Perfecting your rye loaves with our recipe

Readers have asked us why their rye breads and pumpernickels seem to have so much more “whole-grain” character than what they remember from childhood (rye and pumpernickel are pictured here in Mark Luinenburg’s beautiful shot from our book). While whole-grain character is nice, it isn’t the traditional approach to rye breads (at least for those available in the US; some European rye styles are very high in bran). The reason for our readers’ results is simple: most rye flour that’s readily sold in US supermarkets is very high in bran. You’ll get a less “whole-grain” result if you use a lower-bran (fiber) rye flour, usually labled as “medium rye.” Medium rye produces breads with a gorgeous custard crumb and noticeably less whole grain character. The hole structure is more “open” as well.

For our book, we decided to avoid this complexity and just keep the total proportion of rye low, but if you’re a rye bread fanatic, read on. Continue reading

Yeast: Can it be decreased in the recipes?

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Short answer:  Yes!

Our method is super-fast because it’s based on stored dough, not because we use a full dose of granulated yeast in the recipes. In the 2007 edition of our first book, we used full-dose yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons for four pounds of dough) because we knew that many of our readers would want to use the dough within a few hours of mixing it. For our 2013 update of that book, we decreased our full dose of yeast to 1 tablespoon, because our testing showed that the extra half-tablespoon made little difference. We’d still consider that a full dose of yeast in a four-pound batch, and you can decrease to 1 tablespoon in any of our recipes, from any of our books. But if you have more time for the initial rise, you can decrease it further–by large margins.  Half-doses, quarter-doses, and even less will work.

Why use less yeast?  Experienced yeast bakers sometimes prefer the more delicate flavor and aroma of a dough risen with less packaged yeast. Traditionally, it’s felt that rising the dough very slowly, with very little added yeast, builds a better flavor. So this is an option to try when you have more time:

I tried it two ways, first halving the yeast (1/2 tablespoon), and then dropping it way down, to 1/2 teaspoon. Both worked, but they work slowly. For the 1/2 teaspoon version, you need to give the dough 6 to 12 hours to rise. The 1/2 tablespoon version needs something in between (about 4-5 hours). You don’t need to increase the resting time after the loaf is shaped. Active time is still five minutes a loaf, it’s just your passive resting and rising times that really escalate when you go to the low-yeast version. If you use cool or cold water with a low-yeast preparation, you’ll need 18 to 36 hours for the initial rise.

So if you’ve hesitated to try our method because you like your loaves risen long and slow, give this approach a try.

Low yeast/slow rise with egg-enriched breads: Readers have asked us about the food-safety issues in trying low yeast/slow rise at room temperature with egg-enriched doughs.  Raw egg shouldn’t be left out too long at room temp. How long is too long? US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is very conservative on this question; they say 2 hours is the max (click here and scroll down for their detailed recommendations). Understand that this would make it impossible to rise a cold-started egg-enriched dough fully at room temperature (though we’ve found that two hours on the counter is enough even for a 33% yeast reduction; the problems start when you make more significant reductions, which would require 8 to 24 hours on the counter). The risk is salmonella and other food-borne illnesses. Even though eggs in baked breads are fully cooked, the USDA is clear on this– 2 hours max.  They’re a very conservative organization– for example, you basically can’t eat hamburger with any pink in it, according to USDA.

To stay in compliance with USDA guidelines for egg-based doughs, refrigerate at 2 hours regardless of whether the batch has fully risen.  Then, allow the rising to complete at refrigerator temperature (18 to 36 hours).

More in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and our other books.

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Artisan bread flavor without the work!

A frequently asked question is…”How do I get that sour characteristic of artisan bread without having to use a starter, which is way too high maintenance?”

The answer is easy with our bread method, just wait. I mean mix up your dough, let it rise, use some if you need to immediately and then let the rest of the batch sit in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Don’t feed it, just wait. After the 2nd day you will notice that the flavor is more complex and is starting to take on the characteristics in artisan bread that you crave: sourdough flavor, larger air holes, nice “custard” crumb and crisp tin crust. As it ages it improves, like all of us! The way I maintain that flavor in the next batch is to leave a piece from an “old” dough in the bucket and just dump the ingredients for a fresh batch right on top. Continue reading

Convection oven works great

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People have asked whether our recipes can be made in convection ovens. They can, and the only reason we didn’t mention convection ovens in our first book is that most people don’t have them.

But convection ovens do a great job with bread– the bread browns easier and rises higher when the convection fan is blowing. After ten years of living with a broken convection fan, we finally had a mechanic look at it who knew how to fix it. So I’ve been re-testing everything with convection.  First, lower the heat by 25 degrees F. Make sure that the convection fan isn’t fooling your thermostat (use an oven thermometer).

For a loaf-pan bread made from Italian Peasant Bread dough (page 46 of ABin5), the loaf baked faster than usual (about 25 to 30 minutes), rose higher, browned more deeply, and was more attractive. The pan was placed directly on the stone near the center of the oven and baked with steam (page 30). The loaf was heavenly when cooled and cut. Perfect custard crumb (dough was a week old) and richly carmelized crust.

In many convection ovens, you will need to be more attentive to turning the loaf around, at least once at the midpoint of baking or beyond. Otherwise you’ll get uneven browning.

More in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and our other books.

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question about weighing the flour?

Hi — your book made our Thanksgiving! My grandmother always made cinnamon rolls for Thanksgiving and I had let the tradition go because they were so much work. But this year I saw the NYT article, ran out to buy the book, and we had cinnamon rolls for Thanksgiving dinner to my sister’s and my daughter’s delight. Thanks so much.

Here’s my question: I went through a sourdough phase awhile back and got used to measuring flour with a scale. I’m excited about trying it again with your dough formulas. Is there an equivalent you’d suggest for weighing flour(s)? Different books seem to vary in what they consider the weight equivalent of a cup of flour. I’d appreciate any suggestions and again, thanks so much.

Anne Continue reading