March 5, 2009

Myth Busters: Kneading Bread

"If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens."
Robert Browning (1812-1889) English poet

"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight."
M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992)

"Bread is the warmest, kindest of all words. Write it always with a capital letter, like your own name."
from a café sign

There are not too many foods out there that have poems written about them. Oh sure, there's is the ode to beans ("Beans, beans, the magical fruit..."), but nothing compares to the countless songs, stanzas, and quotes about Bread. I am especially fond of that last quote above, and will henceforth call bread "Bread".

And yet, the American Bread scene is quite sad. Slowly, the bakeries have disappeared, leaving most of us to wander down the bread aisles of the stores, gazing at the shiny plastic bags and squeezing what seem like Nerf® footballs inside. This is a wholly different food which we can barely call bread, even demoting to a lowercase "b".

I have tried, just out of curiosity, to make bread exactly like the spongy soft stuff that comes from the store. I have concluded it is impossible. There is something unnatural about store-bought bread, something that requires synthesized chemicals and alien machinery to make.

Homemade Bread, then, is the best solution.

But how many of you actually make your own bread? Not many, I gather. Why not? Making Bread the "old fashioned" way is incredibly time-consuming. Bread recipes typically involve long and tortuous kneading, followed by a lengthy rising time, then punching down, then more rising, then baking. All in all, the process could easily take 3 to 4 hours.

I made Bread this way for years. Even though it ruined a weekend afternoon for me, I refused to eat the Nerf® chemical bread.

Then I stumbled upon an article in Mother Earth News by Jeff Hertzberg about a "new" way of making Bread. Basically, it requires no kneading, and pre-mixed hunks of dough are stored in the refrigerator. You take out what you need, let it reach room temperature while it rises, then bake it. I experimented with this technique some and achieved so-so results. There was still something wrong. It took too long to rise.

I then started to think how we make gluten-free Bread. The Evolution Kitchen has been pumping out gluten-free Bread for over a year now, and the biggest difference between it and gluten-full Bread, besides the gluten content, is that the gluten-free dough is much wetter. Also, gluten-free dough requires no kneading, and rises in about 20 minutes.

I began to wonder: is it possible that kneading dough and multiple rises are a waste of time?

Using Hertzberg's ideas and the gluten-free Bread techniques, I came up with a hybrid technique that seems to work. My results poo-poo the strict traditionalists about making Bread. Kneading is not necessary, and multiple risings are also not necessary.

Here are the basic instructions:

  1. get your liquid ready in a mixer. This contains your yeast, oil, and sugar.
  2. Add your flour blend while mixing slowly. Stop adding flour when the consistency is "right".
  3. Mix on high for a couple minutes.
  4. Dump the dough in a greased bread pan.
  5. Cover with a wet cloth and let rise 20-30 minutes in a warm oven.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Write poems about your creation.

They key here is step #2. In order for the dough to rise sufficiently, it must be the right consistency and temperature. Basically the dough must be warm and wet. Using 100ºF water is about the right temperature. Consistency is harder to quantify. Can I say "gooey but not gloppy"? Or "sticky, not stiff"? Certainly it's not as runny as cake batter, but not as stiff as normal bread dough. It is somewhere in between. I can also say that dough of the right consistency is nearly impossible to handle without wet hands.

Further experimentation will allow me to elaborate more on consistency, but for now, you'll have to get by with "gooey but not gloppy".

Check out this loaf:
This is a whole wheat bread, not a terribly good rising flour to begin with. Following the method described above, I had this loaf of Bread in 1 hour, from start to finish. Half of that time was baking and thinking up sonnets.

This recipe is a bit rough around the edges, and I will experiment more and polish it later. But here it is in a nutshell (actually, in a breadpan). Another thing I've learned from making gluten-free bread is that you can toss in just about any kind of flour: tapioca, corn starch, oat flour, ground up sesame seeds, etc. So in this recipe, I decided to toss in some buckwheat flour just for kicks. Whole wheat flour tends to be heavy, so it is best to lighten it up some. Regular flour will also work (although it has little nutritional value).

Evolution Whole Wheat Bread


1¾ c warm water (100º F)
2 T canola oil
2 T sugar
2 ½ t yeast

3 c whole wheat flour
1 c buckwheat flour
1 t salt


1. Put the water in the bowl of your mixer. Add the yeast and sugar and dissolve. If your yeast needs proofing, let it sit there a few minutes to get frothy.

2. With the mixer running on low (use a normal paddle, not a bread hook or whisk), add the salt and buckwheat flour. Slowly add the wheat flour. Stop when the consistency is "about right". The mixer should not be struggling, but you should not see pooled liquid either.

3. Turn the mixer speed to high and let it churn for about 3 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, prepare your medium-sized bread pan: Spray it with oil, then dust with flour.

5. Scrape out the dough with wet hands and stuff into the prepared bread pan. Smooth down the top and cut a gash across the top with a wet knife. Soak a wash cloth with warm water and place over the pan. Place the pan in a warm spot, like an oven.

6. Let the dough rise to the top of the pan, about 25-30 minutes, depending on your yeast and the temperature.

7. Gently remove the cloth and take the pan out of the oven (if you put it there.) Preheat the oven to 400ºF, then bake the Bread for 30-35 minutes.

8. Pop the Bread out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.

1 comment:

  1. This is great! I like things that fly in the face of tradition ;-)

    I do breads by hand myself - I had one horrid experience trying to use the Mixmaster for bread, and that was the end of that! But I may give a rip. I often throw things into a bowl and bake just to see what happens.