Friday, May 20, 2011

BARE-HANDED BREAD MAKING


Mark Bittman's in Iowa (I follow his blog). Nonetheless, via How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, he helped me invent whole wheat hamburger rolls yesterday and they turned out so well that I've given my recipe below.  I served Alice one warm with a blackbean burger on it. She gave me a thumbs up while her mouth was still full. I gave myself a pat on the back and thought for the millionth time: I love Mark Bittman.

The bread section of his cookbook has given me the confidence to start dough in the morning without any idea what I might do with it later in the day, or when.  It's just nice to have the option of making fresh rolls or a baguette or pizza for dinner. Or not. In which case I make the dough into a ball and freeze it for another time.

I just wish Mark didn't go on so much about food processors. I'm not a gadget person for a number of reasons -- I don't have a hand mixer or a microwave oven or even a clothes dryer. And I don't want to get down about it. So I don't like reading: "food-processed dough is not only easier but better than hand-kneaded dough:  The food processor doesn't care how sticky the dough is; in fact, it should be rough looking, what bakers call 'nearly shaggy,' halfway through the processing. It becomes a smooth ball when you continue to process beyond this point -- the part of the processing that is the machine kneading."

I was part owner of a bakery once -- Abigail's Bakery, in New Hampshire (was that really 25 YEARS ago?) It was a lot like The Daily Bread Bakery Mark visited in Iowa yesterday. I stood next to a giant Hobart mixer hundreds of mornings watching the ingredients in the three foot steel bowl come together "shaggy" then finally pull away from the sides of the bowl forming a single smooth mass. That was the time to stop the machine and lift the dough into a 5 gal. bucket and sit it in the proofing cabinet.

Truth be told, I wasn't a confident baker back then. I stictly stuck to the recipes. But now, thanks to Bittman, I can picture myself leaving cookbooks behind and making bread anywhere I find myself in a kitchen with some flour, salt, and random other ingredients (I'll be packing a little yeast).

Handmade Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns:

Stir together these dry ingredients: 1 cup white flour and 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. instant yeast, 1 T. sugar.

Cut 2 T. butter into little tiny pieces and dropped individually throughout the dry ingredients.

Add: 1 egg and 3/4 cup of milk and stir with flat wooden spoon until the ingredients start to come together. Then add 1/4 cup of milk and all the dough will actually come together "shaggy." Ditch the spoon and start kneading with your hands. The dough will be quite moist and somewhat sticky, but not so sticky that it continues to stick to the bowl and your fingers. Don't add extra flour if you can avoid it.

Once the dough forms into a cohesive mass knead a little longer until it's relatively smooth. Form into a ball and leave in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a towel or plastic. Let it rise for an hour or two. (If it's going to be much longer, put it in the fridge and take it out an hour before you want to bake it.)

I let this wholewheat dough rise for about an hour and a half. Then I pushed the air out and divided it in 8 pieces. I let it rest again while I did some dishes. Then, working on the lightly oiled baking pan, I formed rolls by first flattening the dough with my palm and then folding the edges toward the middle and pinching them together.  I put the rolls, seam side down, as far apart from each other as I could, sprinkled some sesame seeds on top and let them rise while I ran out to buy lettuce and tomatoes (20 minutes?).  If they'd been left longer, it would've been fine too. Meanwhile the oven was pre-heating to around 350º. Before putting the rolls in the oven I flattened them a little with a spatula so they'd be slightly flat and so the seeds would stick.

They were done in about 15 minutes.  I could tell they were done because they were light brown and when I tapped on them they sounded hollow. Also I loosened one from the pan and it was quite brown on the bottom.

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