Baking Bread – An Experience

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Baking Bread – An Experience

I began baking bread about fifteen years ago. I have experimented with white bread, egg bread, sweet bread, rolls, loafs, braided loafs, and combinations of these. I now use a single recipe of my own design – it is a sweet egg bread. Recently I tried using some wheat flour. I found that if I used about half white flour and half wheat flour I had the best chance of achieving the texture and flavor I like. I have a recipe for cinnamon rolls that I have included in this post. The dough is the same for a really fine sweet dinner roll. It also works in a loaf. The baking time is longer with a loaf. Use this recipe however you wish. Enjoy.

Home made Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

Flour

Sugar

Hand soap

Salt

Eggs

Milk

Shortening

Active Dry Yeast

Water

Confectioner’s sugar

Vanilla

Cinnamon

Butter

I recommend you read all of the instructions before you begin – you will be making some decisions along the way and you will want to understand the consequences. Do not be afraid – cinnamon rolls and bread are very forgiving recipes.

Here’s what I do:

In a saucepan add a heaping tablespoon of shortening to two cups of milk, then scald (or heat the milk until the shortening melts.) As soon as the shortening melts take the pan off the stove so it can begin cooling to about 100 degrees.

While the milk is heating use hot tap water to fill about three fourths of a glass with warm water (95 – 110 degrees, about the temperature of a Jacuzzi – I note this because you can feel the water to determine heat – I use the heat of a Jacuzzi as a reference point, or you can use thermometers and other gadgets to be more accurate.) Add a package of Active Dry Yeast and a teaspoon of sugar to the warm water. You may stir lightly. The warm wet climate brings the yeast back to life; the sugar is food for the yeast. (Sugar promotes growth – salt deters growth.) I like to use a clear glass so I can watch the yeast begin to come to life in the form of foaming. Use at least a cup of water – use more if you want to prepare a larger amount of dough.

In a large mixing bowl add one half to one cup of sugar (depending on taste and amount of water and milk one has used) one or two eggs (depending on amount of water and milk) Usually I use a half cup of sugar, one egg, and one teaspoon of salt (careful with that salt. I never use more than a teaspoon of salt, no matter how much milk or water I use.) I like to tilt the bowl to one side and sort of whip the ingredients together with a tablespoon.

When the milk and shortening have cooled to about a hundred degree pour into the mixing bowl and stir in the sugar and eggs.

By now the yeast should be going crazy with foam. (If it is not, then pour it out and get another package of yeast – the first one was not alive – this has only happened to me once in many years. If the water is too hot it will kill the yeast – too cool and the yeast will not respond.)

Pour the yeast and water mix into the mixing bowl and stir lightly.

Add about three or four cups of flour and stir to a gooey mess. Keep adding flour until the dough is firm enough to handle. It will take five to eight cups (I have used more – depending on the amount of water and milk used.) (Remember that you can always add more flour) Put flour on your working area (the counter top) and pour the dough onto the counter. After I empty the mixing bowl I put it in the sink and fill with water so I can use it later.

Knead the dough. Add flour as needed. The technique of kneading is debated but the idea is to get all of the ingredients evenly mixed. I knead and add flour until the dough is no longer sticky.

When the dough is mixed I go to the sink and clean out the mixing bowl. Dry with a table cloth or paper towel. Then coat the inside of the bowl with shortening. Take the dough and drop it into the bowl, then pick it up and turn it over, this coats the dough with shortening and helps prevent it from forming a dry external crust while rising. Place the table cloth over the bowl to further protect the dough from drying out. Set the bowl in a warm place for about two hours. What is a warm place? Anywhere on any counter top in the kitchen – I would not place it by a window in the winter. I have warmed the oven and placed the dough in there – I don’t recommend this for the amateur because the first time I did that I baked the outer shell of the dough.

SIDE NOTE: The purists would argue with some of what I have instructed. The argument is that the yeast should never be forced (1. Don’t add sugar to the water/yeast mix. 2. Place the rising dough in a cooler area and wait four to eight hours for it to rise. Obviously, I am not a purist – maybe I am just impatient – you can make your own choices.) Another purist thought, which I agree with, is that one should use the least amount of yeast possible for the task at hand. When I use a cup of sugar, two eggs, three cups of milk, etc., then I use two packages of Active Dry Yeast.

In two hours the dough should just about double in size. The yeast has continued to grow and release gases which are captured by the flour/milk/egg/water mix.

Clear the counter top because you will need space.

When the cough is about ready I melt some butter in a sauce pan. I usually start with two sticks – now is not the time to be stingy – with cinnamon rolls liberal is always better than conservative. Melt the butter but allow it to cool some, if it is too hot it will kill the yeast. Again I think of about a hundred degrees.

Take the cloth off of the dough and press the dough with your open hand, it should gasp and sink, allowing some of the gases to escape. The dough should be pliable and elastic. The purists say ‘never tear the cough, always cut it with a knife.’ I tear the dough.

As the butter cools I take the dough from the mixing bowl and place it on a well floured counter top. Sometimes I have to tear the dough in half and do this procedure twice, again, depending on the amount of dough and the size of my counter top.

Press the cough into a lengthy oval. Then use a rolling pin (I like the marble pin because of the weight) and roll the dough into a long rectangle. One may have to flour the dough to keep the rolling pin from sticking. The thickness of the dough is dependent on how thick one wants the final product to be. I usually roll the dough to about a quarter of an inch.

The cooled butter can now be poured onto the flattened dough. I use my hand to evenly distribute the butter over the dough. (This also gives me a sense of how warm the butter is) Sprinkle sugar over the butter (do not be stingy) sprinkle cinnamon (Stinginess is not allowed in the kitchen) over the butter and sugar. My rule of thumb is that there must be enough butter to absorb the cinnamon and sugar mix.

This becomes a little tricky. I allow the butter to cool a little more so it will not run off when I roll up the dough. Using delicate fingers I begin to roll the dough into a swirl, capturing the butter, cinnamon, and sugar mix in the swirl. With the long rope of dough at hand, I cut individual cinnamon rolls with a sharp or serrated knife – suit yourself – just don’t smash the rope. I usually cut them at about two inches. Each of these rolls should be placed in a well greased baking pan. Proper dough will rise again to about double in size. I place the rolls in the pan with about an inch or inch-and-a-half of space between them. Rising dough will spread out unless forced up.

Set aside to rise again. Remember to cover with a light cloth. Wait one to two hours before baking.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the rolls on a center rack. No two ovens are alike but generally I bake this mix for twenty-four to twenty-five minutes. This is a crucial step. I would rather over bake by a minute than under bake by a minute. A little dry is better than doughy. That’s my thought. I look for a golden brown crust with bread, but in this case the cinnamon diminishes the ability to discern color. Try this, big pan – 25 minutes, small pan – 24 minutes. You will need to get to know your oven before perfect rolls can be guaranteed. I might have two or three pans of rolls but I almost never bake them together – it complicates the baking time.

Take the rolls out of the oven to cool.

Mix the icing. I dump a bunch of the confectioners’ sugar into a mixing bowl. I add one-fourth teaspoon of vanilla (a couple of drops). Add warm water (a little water goes a long way, so start with a tablespoon) and begin stirring to desired consistency. I like a runny mix that I can scoop out with a tablespoon and drizzle on the rolls.

Some will say to let the rolls cool before adding the icing. I put some on the hot rolls because it melts and runs down into the seams of the cinnamon swirls – adding lots of sweetness and calories. My thought is that if I were worried about calories I would not be doing this job in the first place. The value of waiting for the rolls to cool is that the icing will not melt and run and thus one can make pretty swirls of icing.

Serve however you prefer.

Check the Food Network on Bread

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