Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Bread baking isn't an exact science as something as simple as the amount of humidity in the air or the draftiness of your kitchen can make or break a successful loaf. That shouldn't serve as discouragement. With practise, a baker will be able to gauge the way a dough is coming together and add more flour until the desired results are achieved. True, it is immensely difficult to describe the correct feel a dough ought to have. Cookbooks often rely on standard words such as "elastic", "satiny", or "smooth." Those terms are rather useless if you are baking a particular recipe for the first time. Besides, one baker's satiny is another baker's taut.

Another common dilemma facing first time bakers are instructions such as "proof the yeast." That can, and often does mean anything the author wants it to. Proofing yeast can mean dissolving it in water and sugar to see if it is still active. It can mean waiting until the yeast and warm water has a large foamy crown. Proofing can also mean something as simple as looking for small bubbles in the yeast mixture indicating activity. As a rule, letting the yeast sit too long won't likely damage the end product unless otherwise noted in the recipe.

I used to ruin a good number of baking sheets. After a short period of use they would begin to accumulate a brown sticky, burned-on substance that could not be scoured away. It was only after I switched to greasing the pans with butter that I realised the non-stick spray was to blame for the damage. It is my feeling that non-stick spray will not save you much by way of calories in bread baking to make it worth the trouble of ruining pans. I have not found Silicone baking pads to be helpful with bread, though I really like them for pastry. An exception to this will be discussed in cakes and pastry where cooking sprays that include flour are concerned. With intricate molds the sprays are often the easiest way to treat the surface.

The recipes in this section are rather simple to prepare though I strongly encourage you to gather the ingredients ahead of time and read through the instructions once or twice. While I have never had much of a problem with substitutions such as skim milk for whole, others that involve wheat flour for white can be more complicated. Bearing that in mind, it might be wise to adhere to the recipes until you have a better feel for adding/deleting/substituting ingredients. Where a substitution is obvious, I will note it.

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