When it comes to no-knead breads, I am a believer

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For the longest time, all those recipes that promised you could make bread without kneading seemed to me simultaneously a cop-out and an oxymoron—like nut milks with no dairy, or vegan hamburgers or, for that matter, working holidays.

Why leave out the most kinetic, fun part of the entire process, that allows you to playact blue-collar labor, work out your aggression, and show the gluten who’s boss, all at once?

But I realized recently that I had missed the point. I had missed the import of one word: autolysis.

Bread starts with gluten. Flour has the potential of turning some of its proteins into gluten, that stretchy, strandy thing that binds the air into webs as it rises. Gluten is the cause of the elasticity of dough and for the spongy, soft interior of bread. Gluten is the reason bread doesn’t turn into either a pancake or a brick.

Flour, while it is dry and powdery, contains the ingredients to make gluten, but no gluten itself. But as soon as flour particles come in contact with water, a couple things happen. One, in the presence of water, two of the flour’s proteins start to come together to form gluten. And two, some of the starches break down into sugar. If the flour-water mixture is ‘infected’ with yeast, the little yeasties can feed on the sugar and multiply. This process is known as ‘autolysis’.

Now most of the wise bread teachers, like Rose Levy Berenbaum and the bakers at King Arthur Flour, have always recommended a period of ‘walking away‘ once you have mixed water and flour before the kneading begins. This walking away, whether it is for ten minutes or an hour, gives the gluten formation a head start, and makes the subsequent kneading a much easier task.

Call it walking away or call it autolysis, it is the time for the flour to spontaneously do the gluten-formation that kneading is usually called upon to do. But what if you took this principle to its logical conclusion, and allowed the flour-water to do all the work? What if you never had to knead at all?

What you have then is no-knead bread. It takes longer than kneaded bread, because the folding and squeezing that the dough is subjected to while kneading speeds up the process. But as a home cook, I plead—no, I demand—that you develop patience. It will take you a day, or more. But you will be proud of your loaf.

Wetness

Now here’s another advantage that no-knead breads can give you that kneaded breads simply cannot. The dough can be very, very wet. So wet in fact that they are impossible to handle, because touching it with your whole hand as you would have to in order to knead would make a sticky mess. No-knead bread is never handled (with one exception, as I’ll go into next). So it can have a lot more water by proportion than regular breads; and a wetter dough makes for a softer, more risen, more holey crumb.

Now the dough is so wet that one even foregoes the usual ‘freeform’ baking of the crusty loafs, where they sit in the oven all by themselves. The dough is simply too wet! This is why the standard way to bake this kind of bread is in a covered dutch oven or a loaf pan. (I’ll show you both by-and-by). The added advantage of this method is that in the closed, wet, hot environment of a dutch oven, you essentially create a steam sauna for the bread, and get a simply remarkable final rise—while baking.

Folding

Now while kneading is not called for, here’s a step that can lengthen and stretch the gluten strands and thus improve the final crumb. This is a step that Rose Levy Berenbaum specifies in all her crusty loaves. It involves laying out the flaccid dough in a gently stretched rectangle, folding both sides in to overlap in the middle, turning 90° and repeating it. So,

Step One: Fold in the left third of the rectangle in order to cover the middle third, then fold in the right third of the rectangle in order to cover the previous flap.

Step Two: Rotate the dough 90° and repeat the two folds above.

Steps

Mixing flour, water, yeast, salt

Folding

Shaping for final rise

Misting and scoring

Baking

No-knead bread

A note on ingredients:

You have considerable flexibility regarding ingredients. Where the flour is concerned, you can go up to one third whole wheat. I’ve used high protein bread flour, but all-purpose will work too, though the result will not be as chewy, but rather, softer. A single teaspoon of salt will be just enough for the bread to taste ‘normal’ but you can go up to even two teaspoons for a saltier crumb. Using less yeast then a quarter teaspoon will make it rise slower, more will make it rise faster. Though I would not recommend more than a half teaspoon because remember, you want this process to be slow.

Ingredients:
  • 3 cups flour (I used 2.5 cups King Arthur bread flour and 0.5 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour)
  • 1-1.5 tsp salt
  • 0.25 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1.5 cups + 2 tbsp water
  • Dry flour for sprinkling
Time:
  • 5 minutes to mix.
  • 8-18 hours first rise.
  • 10 minutes folding and shaping.
  • 1 hour final rise.
  • Bake at 450°F for 45 minutes
Method:

Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl and combine thoroughly with a fork. Make a sort of well in the center and pour a cup and a half of water into it, reserving the two extra tablespoons to add if needed. Roughly combine using a chopstick till ALL the flour is moistened. Add in the extra water if needed to make sure there is no more dry powdery flour in the bowl. A wet, sticky mess is what one is aiming for.

The resulting mixture will be very, very rough and sticky. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and leave aside.

In about an hour or two, you are ready to fold the dough as described above. Sprinkle the counter with plenty of flour and scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the counter. Sprinkle dry flour on the dough as well as on your fingers, as this will help you handle it without it sticking. Perform the two folds as described above. Now the dough will be a much smoother, tighter roll than the mass you started with. Place it back in the bowl, covered with wrap, to rise.

This rise can take anywhere from 8 to 18 hours. If it is rising too quickly and you are not ready to proceed with the next steps yet, put the bowl in the fridge to retard it. Take it out the next morning and let it come to room temperature, about an hour or two.

At the end of this period, the dough should have more than doubled, and the surface should show some large bubbles. If you tap the bowl, it will shiver like jelly.

Sprinkle the counter with more dry flour and place the dough on it and proceed to shape it into a round. This is done by pretending you are making a cloth bundle with the dough: so gather the edges into the middle, tighten, and do it some more.  Not only is the dough turning into a tight ball, the outer skin is also getting stretched.

Place it seam side down on some floured parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap once again and leave to rise. You can leave it to rise free form, but it is better to place it in a bowl or basket or, as I did, an empty tortilla container. This is so that the vertical sides of the container constrain the dough from spreading outwards, and it is pushed to rise upwards instead. The dough will take about an hour or hour and a half for this second rise.

About half hour before you are ready to bake, turn the oven up to 450°F and place the dutch oven, uncovered, and its lid, in the oven to get it hot.

At the end of the hour, remove the plastic wrap off the dough. Mist the top of the dough with a fine spray of water. Use a sharp serrated knife to score it: gently, with a slicing motion and barely any pressure at all, make a half inch cut in the top of the dough. A lip will open up, showing all the glorious webbing that has developed under the skin. Scoring in this way helps the crust, as it bakes, to open up along that line instead of haphazardly.

Lift up the dough ball, parchment and all, and place in the dutch oven and cover with the lid. Bake for 30 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered.

At the end of baking, the crust should be golden brown and the bread dramatically risen. When thumped on the bottom it will sound hollow. Let it cool for an hour before slicing.

(Find me on Twitter at @TheOddPantry)

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Star-studded raisin-pecan bread

Star-studded bread

Star-studded bread

A lot of what I know about bread-baking I learnt at the home of Rose Levy Berenbaum. No, she is not my favorite aunt or neighbor (though how I wish she were) — she was in her home, on TV, and I was in my home, watching TV and earnestly taking notes.

I have made several of the breads in her book The Bread Bible, and this one is one of my favorites. Of course breads with raisins and nuts are quite common. But the standard configuration they come in is the sliced bread with a square shape, sprinkled with cinnamon and a swirl in the middle. Now that is wonderful, but there’s more to raisin-nut breads than the cinnamon swirl.

The Bread Bible

The Bread Bible

This particular bread (called the Raisin Pecan bread in the book) is a free-form loaf that is baked ‘naked’ in the oven, outside of any pans. Those are my favorite kinds of breads because of their crustiness. There is no cinnamon — that is the other difference. There is no swirl, instead the raisins and pecans are nicely spread throughout the loaf, hence the name that I gave it — star-studded. There is no added sweetness, making it less of a confection and more of an adult dinner bread. Spread with something creamy like clotted cream or a nice white cheddar it is one of the most popular snacks in our home.

She uses some ingenious tricks to enhance the flavor. A sponge is mixed hours ahead or the previous day. Raisins are soaked for 30 minutes, no more; and the soaking water is used in the bread. Some of the pecans are ground fine to be mixed in with the dough, some are just broken bits and add a delightful crunchiness to many bites. The nut and raisins are mixed in in a very delicate procedure, after all the heavy kneading is done,  to avoid a mess of runny raisin juice. Simple, small tricks, but they make a big difference.

I made one more modification — I substituted quite a bit of the flour with whole wheat, because we like that in our household.

Star-studded Raisin-Nut Bread

Mixing the sponge

Mixing the sponge

Soaked raisins

Soaked raisins

Pecans

Pecans with some pistachio thrown in

Straining ground pecans

Straining ground pecans

Ground pecans and bits

Ground pecans and bits

Sponge risen

Sponge risen

Mixing the dough

Mixing the dough

Spreading pecans

Spreading pecans

Adding raisins

Adding raisins

Rolling it up

Rolling it up

Ready for first rise

Ready for first rise

Shaped ready for second rise

Shaped ready for second rise

Risen

Risen

Scored

Scored

Done

Done

Star-studded bread (adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum's raisin-pecan bread)

  • Servings: 2 pound loaf
  • Print

Ingredients for soaking raisins:
  • 1 cup raisins or currants
  • 1/3 cup water
Method for soaking raisins:

Soak the raisins in hot water for half an hour. At this point, drain the raisins and you will be left with 1/4 cup water, that you can use to make the sponge below.

Ingredients for sponge:
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 cup water (including raisin soaking water)
  • 1 tablespoon demerara sugar
Method for sponge:

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then pour in the water (remember to use 1/4 cup of the raisin water for added flavor), and stir stir stir with a wooden spoon or chopstick, almost like you are whisking it. The sponge will look like batter with some air incorporated into it. Cover with a plastic wrap and keep aside at room temperature for at least 1.5 hours, at most a whole day.

Ingredients for dough:
  • 1.5 cups plus couple teaspoons more of whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1.25 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • 1.5 cups coarsely broken pecans (I substituted some with pistachios)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • All the sponge from above
  • All the raisins from above
Method for dough:

Stir together the flour, the yeast, the salt. Add in the sponge and the oil and the ground pecans, stir with a chopstick or the dough hook to moisten fully.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it aside for 10 minutes. Come back to it and knead it properly into a dough. Let it rest for 10 more minutes.

Now flatten the dough and spread it out into a rough rectangle about 10 inches by 15 inches. Spread the broken pecans bits all over the rectangle leaving an inch border on all sides. Then spread the raisins over the same area evenly. Start rolling up the dough from a short end, also taking care to tuck in the edges. All the nuts and raisins will be hidden inside.

You do need to knead it lightly after, just to get it all to combine. At this point nuts and raisins might start falling out of your dough ball, just do your best to tuck them back in.

Cover with oil and allow the first rise until it is doubled, which will take about 2 hours. Shape it into a loaf and allow the second rise till doubled, covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel. This will take about 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 400ºF. Score the bread with a sharp, serrated knife. Each cut should go about half an inch deep. Mist the bread and put into the oven on a middle rack. In the first 5 minutes, mist inside the oven with a water spray bottle and quickly close the oven, about 3 or 4 times. After the first 5 minutes bring the temperature down to 375ºF. Continue baking for 40 to 50 minutes until it is golden brown.

Feeding the husband’s habit

Husband's habit bread

Husband’s habit bread

Several years ago, poking around google looking for an oat bread recipe, I found that an unknown denizen of the Internet had put up a good-sounding recipe under the name of ‘Habit Bread‘. I made it that very day. My husband, who is a big fan of oat breads (he has his toasted with almond butter), said that I had aced it on the first try.

Since then, this loaf has become a standard in our family. Like with every other recipe I have made modifications — I call my version the Husband’s Habit Bread. It is so much part of my husband’s weekly routine that I try to have a loaf sliced and frozen at all times.

Here is a trick to storing loafs of bread, specially of this dense variety. One thing I have found is that the freezer works great, but unless one wants to thaw the entire loaf at once, it is better to pre-slice it. Then you can pull out one slice at a time.

Go ahead, pull one out. What? You can’t?! You can’t because all the slices stuck together when they froze?

Exactly. That’s why I put sheets of parchment or waxed paper in between each pair of slices before I freeze them. Put all the slices thus separated in a freezer bag, squeeze out as much air as you can from it, bind it tightly and put it in the freezer.

Husband’s Habit Bread

This recipe makes one 9″x5″ loaf.

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup corn polenta
  • 1/2 cup dry milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water

Dry Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur’s premium whole wheat)

1 cup bread flour

2 teaspoons instant yeast

Method:

Combine all the wet ingredients together into a pot and bring to a gently boil. Stir nicely to get it all to combine, paying special attention to breaking up the dry milk lumps. Once it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and wait for it to cool.

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The unknown denizen of the Internet who is the originator of the Habit Bread recipe mentions that a bowl of cooked oatmeal is notorious for holding onto heat and that is true. It takes a while for this mixture to cool to lukewarm. At the same time, you don’t want to wait too long, because then the mixture will turn into a giant lump and the bread will not mix very well. I have found through trial and error that this time period is about half an hour; but test before using.

Meanwhile combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer; if you choose to knead by hand, just combine in a large bowl. Stir the flours with a fork. Put the (lukewarm) wet ingredients in and stir with the dough hook for about 3 – 4 minutes until the dry ingredients are moistened. You may find you need to add up to 1/4 cup extra water while kneading. Leave it covered with a plastic wrap for about 10 to 20 minutes.

Come back to it; by this point due to the autolyse process the dough will be much easier to knead into a smooth ball.

Turn on the mixer with the dough hook for another few minutes or so; first the dough will come together into a shaggy mass. I like to finish kneading by hand until maximal smoothness.

Cover with oil and let it rise at room temperature in an oiled bowl for about 2 hours. It should double in volume.

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Take it out of the bowl, flatten it gently into a rectangle and roll into a loaf, while taking care to tuck the ends in. Squeeze the seam shut all the way across to seal it. Oil the shaped dough and put into a 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan, also oiled. Cover with a plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for an hour to an hour and a half more.

This is a pretty dense bread, and it is quite a job for the wheat flour gluten to lift up the great heft of the oats and the corn polenta. Plus we are using a large percentage of whole wheat flour, the bran in which tends to counteract the lift of gluten. So this bread is not going to win any light-and-airy contests. By the time it has peeked over the rim of the loaf pan, it is probably done rising.

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Bake in a 350 F oven for 55 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the meat of the loaf should read 200 F. Take it out of the oven and let it cool on a rack for an hour before slicing into it. Thank you, unknown denizen of the Internet.

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Wondrous bread

Dear Reader, I am aware that not all visitors to my blog are foodies. Some of you want your daily bread and water and to not be bothered to put all manner of unfamiliar pastes and blocks in your mouth (“just try one bite!”) I have non-foodies in my family, and I get you. I really do.

And when it comes to bread, the non-foodie likes the square sliced white bread. I do too! Sliced white bread is a neutral substrate for any kind of sandwich. Cube it and turn it into croutons. Toast it and butter it. Batter-fry it. Dip it in soup. The shape is predictable, even, easy to cut into little squares or triangles. This kind of bread is a workhorse.

In India we grew up with white bread of this variety:

WibsLogo

But as with many things, the primary innovation of making a square loaf, preslicing it and packaging it in waxed paper was American. It was a Wonder! And in case you need prodding to feel sufficiently celebratory, here, I will help:

It was a Wonder_Bread_logo.svg!

Sliced bread was invented in the 1920’s by a man named Otto Frederick Rohwedder. Not only did he come up with a bread slicer but also the idea of wrapping them in waxed paper to keep the slices fresh. After an initially doubtful populace, sliced bread began to fly off the shelves.

Pretty soon households were addicted to sliced white bread; that created its own problems. They became malnourished; the government had to insist that vitamins and minerals be added to the bread. Also, people began to forget what bread was supposed to taste like. Over the decades, the ‘bakeries’ where the bread was made turned into ‘factories’: the taste suffered, but nobody noticed. The product still flew off the shelves; ever more convenient, ever cheaper to make, sell, buy; it lasted longer and longer in our pantries. Until we ended up with this:

Wonder bread ingredients from http://theysmell.com

Wonder bread ingredients from http://theysmell.com

But never forget that the original soft white sandwich loaf really is wondrous. Easy to slice — not so crusty that the knife sends bread shards shooting into your eye. Not so soft that the knife mangles it with one gash. Easy to use for any kind of sandwich. And delicious.

Wondrous Bread

This recipe is from King Arthur Flour: Classic White Sandwich Bread. You should click the link for instructions and background but I’m repeating the entire recipe here.

Dry Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup dry milk powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon salt
  •  2 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1 1/2 cup water

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Method:

Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix the wet ingredients separately (no need to get it super combined). Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet stuff in.

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Stir with a dough hook until it sort of comes together in a shaggy mass. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it aside for about 10 minutes. Come back, run the mixer at this point for about 5 minutes until it comes together into a rough dough, like this:

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At this point, I like to finish kneading by hand, until it becomes a smooth dough like this:

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How do you know when you have kneaded enough? This is a trick I learnt from the book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Take a little marble-sized ball of dough. Spread it as thin as you can into a little sheet, gently. If you are able to tease the dough into a translucent sheet (light should be able to shine through) without breaking it, you are there. If it breaks off into chunks rather than become a translucent sheet, you are not there and need to knead further. This is called the windowpane test.

Windowpane test

Windowpane test

OK. Oil the dough to keep it from drying out and put it in a large container to rise. I usually mark the level at which it is with a sticky tape. Leave it at room temperature until it doubles. This will take about 2 hours.

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Now comes the shaping. The loaf needs to go into a 9″ by 5″ loaf pan. Form the dough into a rough rectangle, and start rolling it into a log from the long side, gently pressing the seam closed as you go. Take care to tuck in the ends as you roll. The shaped loaf should have its seam closed everywhere, almost like a zipped up sleeping bag.

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Place it into a greased loaf pan and cover with a plastic wrap. In an hour or 90 minutes the loaf will have risen to an inch above the rim. Now it is ready to go into an oven.

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Preheat the oven to 350 F. When it comes to temperature the loaf pan goes in (without the plastic wrap, please!)  Bake the bread for 35 – 40 minutes. Around the middle of the cooking time, turn the pan 180 to allow it to cook evenly on all sides, and, tent it with aluminium foil to prevent it from browning too much.

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When it is done, allow it to cool in the pan with some airflow under it, then take it out and slice it. There! sliced white bread.

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How bread can teach you patience

Yeast makes bread rise, but lesser yeast makes better bread. Bread made with a quarter teaspoon yeast develops more flavor than a good heaping helping of two teaspoons. So why would anyone ever add more yeast? Well, you pay for it with time.

If you mix your dough, forget about it for a few hours; or leave it out overnight or stick it in the fridge for a day — if that process doesn’t drive you crazy — you draw more flavor out of the wheat. Take a deep breath, forget about it, and wait.

So when I saw a recipe from King Arthur that emphasized the minimal amount of yeast, I figured I would try it. It had a couple more qualities that I look for in bread.

  1. Half the flour is whole wheat. You get all the fiber from the bran and all the nutrients from the germ. I’m sold.
  2. This is an artisan bread, which I prefer, not an enriched loaf. What’s the difference, you ask? Both are yeasted breads, but quite different animals. Here are the differences.
  • artisan breads are free-form, while enriched breads are usually made in loaf pans to get that characteristic (some might say cartoonish?) square bread shape with wings at top
  • artisan breads have a strong crust and holes inside, while enriched breads are softer with an even texture throughout
  • artisan breads tend to emphasize just the taste of the wheat and often have just flour, water, yeast and salt as the ingredients. While enriched breads are — you know, enriched — with sugar, dairy, fat, raisins, cinnamon, cheddar, what have you
  • artisan breads are cooked faster and hotter, while enriched breads are cooked for longer at a more gentle oven temperature
  • artisan breads are good for tearing off bits to have with butter or olive oil, while the raison d’etre of enriched breads is toast and sandwiches.

Artisan loaves are somewhat fetishized (one could argue I’m fetishizing them right now); so it is rare to find a whole wheat artisan bread because the bran detracts from the holey chewiness somewhat. This recipe is a find.

The recipe makes two loaves.

Whole wheat artisanal loaves based on King Arthur’s recipe

Step 1: Make the sponge

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Whole wheat loaf: mixing the sponge

One cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur’s premium whole wheat), 1/16 teaspoon instant yeast (basically, a pinch), half cup water. Stir with a whisking motion, my favorite implement for this is a chopstick. You might have to use your fingers at the end. The point is not to knead it, just combine it into a very sticky mixture. Leave this on the countertop overnight or all day, covered with plastic wrap.

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Whole wheat loaf: sponge

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Whole wheat loaf: sponge ready to rise

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Whole wheat loaf: sponge after it has risen

Step 2: Make the dough

By next morning the sponge will have expanded; if you touch it lightly with your fingertip it will press in easily just like a — like a baby’s cheek. Now mix the dough.

Mix the dry stuff first:

2 1/4 cup bread flour (substitute with all purpose; this is not the whole grain)

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon yeast

1 1/2 salt

Put the dry flours into the bowl of a mixer if you are using one, otherwise a large bowl. Stir the dry stuff together with a fork. Try not to let the salt come in contact with the yeast, because it kills it. The way to do that is stir the yeast in with the flour first, then sprinkle the salt on, and stir that in next.

Now break the sponge from Step 1 into walnut-sized bits and throw into the dry stuff. Once in a while stir to cover the wet sponge with the dry flour.

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Whole wheat loaf: breaking the sponge into bits

Now put in 1 cup + 3 tbsp filtered water (not tap water since it is chlorinated). Start the mixer on the slowest speed for just a minute until all the water is combined with the flour and forms a shaggy mass. If it looks like there is dry flour at the bottom that simply will not get combined, you can help it along with a spatula; or if they still can’t find enough water, give them a spoon or two, the poor babies.

whole wheat loaf: a shaggy mass

whole wheat loaf: a shaggy mass

Now cover with plastic wrap and leave it be for 10 minutes. This process is called autolysis, which gets the dough to start the process of building gluten on its own, in the presence off water, without you doing a thing.  Except waiting. I told you this was all about waiting.

This recipe for chapati/roti, even though it is about a flat bread, has some explanation of the process of building gluten.

Now, the kneading will proceed a lot faster. Turn on the mixer on slow speed for about 5 minutes.

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Whole wheat loaf: done with mixer

Pull out the dough, and finish the process by hand on a counter top. You now have a smooth dough. Put it into an oiled container, cover the dough with oil inside and out, and mark the level to which the dough comes up to.

Whole wheat loaf: a smooth dough

Whole wheat loaf: a smooth dough

At this point you will be waiting for 3 – 4 hours; if this doesn’t fit your schedule and you want to wait longer, use the fridge.

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Step 3: Folding once in a while

While the bread is rising, give it some folds while handling it gently (don’t pound at it). The first time after an hour of rising, the second time another hour later, or skipping it is fine too. This is how you fold the bread — that I learnt from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s book The Bread Bible. Drag the dough out and flatten it into a rectangle. Fold both ends in one on top of the other as though you are trying to wrap a present. Flatten it out gently, give it one quarter turn, stretch it out widthwise, and give it another fold.

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Put the dough back in its container. Allow it to rise until it is at least doubled, which you can tell from the line you drew to mark its level. When it is fully risen it will be very puffy with air and you might even see bubbles at the surface. Look carefully at the picture on the right below — you can see bubbles enveloped in a thin stretch of dough.

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Step 4: Shaping

At this point you are ready to shape the dough into loaves. Pull the dough out gently, lay it on the counter, and cut it into two. Each half will be shaped separately. The idea with shaping is you flatten the dough out and start rolling it width-wise, quite tightly, while firmly tucking in all ends. At the end you will have a cylindrical roll. Pinch the seams closed. When you think of bread rising, the easiest way to think of it is that you are stretching the dough at the surface to increase surface tension and make a sort of balloon — a gluten balloon — that will trap the air in as the yeast breathes out CO2.

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Dust the loaves with some dry flour, place them on a parchment paper on a cookie sheet to rise. Cover with plastic wrap so that the surface does not dry out.

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Whole wheat loaves: final rise

At this point wait 1.5 hours until the loaves have expanded 1.5 times.

Step 5: Scoring

Preheat the oven at 475 F. Before putting the loaves into the oven one has to score them, which means make half inch deep cuts on the surface. Once it starts baking in the oven the rapid expansion of steam inside the dough is going to make the bread rise so much that it wants to explode (the gluten balloon will want to pop). The cuts guide the ‘explosion’ to happen along those channels instead of an untidy way anywhere along the loaf (usually along the seams).

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So take a sharp, serrated knife, and make swift, slicing cuts along the top surface with a very gentle motion. Half inch deep at least. Now mist the loaves with water from a spray bottle, and they are ready to pop into the oven.

Step 6: Baking

The oven at this point is very hot (475 F, and if you have a pizza stone stick it in there as well). We are going to circulate the heat around so it penetrates the loaves as fast as possible using steam. During the first 10 minutes, mist the loaves to create steam: open the oven door very briefly and spray water around inside. Mist it a few times — three or four times — during the first 10 minutes of baking.

Now lower the temperature to 400 F, and bake for an additional 25 minutes. Take the bread out and let them cool for an hour before slicing.

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Whole wheat artisanal loaf

The crumb of this bread was quite nice with a few small holes.

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Remember I said above that the explosion in the oven will want to happen along the seam, and you want to avoid that? I wasn’t able to avoid that completely, witness the explosion along the side below.

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Well I sliced right into that explosion and the whole thing was delicious anyway.