We’re incredibly pleased to feature today’s guest blogger, Beth Hensperger. Beth is the author of numerous iconic, best-selling bread books from Chronicle Books’ past. One of these, James Beard Award-winning The Bread Bible, is celebrating its 15th anniversary by being released, at long last, as an ebook (available on Amazon and in the Apple iBookstore).
The Bread Bible is a compilation of my favorite recipes from ten years of publishing bread recipes for Chronicle from 1988 to 1998. So it is a very personal book. The table of contents for The Bread Bible is vast. It includes all genres of yeasted and quick breads. I added new sections on making a number of the recipes adapted for the bread machine and mixing in the food processor.
Those ten years were before the internet revolution and just entering the bakery-generated artisan bread craze that would soon flood the cookbook market. The big homemade challenge at the time was to make pizza in a home oven. Everyone wanted to make pizza! The Kitchen Aid heavy duty stand mixer, a miniature of the big Hobarts in bakeries, was newly affordable and bread dough was one of its best uses. It is now considered a standard countertop appliance in kitchens with active cooks. Using the Cuisinart food processor to mix a dough was innovative in the 1980s and the bread machine was about to explode as the new home bread baking phenomena. Gluten-free was unheard of except in medical circles. Whole grains meant whole wheat and rye.
The recipes reflect my evolution as a baker. I put all of my knowledge into these pages that would guarantee success to the most timid of fledgling bakers and inspiration to experienced ones. These are timeless recipes. Most are regional and ethnic recipes that have been handed down from grandmother to daughter, designed to feed a family. Interested in making pita, Swedish rye bread, buttermilk dinner rolls, a deep dish pizza, and Jewish egg braid to make you famous? While you might think plain homemade bread baked in a 9-x-5-inch bread pan not exciting compared to artisan loaves, I guarantee these recipes can make you famous—Brioche, Buttermilk Honey Bread, Cinnamon-Raisin Bagels, English Muffins, Cracked Wheat Bread, real Hot Cross Buns, and the bread that started it all and made the cover of Bon Appetit magazine, Bran Molasses Sunflower Bread.
Bread making is a skill that connects the baker with a sense of the rich historical heritage of bread, generation after generation of recipes handed down, linking all the communities of the world. Some master bakers practice secret keeping with their recipes and methods, while other professionals are willing to share theirs—the failures, the successes, the on-going internal processes that are an integral part of baking bread and becoming a confident baker. Every baker infuses his work with his own individuality—be secure in the knowledge that no one can steal your art from you.
So where to start? The first loaf I always recommend is Challah. The combination of the eggs and yeast makes for an easy to handle dough. You use regular all-purpose flour, you don’t need high protein bread flour. Search out an organic brand. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of the water. Never too hot! I use light olive oil, which is flavorless, instead of vegetable oil or canola oil (which is a GMO). I request no matter what mixing technique you use, by hand or stand mixer, that you knead by hand to get the feel of the yeast dough. Even if you knead in the mixer, finish the kneading process by hand. This connects your senses to the process.
This egg-rich dough is remarkably soft and silky in texture, with a pale translucent quality due to the eggs. It is rich and cake-like, with a unique delicate flavor. And oh the aroma while baking. It is a success every baking. Even if your braid is crooked, it will even out in the baking. (Make a bakery style Cinnamon Egg Bread by simply rolling and coating the ropes in ground cinnamon before shaping the braid.) Overnight, you will be a successful baker and eager to make another loaf. Stand back and collect the accolades. This is a great bread for panini, for French toast, plain morning toast with a fruit spread or jam, and bread puddings. Keep the day old, cut into cubes, in plastic freezer bags for use in recipes.
Jewish Egg Bread
Small and large (at least 6 quart) mixing bowls
Measuring spoons and cups
Large balloon whisk and wooden spoon
Heavy-duty electric mixer with flat paddle attachment or dough hook (optional)
Plastic and metal dough scrapers
Dough container (I recommend a 6-quart deep plastic container)
Baking pans and yield
4 standard 9-by-5-inch metal, nonstick, glass, or clay loaf pans, greased on all surfaces, or two 11-by-16-inch parchment-lined baking sheet pans for 4 medium freestanding braids. If using glass or black-finish aluminum pans, reduce heat by 25º.
About 7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water (105º to 115º)
2 tablespoons (2 1/2 packages) active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon organic granulated cane sugar
2 cups warm water (105º to 115º)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup light olive oil
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for glaze
2 tablespoons sesame or poppy seeds
1. Proofing the Yeast and Mixing the Dough: In a large bowl, using the whisk, place 6 cups of the flour. Make a well in the center with your hand and pour the 1/2 cup of the water into the center. Sprinkle the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar over the water. Stir gently to dissolve (a bit of flour will also be incorporated) and let stand 15 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, remaining water, eggs, oil, and salt to the well and mix with a large wooden spoon or your hand with the fingers outstretched until a shaggy mass of dough is formed. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The dough will form a ball and pull away from the sides of the bowl. This dough comes together quickly, so long mixing is not necessary. Alternately, the dough can be mixed in the workbowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
2. Kneading: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface with the plastic pastry scraper and knead by folding, stretching, and pulling until soft and springy, 6 to 8 minutes, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time, just enough as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be smooth and springy, but not dry. If you have mixed in the electric mixer, hand kneading will only take about 3 minutes.
3. Rising: Place the dough in a lightly greased deep container. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, about 2 to 2 1/4 hours. Do not allow the dough to rise over double, as it has a tendency to tear and the baked loaf will not be as full volumed as it can be. Gently deflate the dough with your fist into the center, re-cover and let rise again until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
4. Prepare the Baking Pans and Portioning the Dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface to deflate. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the 9-by-5-inch loaf pans or line the baking sheet with parchment. Without working the dough further, divide the dough into 4 equal portions.
Shaping: Further divide each portion into 3 equal portions. Roll each section under your palms into a rope that is tapered at each end. Gently dust the work surface with flour (this keeps the shape more distinct during rising) that lightly coats each rope. Be sure the ropes are of equal size and shape. Start braiding from the middle instead of the top. Place the 3 ropes parallel to each other. Take one of the outside ropes and fold it over the center rope, then repeat the movement from the opposite side. Continue by alternating the outside ropes over the center rope. When completed, turn the dough around and repeat the procedure from the middle out to the other ends. Adjust or press the braid to fix any irregularities. Tuck the ends under and set into the loaf pans or place the loaves on the baking sheet for freestanding loaves (2 per baking sheet), leaving the loaves long and pinching the ends into tapered points.
Rising in the Pan: Brush the tops with some of the egg glaze. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel and let rise at room temperature until the dough is almost double in bulk and about 1 inch over the rims of the pans, about 40 minutes. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º.
5. Glazing and Baking: Brush the surface of the loaves a second time with the egg glaze and sprinkle with seeds or leave plain. Place the pans on the center rack of the preheated oven. All 4 loaf pans will fit on one rack with some space in between, but the baking sheets need to each be on one rack and switched positions halfway through baking. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until the loaves are deep golden brown, the sides slightly contract from the pan, and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Remove the loaves from the pans immediately to a cooling rack. Loaves are best at room temperature.
6. Storage: This bread has an excellent shelf life, staying moist about 3 days; it does not stale quickly. Store wrapped in a plastic food storage bag or in a bread box, or freeze up to 2 months wrapped in two layers of plastic freezer bags, or wrapped first in a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of aluminum foil.
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