Some Practical Notes
- Mix with one hand, keeping the other clean for handling things. It’s a sticky, gooey mess at first, but as you add flour and work it, the dough will release from your hand (and the sides of the bowl), and that’s how you know it’s ready to start kneading.
- If the water is short, you’ll have loose flour in the bowl and the dough never will take it up. In that case, add water 1 teaspoon at a time and work it in well. Don’t overdo the water, else you’ll end up adding more flour and the bread will grow too large. It takes very little water to go from too dry to too sticky.
- Olive oil cooking spray is your non-stick friend, but use it very lightly, else you’ll end up working too much oil into the bread.
- Kneading is done by mashing the dough into a flattened oval, fold the far end toward you, then push into it with the heels of the hands, then rotate it 90 degrees. Fold toward you, push it down and away from you, rotate. Over and over it goes, for 10 to 15 minutes. When pushing, straighten the arms and just lean into it—less work that way. As you knead, the dough may stick to the board in places; just push a little more flour under it and keep on kneading. Likewise, if the top gets too sticky, sprinkle a little flour on it, or spray the hands with a little oil. Kneading causes the springy gluten molecules to link up, making very long springs, which makes a smoother bread. For breads with larger, irregular holes in it, you knead less (or even none, in some recipes).
- Cover the bowl with plastic during the first rise, so the dough will not lose water.
- The amount of punch-down and second knead will determine how smooth the final bread is. The purpose of the punch-down is to remove large pockets of gas from the bread, but it is by no means a necessity—indeed, some styles of bread are supposed to have large and irregular-sized holes inside. That makes a style of bread that is less like store-bought and more like primitive breads (you can then imagine a giant wood-fired clay-dome oven, hand-milled grains, etc. 🙂
So there it is! My first-ever hand-made-from-scratch bread. Stay tuned for more breads and more pictures in the coming weeks, and also, don’t miss my soaping pages!