Lessons Learned in Bread Making and an Easy Spelt Bread with Muesli
A Hundred Loaves and Counting
If you’ve never heard of spelt, or you think that muesli is only something that Europeans eat for breakfast, please read on and resist the urge to close your browser. Ingredients like spelt and muesli are merely examples of the infinite varieties of bread you can create depending on what you have in your pantry and what you like. Forget the spelt and muesli, if you have flour, yeast, water, and salt, you can make bread.
Frankly, bread making was something that intimidated me for a very long time. In spite of the short ingredient list, bread just seemed – well, it seemed too fussy with all that tedious kneading and folding. And who has time for fussy especially when you live in a big city where a delicious bakery is often just a short walk away. Then I caught wind of this “no-knead” bread phenomenon recently made popular by Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery in New York. I was skeptical to say the least, but after just one loaf, I climbed onto the bandwagon. Not only is bread making easier than I ever imagined, it’s extremely forgiving – more art than science. My love affair with homemade bread has raged on for two years. I can’t even remember the last time we bought bread. While I still enjoy the simplicity of the no-knead method, I occasionally bask in the Zen moments that come from kneading a batch of dough by hand.
Last week, we hit the 100 loaf mark. Over a warm loaf of Swedish Limpa, I reflected on what I had learned:
- To speed the rise time you can increase the ambient temperature. Find a warm spot for your dough to rise, but remember that high temperatures can kill yeast.
- To speed the rise time you can increase the amount of yeast. Use 1/4 teaspoon per four cups of flour for an overnight rise. If you decide in the morning that you want bread for dinner, increase the amount of yeast to 1 teaspoon.
- Pay attention to the gluten content of your flour. Flours low in gluten, such as rye, take longer to rise and often produce a denser loaf. To lighten your loaf, consider combining low-gluten flours with bread flour, which is high in gluten by comparison. Or you can add vital wheat gluten – even just a tablespoon per loaf can improve the structure and elasticity of the dough.
- Instant yeast doesn’t need to be “proofed” (mixed with water). It can be added directly to the dry ingredients.
- You can add just about anything to bread: quinoa, millet, minced orange rind, fennel seeds, barley malt, dried pears…the possibilities are endless.
- Don’t invest a lot of money in specialty equipment such as bannetons (proofing baskets), perforated baguette pans or the like. Improvise!
- Every bread making question you can think of has probably been answered at TheFreshLoaf, an online community for amateur artisan bakers and bread enthusiasts.
If you are already a bread making whiz, consider stepping up your game with Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman, the Bakery Director at King Arthur Flour. His book, though heavily weighted on the scientific (and fussy) aspects of bread making, demystifies professional bakery techniques and demonstrates how anyone can achieve the same results at home.
No-Knead Spelt Bread with Muesli
1 cup all purpose or bread flour
3 cups whole grain spelt flour (Whole wheat works too. Experiment with whatever flour you have on hand.)
1 cup muesli*
1/3 cup dried fruit (I like a mix of cranberries and cherries.)
1/2 tspn active dry yeast
1 1/2 tspns salt
1 3/4 cups water
1 T oatmeal (optional)
- Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- Add water and stir with a long handled spoon until the dough resembles a shaggy ball, adding more water if necessary.
- Cover bowl with cling wrap.
- Allow dough to rise at room temperature for 12-24 hours. It’s ready when it has doubled in size. Remember, the warmer the room temperature, the faster your bread will rise.
- Lightly oil a large bowl.
- Generously flour a board and your hands. Turn dough onto board and press into a large rectangle. Fold it into thirds like a business letter. Turn it 90 degrees and fold in thirds again.
- Place in prepared bowl seam side down. Cover with cling wrap and let rise for 2-3 hours.
- Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot in the oven.
- Preheat oven to 450°F degrees.
- When the dough is ready, remove the hot pot from the oven and confidently flip the dough from the bowl into the pot.
- Make a 1/2″ slit across the top of the loaf and quickly sprinkle on the oatmeal if using
- Shake the pot to adjust the dough ball if necessary. Cover pot with the lid.
- Bake for 45 minutes.
- Remove lid and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
- Cool on a wire rack for an hour before slicing.
*Note: I make my own muesli by combining oatmeal, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, and raisins and roughly chopping it all together in the food processor. We make it in big batches, so there is always some on hand. There’s no need to be persnickety about the proportions or even the ingredients – use what you have, use what you like. Or if you prefer, Bob’s Red Mill makes an Old Country Style Muesli that is great too.