Friday, February 12, 2010

Of Bread & Dough & Lots of Snow; Or, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Baking

 "Without bread, all is misery."
William Cobbett, British journalist, 1763-1835



After two major blizzards dumped punishing amounts of snow on us and brought commerce, fun, and life as we know it to a screeching halt, everyone in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. has developed their own version of the Snow Story by now, myself included.  You know the kind of stories I'm talking about - people getting stuck in the snow for hours, or not being able to find milk, or losing power, or having their roofs collapse from the weight of all that nasty heavy wet stuff.

And let's face it: You're sick of hearing about it, right? Well, we're sick of it too.  But given that most of our streets still aren't plowed and most things are still closed and driving around is at worst hazardous and at best incredibly annoying, it's hard to stop talking about the snow and its aftermath. There's nothing else to do. Look, people, this isn't New England or Wisconsin or Canada! We aren't used to this sort of thing. So please, bear with us.

My Snow Story is about the fact that I haven't had a chance to bake anything in school for over 2 weeks because my culinary school -along with everything else around here - shuts down at the first sign of a snowflake. I am beginning to despair of ever learning to bake bread in a professional kitchen. 

After the first storm, class was delayed, so all we had time for was  a lecture and a demo, no hands-on stuff. So that weekend I baked a rustic rye bread - that's the loaf in the top pic.  Then came the second storm. This one promised blowing winds and potential power outages (which we mercifully avoided). Class would be cancelled, without question. 

So, partly out of frustration at missing class and partly out of some sort of primal terror at the thought of starving to death in a cold, dark house, I got prepared.  I made whole wheat sandwich bread, I boiled eggs for egg salad, and I made pizza dough and Poppa Trix and I carbo-loaded on homemade pizza. Lest you are concerned that I have turned into a giant dough-y dumpling, let me reassure you: Shoveling snow burns a good 500 calories an hour, and I suspect breaking up ice burns even more. I have probably burned off several loaves of bread by now. Who needs a gym membership?

As I was hunting around for rye bread recipes, I noticed that a lot of people seemed to have a problem with their loaves not rising as high as they'd like. Granted, a rye bread is generally a dense affair, but I thought I'd try to get a higher loaf by changing the flour proportions I was seeing in a lot of recipes. I used bread flour, which is higher in gluten-forming proteins than AP flour, and I used more of it than is generally called for, and I decreased the rye flour amount proportionally.  I think it worked, so maybe I've learned more than I think!

Rustic Rye Bread
makes 1 loaf
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup rye flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1.5 tsp sea salt
1/6 cup molasses
1 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup 100 degree water
1/8 cup cocoa powder

Combine the dry ingredients (including the yeast) . Combine the butter, sugar, molasses, oil, and warm water. Slowly combine the wet and dry ingredients. If it's too dry, add a bit more warm water; if it's too sticky, slowly add a bit more wheat flour. Knead for about 5-6 minutes - no longer, because rye flour is susceptible to over-kneading.

Next, place your dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic. Allow to rise in a warm place  until doubled; mine took about an hour. Once risen, punch the dough down and shape it - I did a boule, but you could certainly do it in a loaf pan if you prefer. Allow to rise about 1 1/2 times its size - this took about 45 minutes. Next, slash the top with a very sharp knife:

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes. For the first 10 minutes, spray the top of your loaf with water. You can also put a pan of hot water in the oven for humidity, or just spray the sides with water as I did. This keeps the crust from forming too soon and allows for greater oven spring:

Cool on a wire rack and DO NOT SLICE for at least 45 minutes, as it's still baking inside.  My loaf had a very nice thick crust, and was soft and hearty on the inside. There was a bit of sweetness, but it was balanced by the caraway and nutty rye flavor. Next time, though, I want to do a sourdough rye.

Now for the whole wheat sandwich bread.   I found this recipe on All Recipes, and I reduced it from 3 loaves to one. I usually prefer my bread with a really nice crunchy crust, but I did a soft crust here since its purpose was for sandwiches. It was incredibly moist and made the best vessel for egg salad that I've ever had!

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

1 cup 100 degree water
.25 ounces active dry yeast
1 tbsp plus 2 1/4 tsp honey
1 2/3 cup bread flour
1 tbsp melted butter
another 1 tbsp plus 2 1/4 tsp honey
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup plus 3 tbsp whole wheat flour
2 additional tsp butter, melted

Mix the warm water, yeast, and honey. Add the bread flour, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes until it's big and  bubbly. Mix in half of the melted butter, the rest of the honey, and salt. Stir in 1 cup of wheat flour and knead until it's a little sticky (about 8-10 minutes) adding more wheat flour as needed. Place in a greased bowl and let rise until doubled. Punch down the dough and put it in a greased 5 by 9 loaf pan, and let it rise, covered with plastic,  until it's grown to about 1 1/2 times:

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. Cool on a rack and brush the top with the remaining melted butter to create a soft sandwich-y top. 

As for the pizza dough, I just followed the incredibly simple thin crust recipe at  Robbie's Recipes. The timing was a little crazy, as I was doing pizza dough and bread simultaneously, but it worked. I am a fan of a classic (well, classic New York style) pizza: sauce, mozz, and maybe some fresh basil and a little fresh garlic. I don't know about you, but that's all I need!


  1. Girl, those are some handsome loaves... you definitely made good use of your snow time...egg salad sounds soooo good right now!!

  2. These loaves of bread look beautiful! You've certainly made the most out of the blizzard!

  3. My gosh, does that pizza look good. I've been fasting today (not eating wheat, garlic, onions etc)and now I've seen this pizza I'm counting down the hours til I can eat bread again. Wow!

  4. oh wow great way to cope with the snow!, happy valentines lol

  5. I think it should snow more often if this is the result! Loved your loaves and pizza. BTW, Rye flour actually has more gluten in it than bread flour. ;-)

  6. Your breads are amazing, such beautiful loafs! And I love the pizza too! If we had a few more days of snow, perhaps I would work up my courage to bake some breads, but we finally did get out to the store today :)

  7. Ah!! beautiful breads!!! I am just done making my baguettes, I think you and I read each other's minds! Finally the snow storm bring some good things. And yes, you are absolutely right, water makes a big difference.

  8. Hey Trix! We just dug out here in NYC. Your baking day is a thing of beauty. Nothing like the warmth of the oven to dispel the chill of the icy sidewalks. Stay warm.


  9. Thanks everyone! @Devany: Actually, only the wheat endosperm contains glutenin and gliadin in sufficient amounts to combine to form the gluten we need to get bread to rise. (Bread flour is milled from wheat.) So if you tried to make bread just out of rye, it would be flat as a pancake : ( That's why wheat or bread or AP flour has to be included in any rye bread recipe.

  10. hey, I know what you mean about the snow and down here, the weather folks got everyone so worked into a frenzy, many of my staff decided not to show today - it did produce a few flurries for about 2 hours, something very rare for us ... but Mardi Gras still goes on - we were just short of workers today with our biggest jobs coming up this weekend - oh, before I forget Trix, your bread making is super, beautiful and makes me jealous...

  11. My goodness, this looks like it came straight from a gourmet baker! Oops that right you are silly me! Geesh, the tops of that bread is just gorgeous mine never looked like that buttered. LOve the rye its my favorite, your pizza looks divine as well nice job trix, you sure have been busy, and I can tell you I have snow dont miss it and never ever want to move back to NY it looks great in picture lol! I remember your pain well~

  12. Holy COW! What an awesome post - and here I am contemplating rye bread this weekend - thanks for the tips and the recipe. Have fun digging out ;-)

  13. If being snowed in yields such lovely loaves, I would like to be in that situation too! Breads are my weakness - can't make good loaves, but I sure love to eat 'em! Trix, your breads are just phenomenal! Perfect and just a sheer delight to gawk at. Let's just trade places for one day, shall we? ;)

  14. All the bread looks amazing - I can never pass up bread! I hope you're enjoying your inside time:) I'm in MA, and yes we get alot of snow, but I'll never like it or feel safe in it:)

  15. What a great way to spend a day indoors, I think! Your breads look so professional, I say you don't need to go to school!
    My dentist (a health nut) told me to eat rye bread, only.

  16. So you've really been at work! And your rye bread looks wonderful. Indeed it's never possible to get such a airy-crumbed loaf as with wheat... but that's part of the rye attractive, it's just a different bread. But I love the flavor of rye.

  17. Those are lovely lovely loaves of bread. I miss baking bread. Need to get back to it soon

  18. So, now I want homemade pizza for dinner tonight-- I think I'll try out your thin crust recipe!

  19. wow your bread looks amazing - i always cut slits, but I don't think that deep and I need to try to do that with the water. :)

  20. I hope you get some relief from the snow very soon. In the meantime, you bread looks fantastic. That sandwich bread is picture-perfect.

  21. When it snows, bake. That's what we do in MN. And I do feel for you - have listened to so many stories and actually love them all.We all have to cope with weather. Your way of coping - turning out these drop-dead gorgeous loaves is civilized!

  22. WOW Trix....those breads are marvellous!!! what make me have to make bread tomorrow...what a lovely way to spend the day snowed in ^^if only it snowed here..n is cold so that I will be inspired to make bread too.

  23. You deserve some bread and some carbs most especially with your shoveling workout. Definitely, life is a misery without bread.

  24. That must be lots of exercise to keep warm...haha. The bread all look superb!

  25. Oh my gosh! I will be happy if I never see snow AGAIN! Actually that's a lie. For now though...No more snow please!

    Anyway this is some serious baking! It all looks so good! That pizza looks divine! You go girl!

  26. Snow is a great time to practice. Last year when we got snowed in and couldn't leave the street for 2 weeks (in Seattle, no less!), I baked enough to run out of flour twice. Each time I had to hike to the grocery store to load up - nothing like carrying home 10lbs of junk in the snow down steep hills.
    It's great that you're making good use of the time. Your loaves look absolutely stunning!

  27. The pizza looks delicious. And so does the bread! Love your photos!

  28. Just beautiful, every single thing you baked there! I am in awe, being a bread/ yeast failure up to now. I say 2010 might be the year I crack the bread baking code! You are an inspiration!