I broke the mold! In fact, it’s still the same Country-Style Hearth Loaf, but with a twist. I felt confident in my resolve to knead more vigorously and bake less. Confident enough to add…STUFF. STUFF can profoundly alter how much a dough will rise, so I’d planned to avoid that challenge at first. (As in any science experiment – we’ve got to limit those variables!) In fact, I usually buy plain loaves at the bakery because they go with everything, but I do love a loaf with a theme.
That weekend, I just happened to have on hand an old bag of poppy seeds and a jar of honey gone crystal. Considering last year’s very successful resolution to avoid wasting food, I was delighted to find a recipe in Bread Alone for Honey Wheat Bread with Poppy Seeds and Lemon. The recipe is essentially a Country-Style Hearth Loaf, except that it calls for half the flour to be whole wheat. Classic Liz: I just substituted my trusty ole 20% bran flour. 20% bran really is plenty for me, and besides, the 25-lb bag I bought from Wild Hive has been taking up far too much space in my fridge. (Oh, to have a pantry…and a root cellar!)
So I kneaded like a mad woman, once splitting the wad of dough into two pieces. That helped me really work the dough without tiring. I also made use of an autolyse, a technique I learned from Farmgirl Susan. I kneaded the dough for a few minutes, let it rest on the counter for 20 minutes, and then finished the kneading. I should be adding the salt to the dough after the autolyse, but I didn’t think to try an autolyse until I’d already mixed the dough. Salt tightens the gluten strands; kneading before adding salt helps develop gluten faster. I am already kneading for longer than recommended – I hope that an autolyse and practice will help quicken the process.
I’m beginning to think I am actually adding too little flour. Though I consistently add at least the maximum measure of flour, my doughs still feel tacky. Every flour absorbs a different volume of water; perhaps mine is thirstier than most. Searching for answers I stumbled upon Baking 911. Though aesthetically upsetting, this site compiles a motherload of bread baking tips, and I found one of my symptoms: “A free-form loaf spread too much as it was rising.” The answer? “The dough was too soft. Free-form loaves must be quite firm when shaped. Next time, add more flour, use a ring to contain the dough, or let it rise in a basket.” Well, I am already using a basket for proofing, but my loaves seem to spread out the instant they’re on the peel. It’s time to try more flour!
Nonetheless, this was good bread! I baked the bread only 30 minutes instead of the suggested 40 minutes and achieved a soft, chewy crust. No more croutons! Though I still haven’t topped that sourdough back in April, I think this loaf is one of the best yet!
P.S. For my birthday, two co-workers bought me Kneedlessly Simple – a cookbook of knead-free breads. I’m looking forward to trying something completely new!