By Jennifer Giralo
The world of baking bread has always been an intimidating, unknown territory to me. Scary as it was, I dove into the basic recipes of How to be a Breadhead: A Beginner’s Guide to Baking by Fr. Dominic Garramone, OSB. With his encouraging text, descriptive steps, and basic recipes, I was able to face my fears and learn so much in the process.
Not one recipe is mentioned until page 34, as the science and process to baking breads is too important to skip. Fr. Dominic begins with the benefits to baking bread. For example, bread can be a source of stress therapy, as the process includes vigorous physical activities and creates a tangible, enjoyable product that can be shared or admired. Bread can also help with a sense of connection to your community. “The very word ‘companion’ comes from the Latin cum pane: ‘with bread’,” the author explains (pg. 6).
Here comes the science-y part.
He describes the benefits and advantages in using all-purpose flour, bread flour, or whole wheat flour more protein is in bread flour). He even shares the differences in bleached and unbleached flour. The book provides a diagram depicting flour’s composition.
From a beginner’s standpoint, yeast was an intimidating beast to tackle. By understanding the chemical interaction of your ingredients, the fear of the unknown disappears. Fr. Dominic helps beginners understand how yeast consumes the sugars in flour and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The smell of the dough shocked me, to be honest. However, the carbon dioxide gas results in the bread dough’s lift. You know the author did a great job at explaining this concept if a beginner can explain it in their own words in a blog.
Throughout the book, his attitude reflected his uplifting recipes. His creativeness and energy made for an interesting read, oven on or off.
For my first Breadhead experience (a Breadhead is a person who is passionate about baking), I started with basic white dough, typically used for free form, standard loaves, garlic bread, dinner rolls, pizza, or pretzels (best if all are not eaten in the same night, trust me). The author likes this recipe because it sets a good foundation for hundreds of recipes, and it is easy to remember (it contains lots of 2’s).
I had the most fun applying my readings about the chemical mixtures of yeast and the processes for kneading. It felt as if each new smell or movement in the bread was a check-point as if I were on the right track.
“It smells like alcohol! Just like the book said!” I yelled to my partner, who is the designated taster.
“Good?” He said, confused on my happiness over the smell of alcohol.
I strayed from the recipe, as I used my Le Creuset Pate Terrine to bake the loaf. Cast iron usually bakes at 25° less than the recommended setting, as the material retains the heat drastically.
After several punches and stretches (the recipe calls for such), my struggles produced a couple of basic loaves of white bread. Our group dipped the bread in balsamic vinegar and garlic oil. This bread recipe can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
My next quest as a newly inducted Breadhead? (I inducted myself.) I’m going to try Fr. Dominic’s Raisin Walnut Bread. It contains our Basic White Dough recipe with the addition of dark raisins and walnuts for a more wholesome texture and taste.
Basic White Dough
2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
2 pkg. active dry yeast (1 pkg. is equal to 2 ¼ tsp.)
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
5 ½ to 6 cups all-purpose or bread flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, oil, and salt, and mix well. Add 5 cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing well after each cup. Knead for 5 to 8 minutes, adding more flour as needed to make a smooth and elastic dough that is only slightly sticky. Lightly oil the surface of the dough and place in a clean, dry bowl. Cover with a dry cloth and let rise about an hour or until doubled. Punch the dough down, and knead it lightly, in order to expel large air bubbles.
Divide the dough into two equal portions. Lightly dust your hands with flour. Grasp the portion of dough on opposite sides and pull gently to stretch the top. Tuck the ends under and pinch them gently. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat, again stretching the top into a smooth surface; tuck the ends under and punch. Repeat as necessary to form a smooth round of dough with some tension on the top. This tight surface will hold the gases better and make for a higher, lighter loaf. Repeat with the other portion of dough. You may also roll the dough gently on the countertop under your palm to form an oval shape.
Place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet, evenly spaced. Cover with a clean, dry cloth and let rise for 30 minutes or until almost doubled. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes, or until loaves are lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped. The interior temperature of the loaf should be about 195°F. Cool on a wire rack.
For more information about Fr. Garramone and his wonderful recipes, visit his blog.
There are a variety of ways to knead bread. Check out videos online for different techniques. I found this one to be helpful.