I’ve mentioned in previous posts many times (many, many times) how I feel about homemade bread…that it is not only good for the body but also the soul; having your hands in raw dough–and making something as beautiful as a loaf of bread out of such humble ingredients–can be, well…spiritual. If not awe inspiring, at least something to be really proud of. Anyhow, I really think that one of the things that hold people back is that some (many) think it is overly complicated and laborious to make your own bread (not so), the other is that the bread won’t rise or that you won’t be able to make a really good loaf (also not true). This post focuses on the former misconception…that it is really difficult, time consuming, and laborious to make your own bread. Sure, these loaves took 24 hours from start-to-finish, but that was my choice. I manipulated the dough so that I could go about my life without having to worry whether it was time to bake the bread or not. And an outcome of a long, slowly risen bread is that it has a richer, more complex flavor and crisper, chewier crust. But I’m getting ahead of myself, here’s the basic idea behind controlling your dough.
If I had to sum it up in one word the most important factor in controlling a yeast dough is–whether you are doing a long slow rise or not–it would be this: temperature. Yeast thrives in warmth and becomes dormant in the cold. If you want to speed the dough up place it in a warm place. I can remember when I was a child seeing my mother place her bowl of raw fastnacht dough on a towel resting on the kitchen radiator. Inversely, if you want to slow the dough down, put it in the refrigerator. This is what professional bakeries do; they have proof boxes (boxes with steam and warmth) to speed the dough up, and retarders (refrigerators) to slow it dough. And yes, the professional term (in English) to slow a dough down is to retard it…it’s an ugly term, I agree, but it is the one still used (likly carried over from a less-than-politically-correct time).
And just to reiterate, making bread is not difficult; and it gets easier the more you do it. After a while you will be able to control the dough so that it does not interrupt your daily activities. Just remember, after mixing, the bread is alive with activity (until it is baked)–it nearly makes itself–you simply guide it along.
As usual with this blog, the recipe I’ve included below is 100% whole wheat. If you’d like to read more about how to bake with whole wheat, click here. Anyhow, this is how I made a couple loaves over the last 24 hours.
About an hour before bed I mixed the dough, placed it in a dough bucket, and put the bucket in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. Even though it was cold, it still doubled in size overnight (likely before the dough cooled).
In the morning while coffee was brewing I removed the bucket from the fridge, pushed the dough down, and let it rise a second time as I did things around the house (the second rise took nearly 3 hours because the dough was cold). Just before leaving the house to go Christmas shopping I portioned and shaped the dough and placed it in loaf pans. I also covered it in plastic wrap and returned it to the fridge. I was gone for about 4 hours and the dough rose beautifully; here’s the before-and-after photos.
After doing a couple things around the house, I removed the dough from the fridge and preheated the oven while the dough warmed and rose a bit more. After getting a few things together, I baked the bread while I made dinner. Here’s the bread just before it went in the oven, and then while it was baking. Beautiful, isn’t it?
The bread was finished before dinner was, so I removed it from the oven and their pans and allowed it to cool at the back of the stove while I prepared Lebanese-Style Chicken and Rice for my son and I. The bread was ready just in time for dinner…nearly 24 hours after I had started it and it barely interrupted the rhythm of my day (but it became part of it). A recipe follows…