Friday, August 26, 2011

Meeting the Family's Bread Needs - Part 3

This will be a long post because of the clear instructions Kevin offers in his recipes. I will also include the links back to the original posts that helped teach him to be a bread baker. You will find the following recipes, with Kevin's tips: Pretzel Rolls, French Bread, Half Whole Wheat.

PRETZEL ROLLS (This is the bread that Kevin's girls shared with me at their first piano lesson of the summer. It gives that unmistakeable "pretzel-y" flavor on your tongue, caused by poaching in the soda water before baking.)

1 ½ (340 gr) cups warm water
1 T yeast
2 t sugar
4 ½ (663 gr) cups bread flour (original recipe called for unbleached all-purpose)
2 teaspoons salt (I use kosher)
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup baking soda
large saucepan of water (2 qts)
1 egg, lightly beaten
pretzel salt (again, I use kosher)
1. Mix yeast, water, sugar, flour, salt and butter with dough hook until dough is silky and not sticky.
2. Put dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel (not terry cloth) and let it rise until double (about 60 mins).
3. Punch down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.
4. Put parchment paper in two baking sheet pans.
5. Cut dough into 3 ounce portions.
6. Shape portions into balls or demi loafs. Be sure to pull the skin of the ball tight and seal seams.
7. Place formed rolls, seam side down, on the parchement paper. Leave at least 1 inch between each roll.
8. Space evenly on the prepared sheet pans, pinched seam side down, leaving at least 1” between each roll.
9. Cover with a tea towel or a light film of plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes until doubled.
10. Preheat oven to 425°F and place oven racks on the lowest and middle positions.
11. In a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water to a low boil.
12. Add the baking soda and lower heat to a simmer.
13. Slip the rolls into the soda water, seam side down.
14. Poach for 30 seconds then turn rolls over
15. Poach other side for 30 seconds then remove with a spider or slotted spoon to the same prepared sheet pans, seam side down.
16. Repeat with the remaining rolls, leaving at least 1” between rolls for baking.
17. (I find this step optional) Make an eggwash and brush rolls all over.
18. Top each roll with a sprinkle of pretzel (or kosher) salt.
19. Slash each roll with a sharp knife. An X looks pretty on the balls; the demi loafs are pretty no matter how you do it.
20. Bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking – top to bottom, front to back – for even browning.
21. Cool on cooling rack. Seriously. Let them cool. Unless you don't want to. Dang these things are good. You just do what you need to do. I won't tell.


4 c (624 grams) bread flour, divided
2 t yeast
2 t salt
1 1/2 c (340 grams) warm water
1. Save back about a ¼ cup of bread flour. Put rest of flour in mixing bowl.
2. Add yeast to one side of the bowl, salt to the other.
3. Pour water and mix on low with the regular paddle until combined and shaggy.
4. Switch to kneading hook and mix for 2 minutes.
5. Let dough rest about 5 minutes. Adjust with a little flour or a little water.
6. Mix again for about 3 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and hand knead, adding flour as needed from the flour you had set aside. Dough should be smooth and firm.
7. Place dough in oiled bowl. Turn dough over to oil all sides of the dough. Cover and let rise until double, about 60 to 90 minutes.
8. At about an hour into the rising, move oven rack to the lowest shelf, preheat oven to 450 and place baking or pizza stone in oven for the preheat.
9. Once doubled, turn dough out on lightly floured counter. Stretch and fold back the far edge, then the right, the the front, then the left.
10. Divide dough in half. Form into loaves (I like boules or large, round loaves).
11. Take a baking sheet and turn it over. Place a rectangle of parchment paper on the inverted sheet and place loaves on the paper. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Let loaves rise until doubled.
12. Slash loaves as desired.
13. Slip loaves onto pizza/baking stone.
14. Bake 20-25 minutes. Internal temperature will be 195-205 when done.
15. Let bread cool on wire rack. The loaves won't be ready to eat until completely cooled. Loaves can be warmed up in oven if warm bread is desired.

Optional: You can create steam in the oven if you place a cast iron skillet on the floor of the oven when you start the preheat. When you put the loaves in, toss about 4-6 ice cubes in to the skillet and close the door quickly. Some cooks have tossed ice right on the oven floor, but I've also read this can warp the bottom of the oven. TAKE CARE to not get oven window wet as it might shatter.


1/4 (85 grams) cup honey
1T yeast (I use instant or bread machine yeast)
2 cups (454 grams) water
2 1/2 cups (376 grams) bread flour
2 1/2 cups (376 grams) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Whisk together honey, yeast, and water.

Add both flours and use kneading hook of mixer until just combined. The dough will be rough and shaggy. Cover and let it rest for 10-15 mins.

Add oil and salt. Knead on medium to medium low for about five minutes. The dough will be smooth and stretchy.

Form a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Turn dough in bowl to cover with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or damp tea towel (not terry cloth). Set aside until doubled (about an hour)

Halfway through the rise, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place baking stone(s) in the oven to preheat with the oven.

When dough is doubled, roll it out of bowl. Punch down dough by stretching the far edge out and fold over. Do the same on the left, front and right edges.

Divide dough in twain. Cover with plastic wrap (or two bowls) and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.

Pat doughs out into circles and dimple with fingers to pop any large pockets of gas. Form into loaves for bread pans or free form of your choice. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or damp tea towels. Set aside until doubled.

Slash top if desired. Put loaves in oven. Reduce temperature to 350 immediately. Bake 40 mins or until instant read thermometer reads 200 to 205 degrees.

Remove from pan if applicable and set on cooling rack. Bread must be completely cooled before slicing (instant read around 80 degrees)


I want to close by thanking Kevin for taking the time to do this interview and being willing to share his knowledge. It was my pleasure to pick his brain and share the pickings with you. I'm proud of him and his baking accomplishments.

Meeting the Family's Bread Needs - Part 2

Welcome back to my interview with Kevin, a friend who has quickly become a skilled bread baker providing for his family. He happens to be a librarian and, like anyone who makes his living by Having the Answers, he went to the internet to find out how to learn about this new project.


GFF: What do your baking practices look like now?

K: I try to bake a loaf every day I have a day off from work. I have some recipes that can be done up in an evening as well. Sometimes after coming home from work, baking up a loaf provides a much needed distraction. It honestly doesn't take a lot of work to wait for dough to rise, but it gives me something to focus on or fret about instead of letting the day replay in my head. But my big time, fill-the-freezer baking days are the weekend. I'll usually get 4 loaves of 2 different recipes made on Saturday and another 2 loaves on Sunday. Most go in the freezer and some is given away.

GFF: I think it's interesting that you are making such a variety. When I bake bread, I make the same white loaf over and over. Maybe throw in some whole wheat, if I'm feeling particularly righteous. How many types of bread do you suppose you've made?

K: I think I've made, including pizza dough, about a dozen different recipes. But as far as different types, I've made white, whole wheat, French, pretzel, rye, beer bread and peanut butter. Each recipe includes some different ingredient or technique and that, more than settling on one or two, is what keeps me trying more. When I get my teeth into something, I really want to learn a little of everything and not a lot of one thing. So I'll be drawn to a recipe that calls for peanut butter simply because I'm interested in how that will bake up. Or a white bread that uses scalded milk, just to see how it's done. Or a whole wheat that uses a sponge starter. Along the way I believe I'll settle on some tried and true recipes. But right now I'm learning too much.

GFF: Have you made mistakes along the way? Maybe a better way to say it is - what have you learned along the way?

K: Mistakes. Hmmmmmmm. I'm sure I have. While I didn't have a history of baking bread, I was lucky to have a history of baking and cooking. Mom taught me how to bake when I was a boy and I've been able to keep those lessons close to heart. So mistakes have been few.

I've read recipes incorrectly and added way more flour or water than what was called for. I've converted from volume measurements to weight measurements incorrectly (partly because of bad conversion tables online). Thus far I've been able to avoid omitting an ingredient, but nearly have. Especially salt. Why is it so hard to remember the salt? And I have had wrong temperatures set for the oven more times than I care to admit, but nothing that has been disastrous.

Mostly I think not of mistakes but see lack of practice. It has taken several loaves to learn how to form doughs in a tight packages or slashing the dough in both decorative and functional ways. I still have a problem with forming rolls and buns. Learning how to knead has been an ongoing lesson. Learning when dough has "doubled" in size or when the final rise after shaping the dough is done and ready for baking continues to elude me.

I've also learned of the several techniques unique to breadmaking--particularly starters. My favorite is the sponge. The baker mixes up all the wet ingredients with up to half the flour and yeast. That concoction is set aside to develop for a period between one and four hours (or up to 24 in the fridge). The resulting flavors are more striking than if the baker mixes and kneads the dough all at once.

The biggest lesson has been learning how forgiving bread baking can be. I've yet to have a loaf that is inedible. I've let dough rise too much. I've baked it after not letting it rise enough. I've had loaves that looked like grotesque sculptures. But it's all been fit enough to eat. Bread, especially yeast breads, are not nearly as magical and temperamental as I thought.

[This interview took place over several days and with several installments. When Kevin answered the above question, he was remembering all of his breads to have been satisfactory. When he later expresed the following paragraph, a bread or two came to mind that were highly disappointing.]

I was going to say I haven't come across any recipes I feel no need to make again, (but) I found (my beer bread) inedible, My daughters liked it. I'm told it toasted nicely but I found it too bitter. The recipe called for all-purpose flour and I used bread flour. I also didn't know if the author used the scoop and scrape method or spooning the flour into the cup, but I guessed the scoop and scrape based on some other things she's described in her blog. I'm sure I added too much flour. And the baking powder might not have been fresh enough. It was yuck.

GFF: Your measuring methods are causing me to notice a difference in our bread-baking experiences. I think it might be due to your finding recipes on modern blogs. Most of my recipes have come from old Mennonite/Amish cookbooks. Many of them are little more than ingredient lists with no baking or preparation methods mentioned. I know the reason for that is that it was written by women who figure "everyone knows how to do this." There's no temperature for the oven. No baking time. Just, you know, "bake 'til done." It took me awhile to figure out what done looked like and how much wiggle room you could have. As for scalded milk and the like, I see it in recipes and have tried it sometimes, but without really knowing what the process of scalding milk should be. I suppose I could google it, but I'm too much of a corner cutter and I always just wing it. I've never had inedible bread. But your growing knowledge and confidence looks different than mine.

K: Scalding milk is raising the temperature to 180 then cooling back down to room temperature (or whatever the recipe calls for). It turns off an enzyme that would otherwise interfere with the yeast. The jury is out on whether or not modern milk, being pasteurized, needs to be scalded. But I do it any way cause I want to learn how to do it.

And it's funny you mention that most (bread) recipes you have are little more than an ingredient list. When I copy a recipe off a blog, I write down the ingredients and measurements, the temp and time to bake, but the instructions will be like "direct method" or "sponge starter" or "ferment twice, form loaf and proof in pan". What I've learned is that an instant read thermometer is my friend. Most breads are done between 200 and 205 degrees. At this point the crumb is still moist but the baking is complete.

That said, I do approach new recipes as a true librarian would. Do it by the book. I wouldn't use any book with such general instructions. Not, at least, until I have enough experience.


Next, we'll get some of Kevin's family's favorite bread recipes. I DID clean up my kitchen and try out his recipe for pretzel rolls. Such an interesting bread. But mine didn't turn out quite as well as the samples he had his girls bring to their piano lessons. It seems the man behind the reference desk was holding out some tried and true tips on me.

Meeting the Family's Bread Needs - Part 1

Meet my friend Kevin. He and I participated in music groups together in high school and then went our seperate ways. We got back in touch through Facebook and I found that, not only do we have a mutual love for a capella singing, but also for kitchen work. Lately, he's been posting pictures of his loaves of bread the way others post pictures of their children, you know...

The Twins

The Freckled One

The Chubby One

The Surly Teen (see the frown?)

The Postman's Son

So I got the bright idea to interview him for my blog. I think I'll divide it into three posts - Kevin's History With Bread Baking, How Does One Learn?, and The Best of the Best.

Getting the Family Fed: Do you have a long history with bread baking or is this a new part of your life?:

Kevin: No, I don't have a long history of baking bread myself. Growing up, both my grandmother and my mom's oldest sister made their own bread. Aunt Ruth still does at 83. It was always a real treat to have bread served with a meal at their houses. I'd like to say I remember sitting in their kitchens while watching them mix, knead and bake dough, but I don't really. I just remember the sweet, whole wheat breadiness of many meals spent in grandma's and my aunt's homes.

I believe I started (learning) in late April or early May of this year, though I did give it the old college try way back in 1996.

GFF: What caused you to start baking bread?

K: I don't really know. Truth is that the biggest reason is probably because I was bored. It's something that I've always wanted to learn but just never got around to.

Part of the recent interest, too, was purely economical. Since we are a one income family for the moment, I thought perhaps baking bread would help stretch the dollar. It is cheaper to bake our own, but not by much.

However, my bread is definitely healthier if only because there are no preservatives. And that is by far the reason why I have kept up with it. I started this hobby with the thought of supplementing our store bought bread purchases. I quickly learned, however, how simple it is to produce for all of our bread needs. It takes a bit of planning and a lot of practice, but being able to make these loaves for my wife and kids has been more rewarding than baking for its own reward.

GFF: When you say it's cheaper, but barely, do you mean compared to, like, Wonderbread? Because I think that's not comparing apples to apples. Or are you comparing the price to the artisan loaves that you are replicating?

K: I confess that I've never sat down and figured my own costs. I've relied on other bloggers and websites. And it is true that it's unfair to compare fresh baked with industrial produced bread. Generally, a homemade loaf costs between $.75 and $1.25 from what I've read. That approaches the cost of the whole wheat bread we bought at Aldi's. It is more cost effective compared to the Aunt Millie's Cracked Whole Wheat my family prefers. It is significantly cheaper to artisan or supermarket bakery made bread.

Tomorrow we'll learn how Kevin went about learning how to bake bread. His sources and processes are SO much different than mine. I've been reading through our online interview and I'm looking forward to sharing his recipes. Dang, I want to go bake some pretzel rolls. I wish my kitchen weren't filled with garden produce, canned chutney and chili pepper jelly. And fruit flies. Sigh.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Great American Road Trip - Part 8

From Deadwood, we had only to drive an hour or so to the Custer area, where we could take in Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument in progress. We started the day at 5:30 in the morning with a big splurge - a hot air balloon ride over the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Our pilot picked us up in a parking lot across from our hotel. Our balloon was going up in a basket built for twelve. Besides the old balloon captain, our companions were an older couple and a family of three. We drove out to an empty field in the country where we were met by a team ready to help us get off the ground and chase us to our touchdown location - destination unknown.

It took only about 20 minutes to get from parking the van to being in the air. I couldn't believe how quickly it inflated.

There was another balloon excursion getting started in the same field. The inflation process was a good-natured race between the two teams and we won.

Once the balloon was upright, they wasted no time in ordering us into the basket.

I looked over with concern at my shivering family. I felt judgement for being a poor mom who doesn't dress her children warmly enough for the chill of the morning. We climbed in anyway, while I resigned myself to being too cold.

I needn't have worried. The flames were blasted to raise us to many hundreds of feet. The flames stopped and we just floated often, but we sank quickly, too, and that caused the flames to blast some more. Every time there was flame, I felt the part in my hair burning from above. We were not too cold.

Check out these views.

I love the way the light filtered through the mist.

Often we spotted a deer or two, who looked up at us with wonder. Until the flames blasted. Then they scampered away. The blaster was loud as well as hot.

One woman in our party nervously asked about our captain's qualifications. He told her that there were only about four balloonists in the world with more hours in the air than him. When they filmed "Dances With Wolves" the overhead shots of the herd of bison running were filmed from his balloon. Very impressive.

Did I mention Sophia is afraid of heights?

I asked her in advance if she would be too afraid, but she gave her blessing. I thought she did great. I was proud of her.

Did I mention the view was incredible?

Our original goal for landing was a field a little nearer than the one we ended up in. A gust of wind blew us out of position and our balloon pilot chose another one a little further away. Yay - our ride was extended by ten minutes!

I think the balloonist was in the practice of scoping out the biggest guy in the party and as we began our descent, he instructed Mike to take a rope and walk far away from the balloon once we had landed. The idea was to let the deflating balloon come to rest neatly and not on top of the passengers!

It took a little bit for the balloon to completly deflate and while it did so, some of the rest of us noticed in the treeline about 150 yards away from us - A Herd. Of. Bison. Now I have no idea if this was a bison ranch or if the fenced in pasture was so large that it just happened to include lots of random wildlife, including bison, but we did know that bison are inpredictable and dangerous. We laughed nervously and photographed awhile. Meanwhile our wise and crusty old codger of a balloon pilot looked quickly for an escape.

"C'mon, folks," he hollered and started trotting to the barbed wire fence.

A few more photographs until The Old Guy insisted that we move. I pointed out that my husband was still standing there obediently holding the rope of the flat balloon.

A quick glance backward by The Old Guy. Stops and cups his hands to his mouth. "C'mon, buddy!" Scamper, scamper, scamper.

Our team waited for us on the other side of the barbed wire fence and helped us all weasel between the barriers. I tell you, these guys (and one leathery woman) were such renegades. Instead of making me homesick for tidy, polite church-goers, as rough people often do, they just cracked me up. They seemed like cheerful pirates to me.

We piled back into the van and headed back to our meeting place. At some point on the way, we met up with the other balloon with another team in another field. That captain asked ours where his balloon was (still in the bison-infested field).

"Still in the field," said TOG. "We have to, uh, get the key." (Use wire cutters.)

Knowing glances and chuckles between the captains and their crews of pirates.

Continuing on our drive, I asked if they ever get into trouble with the property owners.

The woman answered, "Oh, sometimes they're not too happy, but really the law is on our side. It's just like with airplane pilots. If we have to land on their property to get you down safely, we have to."

Back at the parking lot, TOG got out a Tupperware container of fresh muffins and cheese, popped a cork of champagne and offered this toast:

"May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth."


Oh yeah, here's Mount Rushmore

And Crazy Horse. Can you see the outline of the horse's head on the side of the mountain?

The Journey Home:

As was our custom on this trip, we were as interested in the journey as the destination. We stopped at a couple of kitschy tourist spots on the way home. The first was Wall Drug. It started as nothing special - a family-owned drug store that was struggling to stay afloat during the Depression. Mrs. Wall persuaded her husband to consider advertising as a way to get people into the store. She felt that weary travelers on the dusty roads of South Dakota would stop in if they were promised the refreshment of free ice water at Wall Drug. They began putting up billboards and, indeed, people did come.

The store has grown to fill a whole city block and the spread of their billboards have stretched all around the globe. In fact, at home later this summer, we were driving on a stretch of road we don't often travel and there, on the side of a barn, was a hand painted sign that said, "Wall Drug - 917 miles - Free Ice Water."

They still serve free ice water to weary travelers.

Just a bit further down the road is the Corn Palace. I'd heard of it. A structure built in 1921, complete with regal onion domes, they display the fruits of the Great Plains in brand new murals each year. The murals are made of corn. What I didn't know was that it was a giant sports arena on the inside. Special sporting contests are held there as well as concerts and other entertainment events. On the day we were there, the basketball floor was filled with craft and souvenir booths.

So you can get a sense of how the murals are made....

Here is a close-up....

Of one of the interior murals.

Our final important stop on the way home was DeSmet, SD. Do you recognize the name of this town? I'm thinking that if you were a girl who grew up in the '70's and '80's, you probably read the Little House on the Prairie series. I surely did and De Smet is the name of the town where the Ingalls family finally settled. It was the site of the books On the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.

DeSmet has a festival each summer to celebrate their heritage and the adventures of their most famous former resident, but we landed in their town on the wrong day to experience it. However, they do give a tour and offer a glimpse at some of the buildings of interest to those who love the Ingalls family.

Mike and Brooks were too tired to take in the tour, but I did read The Long Winter aloud on the drive home and all enjoyed it. I was especially tickled at how much interest Mike had in it - he had never read the books. The little museum/store is right next to the Surveyors' House (pictured above), where the family spent the winter after Pa's work for the railroad in By the Shores of Silver Lake. A couple of the historic buildings had been relocated to this area.

Another building was the schoolhouse in town where Laura met Mary Power and Cap Garland. It had been relocated to the museum neighborhood only fairly recently. Up to that time, it had been used as a private home for years. There were strips on the wall showing where partition walls had been and then been torn down. There was wallpaper on some of the walls. It had only been partly removed because, once the removal process was started, the original blackboards were found along with some chalk writing and drawings! They were waiting to raise the funds for the very expensive archival wallpaper removal that would leave the chalk markings unharmed.

Above is a picture of an Ingalls home which I don't think was ever mentioned in the books. Pa reneged on his homestead outside of DeSmet and this is the home in town which he moved the family to after the failure. Laura was already a married woman and never lived in this house.

I was introduced to the Little House series in 1977. I was in first grade and an early reader. My dear teacher, Mrs. Kurtz, walked by my desk at reading time one day and just placed Little House in the Big Woods on the corner of my desk without a word. I devoured the series that year. I now call it my "gifted and talented education." It was a complete thrill to walk in the places where Laura walked.

And thus concludes one of the spiffiest vacations I've had lo these many years.