Last week, I attended a 3-hour bread baking class at the Whole Foods Bowery/Culinary Center. The session was primarily hands-on baking, but the instructors also found time to discuss the basics of breadbaking. Making your own bread can be very rewarding, but also quite complicated! Depending on the day’s temperature and humidity, the type of yeast used, amount of flour measured out, etc. you can get very different results from the same recipe. If you’re interested in learning more about breadbaking, I recommend the book The Breadbakers Apprentice or the website Brew & Bake.
We began the class with a discussion about the different types of bread.
What are the differences between yeast and quick breads?
Yeasted breads (i.e. whole wheat, challah, etc.) – are leavened biologically by a living organism called yeast. To make the bread rise, the yeast must be activated and developed primarily before the bread goes in the oven. The need for multiple risings makes yeasted bread a bit more finicky and time consuming! Yeasted breads have more gluten (due to the combo of multiple risings and kneading) and have a chewy, bread-like texture.
Quick breads (banana bread, muffins, etc.) – are leavened chemically with baking powder and/or baking soda. The rising of the bread takes place while baking in the oven. Quick breads have a cakey, crumbly texture.
Yeast can be bought in packets or jars and it is activated by adding water and sugar. The sugar/honey/molasses is the “food” for the yeast. When the yeast eats the “food” it releases carbon dioxide as a waste product. The carbon dioxide creates air bubbles and makes the dough rise and become more voluminous. Later on when you knead the dough, protein molecules will begin to slide off of each other and create a substence called gluten. The mixture of gluten (from kneading) and air bubbles (from the yeast) will develop the texture and chew of the bread.
Many recipes will call for making a sponge as the first step in the rising process. A sponge is a mixture of yeast, water, and just a little flour and sugar. By beginning the rising process before you add all of the flour, you will create a lighter, softer texture. Using the sponge method is especially important if you are making whole-wheat or whole-grain bread because these flours are denser.
When you make quick breads, baking soda and baking powder are used instead of yeast. When alkalines mix with an acid, carbon dioxide air bubbles form. For example baking soda (an alkaline) is often mixes with buttermilk (an acid). This creates the chemical reaction that results in a rise. While baking soda is purely alkaline and needs an acid, baking powder already has an acid added to it. FYI – baking powder is baking soda + cream of tartar + cornstarch. You could make it yourself! These chemical leaveners often produce slightly different crumbs. Baking soda is often used in muffin recipes and produces a moister crumb, while baking soda results in a drier, bread-like texture. Many recipes call for a combination of baking soda and baking powder.
In class we had four delicious recipes on the agenda:
- Rosemary focaccia with black olives and thyme
- Golden northern corbread with bacon
- Whole wheat calzone with chicken sausage and broccoli rabe
- Quick cinnamon buns with buttermilk icing
I can’t share the specifics of the recipes due to copyright issues, but you can find them in The New Best Recipe cookbook from the editors at Cook’s Illustrated magazine.
While the instructors demonstrated the recipes at the front of the classroom, we worked in groups of four to prepare our own breads. At the end of class, we all sampled the breads made by the instructors and took our own goodies home for future consumption!
The next day, I enjoyed one of my cornbread bacon muffins with butter. Yum!
Later in the week, I toasted up some of the focaccia bread. Lots of olive and herb goodness!
On Saturday morning, I pulled the cinnamon roll dough out of the freezer and baked the rolls at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes. Then I topped them with a glaze made from 1 Tb milk, 1 Tb cream cheese, and 1/2 cup powdered sugar. They may not win any beauty contests, but the cinnamon rolls were were gooey, sweet, and delicious! Nate gave them high marks 🙂
Later this week, I have plans to bake the whole wheat-chicken sausage-broccoli rabe calzone. We assembled the calzones in class and then I froze the dough when I got home. During the (hot!) subway ride back to my apartment, the dough continued to rise so it was a bit misshapen by the time I popped it in the freezer. Hopefully it will still taste delicious! When I bake the calzone, I will pre-heat a rimless baking sheet (in lieu of a pizza stone) for 30 minutes in 500 degree oven and then bake the calzone for about 11 minutes. I’ll let you know how it turns out!