Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.


Bread baking tips

I’ve already written about Bill Neal’s book here, so you know I’ve started experimenting with bread baking.

For bread baking, Neal gives some tips I’ve found pretty helpful:
1. Don’t use too much flour — you want the dough to be sticky.
2. Slice through the top of the dough with a really sharp knife right before putting it in the oven. This helps gases and moisture to release and keeps the bread from being “doughy” in the middle.
3. Dust flour on top of the dough if you want a softer crust, water if you want a crunchier crust.

A friend of mine also suggested added a tablespoon of gluten per cup of wheat and other hard flours to help it rise and hold together better. (No more than 3 tbsp. per loaf though, she warned.)

I’ve tried all the above suggestions and my breads just keep getting better and better. We can eat a sandwich without the bread following apart, the dough is rising beautifully and I also get a nice crust (I like a harder crust so I don’t dust the dough with flour before baking.)

I’m going to keep experimenting though and, hopefully, I’ll be able to alter the recipe and make all kinds of sandwich breads in no time.

Here’s the recipe I’m using at the moment (I’ve altered a recipe many times, so this is my own creation):

Honey Wheat Bread

2 1/2 cups warm water
1/3 cup honey (or molasses)
1 tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup shortening
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbsp. gluten
3 1/4 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. salt
3 cups of bread flour

In a bowl, mix water, honey, sugar and shortening. Mix wheat flour, gluten, salt and yeast and add it to the bowl. Beat with mixer until well blended. Add 3 cups of bread flour and knead for 5 to 8 minutes or until stiff dough forms. Let dough rise until double, usually about 30-45 minutes. Divide dough and place in two greased loaf pans. Let rise until double again, about an hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.
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Other breads I’d like to try are bagels, graham crackers, French bread and brioche (a type of French bread).

I also would like to try regular crackers again because I didn’t have much luck in the past. Though I finally got the crackers crisp enough, they became soggy/soft after a week and some even molded. I kept them in an airtight container, but I guess that wasn’t enough.

I’d like to check out Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, “The Bread Bible,” which I think I heard about over on the angry chicken blog, though I searched the blog and can’t find the book mentioned. I did find the book in a store in Savannah, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay the full $36 for a book I may or may not use.

Some of the recipes called for bread machines or bread mixers, neither of which I own or have space for in my tiny kitchen. If possible, I need to stick to hand mixing. This may limit the types of breads that I can make, but I’m okay with that for now.

So, I’d rather find a used copy so I can test the book out and see if it’ll work for me.

Also, Rose has a blog. Visit her here.


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Crackers!

Using Bill Neal’s “Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie,” I poked my toe into the world of cracker-making.


Yep. Crackers. Didn’t know you could make ’em? That’s the same thing a colleague said to me when I told her I made some crackers the other week.

I’ve always wondered what dough was used to make crackers and how they were baked, etc. Turns out, it’s just biscuit dough, rolled to wafer thin.

In Neal’s book I found recipes for two types of crackers — one used with the old fashioned Southern biscuit dough (note — lots of beating involved) and the more modern biscuit flour that uses baking powder. I tried both.

The first batch weren’t too bad, but I wasn’t that impressed either. Neal literally tells the reader to find a rolling pin, broken broom end or hammer to knead/beat the dough for 15 minutes, no less. I got tired and gave up after 7 minutes of beating. I spent the last 8 minutes catching my breath and rolling out the dough for the crackers.

I didn’t add any additional toppings, such as salt, to the crackers. Just baked them for the 5-7 minutes. They seemed to be too biscuit like and didn’t have a lot of taste like store bought crackers. I assumed that I didn’t roll the crackers out thin enough and should have added salt. And with all that beating, they just weren’t worth it.

The second batch was easier. I used scrap dough from some biscuits I made over the weekend. I also made sure to prick the cut out crackers with a fork a few times (which I was supposed to do the first time, but forgot to do) and sprinkled a little salt on top. These turned out much better and reminded me more of crackers you’d expect to find in a store or restaurant.

This batch was thin, crisp and had just enough taste (salt).

I also had a little accident in the kitchen this weekend that nearly drove me to tears.

After baking a couple loaves of bread, I placed them on wire racks on the table to cool. Thinking myself wise, I placed a kitchen towel under the racks to catch any crumbs.

Instead this somehow was not a good idea. I caused heat and/or water damage to my antique table and I don’t know how.
See those white angel wings? That’s not the flash of the camera or a trick of the light. That’s damage from the steam and heat of the bread. Arrrrrggggghhhhhh!

Hubby thinks a little sanding and refinishing will take care of the problem. But that still doesn’t make me feel any better. 😦

From now on, all baked goods will cool on the counter!