% moisture and 20 to 24% of solids. When moisture free, okara contains 8 to 15% fats, 12 to 14.5% crude fiber and 24% protein, and contains 17% of the protein from the source soybeans. It also contains calcium, iron, and riboflavin." This sounds too nutritious to throw away! I know a lot of people dehydrate their okara to make soy flour, but I skip this step and just plop the okara into my bowl of flour.
The first time I used okara in my bread it was just as a way to prevent waste. But the effect that okara has on this recipe is amazing! The original recipe has a tendency to dry out after just a couple of days. This is not surprising as it contains no milk, eggs, shortening, or other ingredients to preserve moisture in the bread. Somehow the okara fulfills this role, though, so your bread will be moist, tender, and delicious for days and days. Now that I've tried it I haven't gone back, and have often made a batch of soy milk just for the sake of having the okara for bread.
You don't need a lot of different materials but there are a couple of items that are indispensable.
You need a baking container bake your bread in. Unlike most bread recipes, this recipe calls for your bread to be enclosed in an oven-proof container while baking. You probably have something suitable lying around the house. Some suggestions are:
Figure 1. This cast iron dutch oven sat unused in the cupboard for years until I discovered that it was a perfect container for baking no-knead bread.
The container you use to bake your bread in will determine the shape of your bread, which in turn dictates the proofing container you need for the second rising. Or maybe the shape of your proofing container dictates the shape of your bread which dictates the shape of your baking container. Unless of course you want a specific shape for your bread in which case the final shape that you want your bread to have will dictate your choice of both baking container and proofing container. Or something like that...
Whichever vessel or technique you decide upon for the second rise, keep in mind that your unbaked loaf will have to fit into the baking container and that it will rise further in the oven (it may even double in height). And when you place the loaf into the baking container that container will be about 500°F, so you won't be wanting to play with it.
Figure 2. I use this brotform with the cast iron dutch oven. When using my oblong clay pot for baking bread, I proof in a similar brotform that is oblong in shape. Before I bought these brotforms, I just used the round dutch oven for baking and a plastic bowl for proofing. This is not a picky process.
LameIt's pronounced lah-MAY and you totally don't need one. Nevertheless if you have one then it will be useful for scoring the top of the bread. As you can see in figure 3, a lame is really just a razor blade attached to a handle. I use mine to score an "X" in the top of round loaves. For torpedo-shaped loaves I like to score a series of three or four parallel lines running perpendicular to the length of the loaf. If you don't have a lame, use a razor blade or a sharp knife. Whichever tool you use, you will need to make swift, sure stroke to properly score the loaf. You want to avoid sawing through the dough.
If you choose not to score your loaf at all then the bread will decide for itself where to develop cracks in the crust. These cracks are often called an "ear" and some find them quite attractive.
Figure 3. A lame (lah-MAY) is useful for scoring the top of your loaves.
As with any experiment in kitchen chemistry, having the right ingredients is crucial to success. Luckily, this recipe requires just a few basic ingredients. They include:
I usually use about 50% bread flour and 50% whole grain. If I'm out of bread flour I use all-purpose flour and that works fine; you just may notice slightly less spring in the loaf. Avoid using cake flour, pastry flour, and self-rising flour (known as self-raising flour in the UK). If you choose to omit the white flour you should do so slowly in increments, so that you don't end up with a loaf that is unacceptably dense and low. If you have a scale, you can use that. A cup of white flour should weigh about 142 grams, so two cups comes to 284. I like to use 300 grams of white flour plus 300 grams of whole grain flour. The extra is flour to account for the additional moisture introduced with the okara.
Whole grain flour
You can substitute all or some of the whole grain flour with white bread flour or white all-purpose flour. If you do decide to use whole grain flour, then I would encourage you to experiment. Go ahead and go crazy with it! Use different grains and use them both singly and in combination.
Some of my favorite whole grains are oats, which make a delicious bread that looks just like wheat bread, and rye which is a traditional flour in much of northern and central Europe. Of course, whole wheat is a reliable favorite. I also like whole Durham wheat, and spelt was a favorite of mine until I ran out. (I refuse to buy more until I've used up some of the other grains that I have stockpiled over here!) I usually buy whole grains and then grind them as needed, using the electric grinder shown in figure 4. If you buy ground whole grain flours, buy in small amounts so that they don't go rancid on you.
Since I usually grind for a specific purpose, I tend to use flour by weight and not by measurement. I usually weigh out and grind 300 grams of grain, and then I use the whole amount in my loaf. If I need to adjust due to too much moisture then I use white flour for the adjustment.
Figure 4. I use this grain mill to grind whole grains. I avoid using it for seeds or nuts because they would gum up the works. This mill is easy to use and can create a fine grind.
I use SAF instant yeast, but any instant yeast will do. Avoid the rapid rise varieties.
You should also note that the amount of yeast required is tiny, 1/2 teaspoon per loaf. I bought a pound of yeast several years ago, proud of how my savvy shopping skills saved my probably a dollar by buying in bulk. Well most of that yeast is still in my freezer, and at about 1/2 a teaspoon per week I expect to have it until it eventually dies. So far it still works though so I'm lucky. My advice to you though is to buy smaller amounts, unless you will be using it for other things.
If you have a starter handy then you don't need any yeast at all. You will have to experiment to figure out how much starter to use but you'll probably have fun with that anyway. If you've gone to all the trouble of keeping a starter alive all this time then you probably also already know how to use it. I've not used a starter for this recipe in years but there is plenty of information on the internet if you're so inclined.
The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of salt and that amount assumes you are using table salt or at least a salt variety with the same grind. If you want to use coarser salt then you will have to adjust. One teaspoon of table salt weighs six grams so if you want to use a different salt then my advice is to use a scale and weigh out 12 grams.
Your loaf of bread is about 50% water prior to baking so it's wise to use good water. I use Brita-filtered water. You can use any type you'd like but if you are using chlorinated water out of the tap you should consider letting it sit overnight before using it. You can also boil it to rid it of unwanted chlorine, but be sure to let it cool to room temperature before adding it to your dough. Otherwise, you could kill the yeast. Getting rid of the chlorine is not absolutely necessary but many prefer the taste of breads made with unchlorinated water.
This ingredient is completely unnecessary yet including it is the whole point of today's blog, so there you go. My okara is a by-product of making soy milk with my soy milk machine as shown in figure 5. I sometimes use black soy beans when making soy milk, on account of I have approximately a ton of them. The black soybeans make a gray colored milk (except in the UK, where the soya milk tends to be grey coloured instead). The okara is likewise gray but when used in dough the effect on the color of the bread is barely noticeable, by which I mean I can't notice it but maybe somebody else might.
You'll find that adding the soy pulp to your bread makes the loaf moist and tender, and allows it to stay fresh longer. If you make your own soy milk then by all means use okara. If you don't make your own soy milk and aren't interested in doing so then just use a little soy flour instead. Try swapping out a couple of tablespoons of white flour for soy flour and take it from there.
It's nice to have a light coating of sesame seeds on top of your bread. You can omit these, or use some other type of seed. You can also use coarsely ground semolina or bran.
I've found that the easiest way to get a nice coating of seeds on your loaf is to spray your proofing container (in my case a brotform) with cooking oil. Then toss a handful of seeds into the container and swirl the container around a few times. I usually have to knock some seeds loose and then tilt the brotform to allow the loosened seeds to adhere elsewhere in order to get a reasonable uniform coating. When you place your dough in the container to proof, it will naturally expand and push into the sides of the proofing container. Some of the seeds will then transfer from the container to the dough. You will inevitably waste a good amount of seeds; this is the price of beauty.
Figure 5. This inexpensive soy milk machine also produces okara as a by-product. Some blenders (such as the Vitamix) also can be used to make soy milk (and thus okara).
ProcedureThe procedure for making this bread is really quite simple. Just mix the dry ingredients well. Add the okara and, using a dough blender, potato masher, or your hands, blend the okara into the dry ingredients until the crumbs are of a consistent size. The actual size of your crumbs is less important than the consistency; there should be no lumps of soy.
Add the water and mix thoroughly. The dough should be somewhat shaggy and sticky.
Cover and set aside. Let it ferment for 15 to 18 hours.
Dump the dough onto a floured work surface. Compact it into a single ball and allow it to rest for about five or ten minutes. Add more flour if necessary to give dough enough firmness to work with.
Spray your proofing container with cooking spray and dump in a handful of sesame seeds (optional). I prefer the unhulled seeds for this application. Swirl container so that seeds adhere to the bottom and sides and so that they are more or less evenly distributed. If you don't have sesame seeds or don't want to use them, you can use wheat bran or some other type of bran or coarsely ground semolina. Or you can just omit it completely.
After the dough has rested, form into a ball. To do this, pat the dough into a round shape and push the bottom edges together to form a ball, using the bottom edges of each hand to push the dough together. As you push, your hands should come together as if cupped, with the dough in your palms. Press tightly so that the surface of the dough becomes taught. Continue to do this until you have a nice smooth ball. The underside of the ball will not be smooth but will have a seem. Place seem-side up into the proofing container.
Allow the dough to rise for one and one half hours.
Place your dutch oven or other oven-proof baking container into the oven and begin preheating the oven to 500°F (260°C). Allow the dough to rise for another 1/2 hour while the oven preheats.
Remove the baking container from the oven and close the oven door. Change the temperature setting on the oven to 450°F (232°C). Dump the dough into the container and score the top of the dough. I use a lame to score the do but a razor blade or sharp knife will also work. Place the lid on the container and place the container in the oven.
Bake for about 35 minutes. Remove the lid from the baking container and allow the bread to brown for another five or ten minutes.
Remove and dump bread out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before attempting to cut.
And don't forget to turn off your oven.
Figure 6. Fresh out of the oven, this loaf is made from %50 whole grain Durham wheat (also known as semolina). It tastes great with olive oil or coconut oil or even butter (if that's all you have). The awesome spiral pattern on the top of the loaf is due to the brotform in figure 2.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Homemade bread is easy to make and popular with the whole family. The technique outlined here, first developed by Jim Lahey and made famous by Mark Bittman, requires no kneading and very little labor.