Sometimes a yeast dough kneads like a bowling ball and sits there uncooperative all the way through the suggested rises, its back to you like a cat that’s sulking.
Very rarely have I had a yeast bread fail. I don’t think this is so much my prowess as a baker as it is that yeast bread is pretty forgiving. I’ve forgotten to add ingredients from butter to eggs to the rest of the liquid and added them in as late as when I’m kneading on the board and thinking This dough feels strange….
It would be nice if recipes noted when the bread is one of those come-from-behind late bloomers. This one sat sullen in the favorite brown bread bowl. It sat sullen through its second rise, too, looking so unhappy I left it for more than 90 minutes when the usual Northern Nevada 5000 feet above sea level rise is 45, 60 minutes at max.
Outside the day was sunny, but only 48 degrees. This is a very strange winter that doesn’t seem to want to go away, and the humidity was 40 percent. I’m used to summer humidity of 15 or so. It was 66 degrees in the house, and apparently the bread dough didn’t like that, either.
Eventually I got tired of waiting for it and abused it into the S-shape the cookbook calls for, then preheated the oven to 400 and let the bread rise in the pan on the stove top. At which point it rose nicely and in about 45 minutes.
This was a bread that – as some do – caused my husband to comment that most breads are just bread, homemade or not. Which is all I was looking for – bread – but still, when you fight with something for half a day, you expect a payout.
Which I got. We ended up finishing most of the loaf because when it was cold it was very good. I never tried toasting it, but the bread held together well, without crumbling, and probably would be great toasted. It had a nice, tight crumb and a crispy crust. I tried to forget the wash that goes on it and ended up brushing it on minutes after it went into to the oven.
The egg wash made for a crispy crust but was a little bland. Next time I’ll either try salt in the wash or once the bread is out of the pan and on a rack, brush it with salted butter.
The recipe comes from Ultimate Bread, Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno, 1998.
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ¼ cups lukewarm milk
3 ½ cups unbleached flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Egg glaze – 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk
Start by sprinkling the yeast and the sugar over ½ cup of the lukewarm milk in a small bowl. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely.
The recipe calls for all the flour and salt in a large bowl. I scooped 2 ½ cups of the flour into the bowl and mixed in all the salt, holding out 1 cup of the flour because of the dry desert.
Make a well in the flour and pour in the milk, sugar and yeast mixture. Draw flour in from the sides of the bowl as you stir, creating a sticky dough. I ended up using all of the remaining milk and not all of the remaining flour, even with 40 percent humidity for the day.
The dough needs to be cohesive enough it can be lifted from the bowl while leaving some sticky bits behind, but not so dry it’s flaking off flour and pieces of itself. It’s better to under flour than to get carried away – you can always add more flour; you can’t add less.
Move the dough to a dry, floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. I actually came closer to kneading for the full 10 minutes than I usually do because it was such a rock-hard dough.
Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a dish towel. Allow to rise for 45 minutes, unless your bread behaves like mine. Then keep checking on it and giving it pep talks until it grudgingly rises. The photo shows the unwilling dough after 50 minutes.
Once the dough is risen, punch it down and leave it to rise a second time. This bread really benefited from being in the sun on my kitchen table, and even more so when it moved to the top of the preheating oven. If you discover your bread is sluggish, try putting the bowl on the top of stove while the oven preheats. Or instead of the 2 teaspoons of yeast, maybe start with 1 tablespoon of yeast (the equivalent of 3 teaspoons).
After the second rise, punch the dough down gently and shape into a roll, then twist into an S-shape. I just used my standard sized light nonstick bread pan and oiled it gently. Nonstick is a nice idea and sometimes it even works. No reason not to help it out a little. Let the bread rise or proof in the pan covered with a tea towel until risen an inch over the top of the pan.
The authors suggest adding a little sugar to a milk glaze before applying, but this is an egg glaze with milk in it. Seems like the top would brown very quickly if both milk sugar and actual sugar were in the glaze. Even without the sugar I covered my bread at about 30 minutes, just laying a piece of foil across the top.
When I try the bread again, I may try two small loves, free form, and brush one with the egg glaze with sugar added, and the other with the egg glaze and salt added. Or make three micro loaves and brush the third with salted butter once it’s out of the oven.
Or just try the recipe three more times, one wash for each. It turned out a tasty loaf that would make good sandwiches – no reason not to experiment.