There definitely is an art to bread making and on a personal level I have only scratched the surface. This is an art that I am excited to learn more about as I go along, and to develop my own methods and flavors.
I'm not going to post an entire blog about bread making because there are already too many resources for good bread making. Just search the internet and you will have more than enough information to get started. I have begun to do a lot of experimenting lately with breads, both in method and in ingredients. I've been a fan of quick breads that require no kneading at all but lately have dove head first into a much longer method that has been extremely satisfying. I always try and make these by hand the 'old fashioned' way which can be hard in today's World where you need to make everything fast. What I have discovered is those breads that you knead for 20 minutes and let rise multiple times for several long hours have a unique taste that no quick bread can replicate, certainly not in a bread maker.
A Lot of the breads I have been making use a Pooish. Similar to a sour dough a Poolish is a fermented starter that adds a great deal of flavor to your bread but aged in much less time than a traditional sour dough. The breakdown of the process is making a Poolish which ferments for 2-10 hours, followed by a Final Dough that rests and rises for 2-3 hours, and final shape which again rises 2-3 hours before baking. While electric mixers certainly take a lot of the labor out of kneading I've also found that it's imperative to knead by hand a little to get a feel for the gluten and to know when the dough is done. 20 Minutes of kneading seems to be the sweet spot to activate all of the gluten fibers in the dough before a proper rest. It's funny , kneading bread can easily transform you into a level of meditation. I may be wrong but I'm betting a lot of Life's problems can be resolved in the 20 minutes it takes to hand knead some dough.
It's been during this kneading process that I've really enjoyed experimenting with different ingredients. Incorporating dried fruits, nuts and herbs really brings the character to your bread. Some of my favorites so far have been:
- Fresh Rosemary and Black Olives
- Black Pepper with Rosemary and Thyme
- Cognac soaked dried figs and Hazelnuts
In addition to the endless amounts of things you can add into your bread, trying different types of flour can certainly keep you busy for a very long time. My general go to right now is a 20 mix of regular white flour with 20% whole wheat that I grind from whole wheat berries. This is a great mix for adding nutrients yet fairly 'safe' for many recipes.
One thing is for sure experimenting with various ingredients makes a bread personal and unique and love the creative process of trying to figure out what goes well and what doesn't quite work. Once you develop a technique that works for you and your cooking environment, start to try new things and you may be surprised with what you come up with.
I'd love to hear what ingredients are YOUR favorites in bread!