Sunday, February 3, 2008

How to Succeed in Bread-Making Without Really Trying

Okay, okay, so this title is a bit deceptive: if ya wanna succeed in bread-making, you do have to put forth a little effort. Otherwise you might end up eating either a big pile of goo or gnawing on a piece of bread that's hard enough to crack a tooth. (And kuddos to anyone who caught my little play on words in the title...I'm too cheap to award a prize, but you will certainly be crowned king/queen for the day if you can tell me what inspired my title!)

Anyway, all this to say that a few weeks ago something very monumental happened. Something that hasn't occured since I was preggo with our son. Something that isn't the easiest thing to accomplish when you have a wee one crying/crawling/running amuck under foot. So what was this grandious, larger-than-life achievement? I baked bread...from scratch! Now perhaps your reaction to this is something along the lines of, "What's the big deal, foodie?" Well if you've ever baked bread from scratch before, you'd know that homemade bread requires a lot of love and attention. It needs to be nurtured and tended to in a particular way. And when placed in just the right environment, it will grown and flourish. Hmmm...this all sounds very much like a child, doesn't it?! So as you can tell, the reason for the long break from bread-making is that I simply didn't have it in me to tend to my actual child and yet another "child" sitting in my kitchen.

So I was finally ready to give bread-making another go. What inspired me was a recipe in Cooking Light for a "Garlic-Thyme Fococcia" bread. It sounded yummy and the recipe wasn't too complicated, as far as bread recipes go. But I as I went along, my memory was continually jogged with all those tidbits of information that are absolutely essential to know when baking bread, things that are not usually clear when simply looking at a bread recipe. So if you've never baked bread before and are ready to dive in head-first, here are some basic tips to help get you started:

Always prepare yeast dough in a glass or ceramic bowl, never metal
Here's what I use, a lovely ceramic bowl that was on my wedding gift registry. It's so pretty that it practically begged me to prepare some dough in it!

The water used to activate the yeast must be at the correct temperature
The recommended temperature should be between 110-120 degrees fahrenheit. If the water's too cool, the yeast will not become activated and your bread dough will not rise properly. Too hot and the water temperature will kill the yeast. If you're just starting out, the best advice is to use an quick-read thermometer to test the temp, and once you've done it a couple of times, you'll be able to tell with your finger if the water's at the right temp.

You'll know you're done kneading the dough when it's smooth, resilient and elastic, and looks something like this:

Allow your dough to rise in warm place, free from drafts
I like to turn my oven on the its lowest temperature setting for about 2-4 minutes, then turn off the oven. This creates the perfect warm environment for dough to rise, especially if you have a drafty kitchen, like I do. After it rises, it will look something like this:

These are just a few tips. For a complete list of basic bread-making techniques, click here. Onto the recipe at last!!

Herbed Focaccia Bread

  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 pkg. dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (see my tip above about temperature)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/3 cups + 2 T. all-purpose flour, divided
  • cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. Italian herb seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp. coarse sea salt or kosher salt

Dissolve sugar and yeast in 1 cup warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. (If yeast activates properly, you'll know b/c the water will become all bubbly and foamy.) Stir in sea salt. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and spoons; level with knife. Add 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, stirring to form a soft dough. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead dough until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining 1/3 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at at time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place free from drafts, for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.)

Place dough on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; pat into a 12x8-inch rectangle. (I used a 9x13 pan instead of a baking sheet and it worked just fine, too.) Brush olive oil over dough; sprinkle with Italian seasoning and garlic powder. Cover and let rise 25 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Make indentations in top of dough using the handle of a round, wooden spoon or your fingertips. (I used the end of a rubber spatula b/c my wooden spoons have square handles!) Here's how:

Sprinkle dough evenly with sea salt. Bake at 425 degrees for 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack. And this is what it will (hopefully) look like: Then cut into squares and proceed to devour! Yield: 10 servings


RT said...

I'm going to read this post at a time when I can really savor all the information. Thanks, Sarah!

Goodlikeamedicine said...

Mmm, looks yummy! Thanks for visiting my blog and the nice comment!

I really like the "child" / "child" analogy you made - so true!! I used to make bread from a starter every week, but every time I get pregnant the starter makes me really sick for some reason (!) ... so last week I tried something different: a herbed rye bread from scratch. You are right!! I felt like my whole Saturday was tending to that child in the kitchen, and I was pretty useless to my other kids! Thankfully my husband was there to occupy them! :)

Lindsey said...

Yum! I love homemade foccacia bread. I have a recipe that I like, but I'll definitely have to try this one as well, because from the looks of things, it may just be better.

Sarah said...


Thanks so much for coming to my blog! When you mentioned that your husband took care of your kiddos so you could tend to the bread, it reminded me that I did not give the proper credit to my husband in this post. He very graciously took our son out for a few hours so I could devote my energy to bread-making.

Bethany said...

That looks so yummy, Sarah! I will have to make it sometime soon. But, uh, not this weekend. I'm working 14 hours on Saturday. Guess the bread child will have to wait. :)

Bethany said...

Just out of curiosity, does making the round indentations serve a practical purpose, or is it just for presentation?

Sarah said...

Bethany--as far as I know the indentations on focaccia are purely for aesthetic purposes. But maybe I'll double-check on that!

And I forgot to say thank you, Lindsey, for stopping by my blog. I appreciate your kind comment!