Kneading again, Books Two and Three

The past two weekends, I have been baking bread. Baking bread the kneading and multiple rising way.

If you look around this blog a bit, you will see that I have been baking bread the no-kneading way, specifically according to the method in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Herzberg and Zoe Francois. I have been baking by this technique for over two years now, and have been supplying our family with bread weekly.

But happy as I was, baking by the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method, I have to admit that my mind was wandering a bit. I was starting to feel limited, and found myself staring at conventional bread recipes.

I thought about making some of these recipes, but I would ask myself why. Why spend hours making a couple loaves of bread when you can make a whole tub of dough in no time, and take it out during the week to whip up baguettes in an hour?

Would conventionally made bread be better? Would I feel like a real baker because I was kneading?

So, the past two Saturdays, I went back to the first bread recipes I ever tried, from The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas, and Still Life with Menu, by Mollie Katzen.

What really caught me by surprise, was being so involved in the process. I felt like I developed a relationship with the dough, willing it to succeed, yet not being sure it would. Then the feeling of triumph when taking the breads out of the oven looking like, well, home baked bread.

Part of this relationship was living with this evolving process during the course of the afternoon. I made the dough for the Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread, set it to rise in it's bowl, all covered and warm. During the first rise I cleaned up the considerable mess, and ate my lunch. During the second rise, I took the dog for a long walk. After I shaped the loaves and put them in their pans to rise a final time, I rushed off to CVS to pick up a prescription for A. I came back with just enough time to preheat the oven and pop them in. While they baked, I gave O. and A. baths.

Five hours passed maybe, with my coming and going, peeking under the tea towel, punching down, kneading, worrying, and then I gave birth to two beautiful loaves of bread.

I can't say that I have missed the kneading, but the long afternoon nurturing really has me captivated. It's a rewarding accomplishment that feels slightly sacrificed in the faster method.

I am grateful for the Artisan Bread in Five method because I could never keep us supplied in bread all week long otherwise. I am not sure that one type of bread baking results in better tasting bread one way or another. It's just all satisfying, yet very different bread.

I adapted Mollie Katzen's recipe for Country Bread a tiny bit, melting the butter instead of just softening it. I also applied the tray-with-water technique for baking to give a firmer crust in place of spraying the loaf every 10 minutes with a spray bottle, as she recommends.

Country Bread
adapted from Still Life with Menu

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/4 tsp. dry yeast
3 or 4 tbs. packed, brown sugar
4 tbs. melted butter
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups oat flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (or rye flour)
3 cups unbleached while flour (more or less)
oil, for the bowl and the dough
corn meal for dusting the baking sheet

1) Place the water in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and the sugar, and let it stand 5 minutes, until foamy.

2) Add sugar, butter, and salt. Mix well.

3) Add flour, 1 cup at a time, beginning with all the oat and whole wheat. Then add as much white flour as needed to make a firm dough. Mix between additions with a wooden spoon at first, and then use your hands if needed.

4) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Add small amounts of additional flour if it gets sticky.

5) Oil the bowl, put the kneaded dough in the bowl, and oil the top surface of the dough. Cover with a clean tea towel, and set it in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk. (This can take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 hours).

6) Punch down the dough, and turn it out again on a floured surface. Knead 5 minutes more and then form 1 large or 2 small loaves, either round or baguette shaped. Make a few small slashes on top of each loaf with a sharp knife.

7) Sprinkle a baking tray generously with corn meal. Place the loaf or loaves on top, and let them rise for about 45 minutes.

8) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a broiler pan with 1 cup of water anywhere in the oven. Bake for about 50 minutes (large loaf) or 40 to 45 minutes (small ones) or until the bread gives out a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.