Bread Recipe Variables
I rarely use a recipe when making any kind of bread. After learning the techniques for various bread styles, a sense of proportion develops. Once the proportion of ingredients becomes second nature, it becomes easy to make any kind of bread without relying on a recipe.
I bake bread at nearly one mile above seal level in a desert that has 4% humidity. The amount of flour that I use in a bread recipe here in the high desert, will not be the same as if the bread was being made in a humid region that is close to sea level.
Yeast also reacts differently in certain environmental conditions. In very arid climates, bread will almost always be more dense. In warm humid climates the yeast explodes with life and the bread texture is much more airy. Salt controls yeast activity in a bread recipe and too much salt added in a recipe that is made in dry conditions will cause a dense dough that can only be used to make flat bread items.
A few years ago I was baking focaccia below sea level in zero humidity at a restaurant in Death Valley. The outdoor temperatures averaged 125ºF that summer. I had to adjust flour measurements by eye, in order to perfect the bread.
On the opposite extreme, a couple decades ago, I was baking bread in 92% humidity at sea level by the Florida Everglades. The yeast exploded with life, so the salt content of the bread had to be adjusted. The flour was saturated with moisture, so the flour measurement had to be adjusted by eye.
As one can see, the amount of flour is a variable in most bread recipes. Learning how to add just the right amount of flour takes practice, so making small batch recipes first is best way to learn.
As mentioned before, I currently bake in an arid high altitude desert environment. Every time that I use somebody else's bread recipe, I have to adjust the amount of flour. The final little addition of flour always ends up being done by eye.
The weight of flour is much heavier in humid conditions. Here in the high desert where the humidity level is nearly zero, flour is extra dry and lighter than dust. There is a scientific method for measuring the moisture content of flour. Complicating baking recipes with mathematics is not what most home cooks want to do, so the scientific method is best forgotten about at this time.
Flour measurements actually are a variable in all bread recipes. It is best to write a recipe so 90% to 95% of the flour is added in the beginning of the mixing process, then the rest is added by eye late in the mixing process. This allows bakers to fine tune a recipe. No two kitchens have the same environmental conditions, so nearly every bread recipe needs to be fine tuned.
By measuring and recording the weight of the flour when the final addition of flour is done by eye, a baker can reproduce the same consistent bread product every time in their own kitchen. Using a digital scale and writing down the exact weight is necessary for achieving consistency.
Physical Factors That Inhibit Consistency
The there is a narrow temperature range for heating liquid for yeast blooming. The total range is only about 6 degrees and each degree over 110ºF will make a difference in texture. 112ºF creates a consistent bread texture. 114ºF degrees creates a yeasty bubbly dough texture. 110ºF creates a dough texture that proofs dramatically after shaping.
Sourdough yeast is airborne yeast captured in onion water and a sourdough yeast bloom develops at room temperature (72ºF). Sourdough is the most consistent yeast because the temperature for blooming is in a natural range. Sourdough Starter Yeast Colonies do have to be fed like pets, so flour and water have to be added on a regular basis.
Water PH is another factor. Yeast blooms best in acidic water or water that is close to a neutral 7.0PH. Rain water is 6.5PH. Limestone shelf tap water here in the high desert is 9.0PH to 9.3PH, which is on the alkaline side.
Chlorine can ruin bread every time. Chorine is added to tap water to prevent bacterial growth. Chlorine kills yeast. In Florida, there is so much Chlorine in tap water, that the water smells like bleach. In the high desert, the limestone water requires less Chlorine, because the natural water PH is high enough to inhibit bacterial growth.
It is easy to remove Chorine from tap water. Just measure the water for a bread recipe, place it in an open container and set the water on a countertop for a few hours. The Chlorine will evaporate. Another method is to boil the water for a bread recipe. The hot water has to be cooled, then measured. Bringing water to a boil causes Chlorine to evaporate immediately.
Salt controls yeast and salt kills yeast. Salt should never be added directly to yeast that is bloomed in lukewarm liquid. The bulk of the flour should be added to the yeasty liquid first so the flour floats on the liquid like an island in the mixing bowl. The salt should be placed on top of the flour island, then the mixing can started. This way the salt is distributed evenly, without directly making contact with the yeast.
These pointers shed light on physical factors that may cause bread making inconsistencies. There is a bit of science involved with the bread making art. The yeast bloom temperature, water PH, Chlorine, salt and environmental conditions all affect bread product quality. Compensating for these factors will result in bread that is consistently good.
White Whole Wheat Flour is a dense coarse flour with fewer glutens that are readily available because of the rustic grain grinding process. White Whole Wheat Flour has to be blended with standard bread flour or all purpose flour, so the texture of the finished bread will not be too dense, especially when making sandwich bread.
Desert Wildflower Honey has a very strong honey flavor. This honey is so dark, that it looks like sorghum molasses. A little bit of Desert Wildflower Honey goes a long way in a bread recipe!
Honey is a natural preservative and honey naturally fights pathogens, molds and yeast. Since honey inhibits yeast growth, it should not be added to the warm milk and yeast mixture or the yeast will not activate like it should. Sugar has to be added to the lukewarm liquid, so the yeast fully activates.
After the yeast blooms, warm honey can be added to the liquid, just before the dry ingredients are added. The honey has to be warmed up so it thins out and easily blends into the dough. Cold honey will just sink to the bottom of liquid and the flavor will not be distributed evenly.
Desert Wildflower Honey White Whole Wheat Soft Crust Sandwich Bread:
This small batch recipe yields about 30 ounces. (The exact weight varies with environmental conditions. The bread examples in the photos were made with 1 batch of dough in arid high altitude conditions.)
Milk enriched bread is a dough made with milk or a mixture of milk and water. The yeast is bloomed in the warm milk. Milk creates a soft bread texture and a thin crust.
*This recipe is written for a steal gear drive mixer with a dough hook.
Step 1: Heat 2 tablespoons of Desert Wildflower Honey with 1 tablespoon of water over very low heat, till the honey thins. Keep the thinned honey warm on a stove top.
Step 2: Place 3/4 cup of water in a sauce pot.
Add 3/4 cup of milk.
Add 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Gently heat the liquid to 112ºF.
Step 4: Place the lukewarm liquid in a mixer bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons of fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon of dry yeast.
Place the mixing bowl in a lukewarm place like on a towel on top of a warm oven.
Wait for the yeast to activate and bloom.
Step 5: Add the thinned honey
Add about 2 1/2 cups of White Whole Wheat Flour.
Add 1 1/4 cups of standard white bread flour.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher Salt. (I keep the level of sodium low in my bread recipes! Up to 1 1/2 teaspoons can be added.)
Add 1 tablespoon of melted unsalted butter.
Step 6: Place the mixer bowl on the mixer and attach a dough hook.
At low speed, mix till a loose wet dough is formed.
Step 7: Start adding a little bit of Standard White Bread Flour at a time, till the dough just starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
*You will be able to see when the dough is starting to get elastic. It will stick to the hook and bowl. Add just enough flour, so the dough looks like it can start to gather on the dough hook. It might take just a few tablespoons or as much as 3/4 cup. The amount depends on environmental conditions.
Step 8: Allow the dough to mix and knead at a low speed for about 5 minutes. By now the dough should be gathering on the hook.
Step 9: Remove the mixer bowl from the mixer and remove the dough hook.
Cover the dough in the mixer bowl with a dry towel.
Set the bowl on top of a warm oven, with a second towel underneath the bowl to protect the dough from too much heat.
Allow the dough to rise to 1.5 times the original size.
Step 10: Place the dough in a sealed container.
Chill the dough in a refrigerator for 1 hour. (Chilled dough is a lot easier to shape!)
Benching and Portioning:
Place the dough on a lightly floured counter top.
Roll the dough into a large ball shape.
Cut the dough into portions by eye or by weight. Here are some dough portion examples:
• Large Hamburger Roll: 5 ounces to 6 ounces (baseball size portion)
• Small Hamburger Rolls and Hot Dog Buns: 3 1/4 ounces to 4 ounces (tennis ball size portion)
• 10" to 12" Sub Roll (or Hoagie Roll): 7 ounces to 8 ounces
• Baguette: 8 ounces to 12 ounces
• Rustic Boulle Loaf: 25 ounces to 35 ounces
• Standard Pan Loaf (9" x 5" x 3" pan): 28 ounces to 30 ounces
• Mini Pan Loaf: 2 1/2 ounces to 3 ounces
• Dinner Roll: 1 3/4 ounces to 2 ounces
• Slider Roll: 1 1/2 ounces to 1 3/4 ounces (golf ball size portion)
• Thin Bread Sticks: 1 ounce to 2 ounces
Shaping takes practice! Only the baguette (or sub roll) shape is described in this recipe. Making a burger bun is as simple as making a baseball shape.
Step 1: Gently roll a baguette dough portion back and forth on the floured surface with your hands to make a long baguette shape that is about 3" wide.
Step 2: Use the fingertips on both hands to press the outside of the loaf, into the center, along a straight line from end to end. Use pressure to force the dough toward center, so it slightly compacts.
Step 3: Now there should be a seam from end to end on the loaf.
Pinch the seam with fingertips, so the seam is sealed.
Step 4: Gently roll the loaf back and forth to even the loaf and give it a finished look. The width should be:
• 2" wide (thin baguette)
• 2 1/2" wide (sub roll or baguette)
• 3" wide (large sub roll or large baguette)
Step 5: Place the shaped baguette on a parchment paper lined pan with the seam side facing down.
Brush the shaped dough with thin egg wash. (Optional. No egg was used for the bread in the photos.)
Use a razor sharp knife to bias cut shallow steam slashes on top of the loaf.
Place the pan with the shaped dough in a warm area.
Allow the dough to rise to 1.5 times its original size. (This only takes a few minutes.)
Place the bread pan on a baking stone slab in a 425ºF oven.
Bake till the bread becomes a light golden brown color. The center temperature should be 190ºF.
Set the finished bread on a cooling rack.
The bread can be browned a little bit more when reheating, before being served.
Reheat in a 350ºF oven.