Finally, bread that isn’t the density of drywall

I finally made bread that wasn’t dense. Previous attempts have tended to result in dense (though sufficiently tasty) bread because I screwed up something in either the kneading or by not allowing enough time for the dough to rise after forming. They weren’t hockey pucks, but had relatively small bubbles in the, um, bread foam. The dough has also perhaps been either too dry or a little too wet and tacky.

I was using a variation of this portuguese bread recipe, which, I suppose, differs from what I’d been doing before by using shortening as the oil, rather than olive oil or butter:portuguese bread

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 6 cups flour
  • Olive oil
  1. Mix sugar, salt, shortening and boiling water to dissolve shortening. Cool to lukewarm.
  2. Dissolve yeast in 1 cup lukewarm water in mixing bowl and add mixture from step 1.
  3. Add 3 cups of the flour and mix until smooth with paddle attachment. Switch to dough hook and gradually add remaining flour until dough comes cleanly off the sides and bottom of bowl. Rest the dough for 5 minutes, then knead the dough in the mixer for 5 more minutes. The dough should be silky smooth.
  4. Grease a bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with clean towel and put in a warm spot until dough is doubled in size. An unheated oven with a pan of lukewarm water is a good spot.
  5. Punch down the dough and divide in half. Half the dough can be kept in the fridge for a week before use. Divide each half into thirds and shape into hockey puck shapes and put on an oiled cookie sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled. Bake at 400 degrees F until golden, about 20 minutes. Internal temperature should be around 195F.

Most of the variations are gleaned from, say, Alton Brown’s More Food book. “Punch down” should be read as “tri-folding deflated dough a few times to redistribute yeast clusters”.

One general problem is that I don’t come from a household tradition of bread making, so I’m not sure what good dough is supposed to look and feel like: Chinese people don’t bake. I have no examples to go by (which makes me think that taking cooking/baking classes would be a good thing, so that someone can say, yes, this is the texture you’re trying to achieve). I think some of the drier breads in the past have been because I’ve added too much flour, because I didn’t want to work with messy dough. There have been times the pendulum swung the other way, and I worked with dough that was too sticky. I think I got it right this time, adding the flour more slowly until it just went past the point of stickiness. I was also much more patient about letting the dough rise (though some of the rise time was inadvertent, as I had wandered off to watch the Tivo’ed Battlestar Galactica episode from the past weekend).

Interesting, I did this in our new toaster oven, the old toaster being a casualty of crumbly/gooey Trader Joe vegi-patties that disintergrated in a non-cleanable way. I figure the dinky, cheap toaster oven, while perhaps only half as efficient as the big oven, is still only a fifth the volume, so will still save energy for relatively small baking jobs. (I can always add in better insulation by stacking a block of asbestos on top of it). The problem is that it is a bit small, so the heat isn’t uniformly distributed through its volume: you can get too near the top and bottom heating elements with well-risen dough. In fact, the bottom of the rolls were a little burnt. But the results were still good.

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