Hello everyone! Sorry for the delay, I had a slight issue with the new way Apple decided how to store image files. I’ll write a follow-up post about that shortly to document the workaround I developed on my linux workstation.
A couple new personal developments that I’m super excited about. My employer has a program that allowed me to finance a new workstation through them.
I decided to go and splurge a bit on a beefy laptop. This will afford me the opportunity to build a learning laboratory where I would like to develop
some “code labs” targeted towards DevOps topics. In the queue: Bind DNS, building a Consul cluster, and Makefiles! We will leverage
create our environment so that everyone can follow along.
I have made a decision to leave Windows 10 Pro on this workstation which will lend itself to a few extra talking points and I’ll document the journey of being a Linux operator over Windows. So far it’s been a pretty smooth transition … but there are some Windows-isms that are interesting.
So a lot of developments in the tech scene which I hope to crank out soon! Without further delay let’s get our hands in some flour.
Italian Bread Making Process
This is one of my favorite loaves to make. It has a soft and savory crumb and a lovely chewy crust. It is incidently vegan which may be important for those that have vegan friends or significant others.
I took pictures while I made a batch and we’ll use them as talking points.
Skip towards the end for the recipe alone.
Weigh the flour
Any baker worth their salt knows that measuring by weight is king. The scale I use was $20 from the local big-box grocery store. It’s nothing special but it has made the difference between a sad loaf and a good loaf.
Introduce the yeast
One little detail that I would like to draw attention to is the distinction between “Dry active yeast” and “Fast-Acting / Instant Yeast”.
Dry Active Yeast
Dry active yeast must be woken up first in order for it to do its job. In order to wake the yeast, they’ll require some warm liquid. I usually add a tiny-tiny amount of sugar to the mix to help give the yeast a feeding before asking them to do the rising of the loaf.
For this recipe when I’ve been low on fact-acting yeast, I heated the 6 Tablespoons of water to slightly above room temperature, added dry-active yeast, and mixed in a quarter teaspoon of sugar.
You’ll want to cover and put this mixture in a warm spot for 5-10 minutes before proceeding. When you uncover the mixture you should observe the yeast mixture being a fluffy poofy sponge. If it looks like tepid water, discard and start over.
Fast-Acting / Instant Yeast
In contrast to plain dry active yeast, fast-acting or “instant” yeast is ready-to-go. Simply dump the required amount into the dry mixture and proceed with the recipe.
Pour the beer
This is a relatively quick loaf to make. In order to develop some of the flavor in a timely manner, a mild lager is used to get some of the fermentation business going. Usually this type of flavor takes 12+ hours todevelop. I tend to be a complete snob and use local craft beer. For the most recent loaf (not this one) I used Sunking’s Cream Ale and the loaf was gone before lunch with 4 people in the house unable to resist the smell of freshly baked bread!
Add the olive oil to the beer mixture. Add the water if you haven’t used it in the activation of your yeast.
Whisk it together.
Do the Kneadful
If you are fortunate enough to have a mixer with a dough hook, I highly recommend using it. You’ll want to add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing and kneading for about 8 minutes.
If you do not have a mixer, you’ll need to use a large bowl, a sturdy wooden spoon, and some muscle to mix the ingredients together. Once a shaggy ball forms, use your hands to knead the ball.
Whether you are using a dough hook or your hands, you’ll need to work the dough until it is not too sticky. For instance the picture immediately below is way too sticky!
Keep kneading, if you don’t notice a huge change, add a small amount of flour … like 1/4 teaspoon at a time until the dough starts to pull away from the bowl and integrate itself into a ball.
Once the dough no longer sticks to your hands, pull the dough out on a floured work surface. You will want to use your floured hands to make a smooth ball.
Once your ball is smooth. Lightly oil a large bowl (IMHO: olive oil tastes better) and place the ball seam-side down. Cover with plastic wrap and place into a warm place.
I tend to use the oven that’s OFF and NOT HOT. It’s a stable temperature storage unit that we’re after. For instance if you have windows open or a drafty kitchen, your dough will take ~literally~ figurtively forever to rise.
You’ll want to leave the dough in its happy place for 1 to 2 hours until the dough has doubled in size.
Form the loaf
After the dough has doubled in size, it should look something like this. Notice the condensation given off by the gassy yeast. There is a considerable amount of gas produced by the yeast which helps give bread its air crumb (the non-crust part of the bread).
A lot of directions request you to punch down the dough after the initial rise. I find this to be entirely too violent and prefer to poke the dough to release the gas from the dough. Whatever your method, we need to get most of the gas out of the dough.
Dump the dough out of the bowl. You’ll probably have to coax it out … talk to it and give the dough a pep talk. It will come out of the bowl.
On a lightly-floured work surface, stretch the dough out to form a rectangle.
Side note: I make mini-loaves usually: one for home, one for a friend. You can do these steps as one big loaf or two small loaves. For small loaves, I get scientific and weigh the dough, and divide in half by weight.
I usually call this part “folding the letter”. What I do here is to fold the dough to the mid-point. I then strech the other end over the folded part. This motion, in my mind, is similar to folding a letter to fit in a standard envelope.
In this step, you’ll want to get creative and turn our folded piece of paper into a fat log. Roll the dough and form it into a fat log.
One thing that I found doing is pinching the seam within itself. This is kind of hard to describe so my best advice is to just work the dough so as few cracks and seams are visible.
Starting from the middle of your log, roll your hands in a “V” shape outwards. I admittedly am not the best at this part and have mostly long skinny loaves. Ideally proper Italian bread is kind of football shaped. However however you roll it’s probably going to be delicious.
Preparation for baking
Prepare a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
I have found that dusting the bottom of the loaf with cornmeal adds a pleasant texture, prevents the loaf from sticking to the parchment paper, and adds a little extra flavor. This is optional.
Once your loaves have been places on the baking sheet, we need to prepare for the second rising. I use damp paper towels and place in a warm place for 1 more hour. The damp towel(s) prevent the loaf from drying out.
After the loaves have roughly doubled in size, it’s time to score the top using a sharp knife, a razor blade, or a fancy “Lame” tool. Start about 1.5 inch from the end and score 1/3 inch deep.
The scored loaf will breathe and expand along the seam you just created. This will create a fantastic texture and allow steam to escape properly for the perfect bread inside.
In order to form a nice chewy crust, brush the loaves lightly with water. Alternatively if you have a clean spray bottle, you can mist the exterior of the loaves.
Preheat an oven to 450 degrees Farenheit. You’ll want to bake the loaves for 14 minutes, rotate, and another 10-14 minutes. Keep an eye towards the end on the color. You’ll want a nice golden brown color without a ton of dark spots.
After time is up, take the bread out. Resist the urge to cut into the bread!! The bread isn’t in its final form yet. The crust is too hard and the steam hasn’t finished cooking the loaf yet. A sample temperature out of the oven should be about 205 degrees F or when the thermometer is stuck on Celeius, 96 degrees.
The recipe of origin calls for the bread to rest 3 hours … but that’s unecessarily torturous to wait that long. I’ve waited as little as 1 hour and had a good reception. I will say, however, that 3 hours yields a really nice result.
So not as hard as you thought, right?
Makes 1 big loaf, 2 small loaves. 16.5 oz flour 1.5 teaspoon of salt 2 teaspoons of yeast (1 packet) 1 cup of lager beer 6 Tablespoons of warm water 2 Tablesppons of extra-vigin olive oil Cornmeal for dusting bottom of loaves. ---- * Mix dry ingredients. * Add wet to dry. * Mix and knead for 8 minutes. * Bake at 450F for ~30 minutes, rotating half way through. * Let stand for minimum 1 hour; 3 hours for best result.
Wow! Thanks for sticking around!! I had fun writing this post and I hope that you have fun baking some bread. The smells alone that will permeate your kitchen will certainly be worth it alone!!
This is one of my favorite recipes to make for my friends and family. There is no secrets and the ingredient list is fairly basic and incidently this is vegan-friendly. A win-win-win!
The original recipe is from America Test Kitchen’s Bread Illustrated. I cannot recommend this book enough! Bread, pretzels, savory, sweet - they got you covered. They also do a much, much better job of explaining and illustrating breadmaking techniques than I could ever possibly attempt. Please, please check it out.
Please stay tuned for a few more recipes and some code labs that I’m working as fast as I can on in my spare time. My new laptop should help expedite some of this work, which I’m very excited about.
My email is at the bottom of the page. Please let me know how this turned out for you if you do bake it!