Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bread: Topping and Baking

Nicely browned Challah
Things to do after the second rise, just before baking.
  • Add shine, and glue on toppings like seeds, by brushing the top of the loaf with egg wash: 
    • Beaten egg or egg white with 1 Tbsp of water
  • Add a less-glossy sheen and lightly tack on a few seeds by brushing the top with milk.
    • Add a light gloss and help the top brown by brushing with melted butter. This will not help anything stick to the loaf, however.
  • Artisan loafs, risen on a floured couch, will have a coating of flour. Slash pretty patterns on them, and even try "painting" patterns with flour. I've seen photos, but am not sure exactly how it is done.
  • Slash the top of a risen loaf with a sharp knife before baking, to allow "oven spring" and avoid blow-outs. As a yeast dough starts to bake, the yeast activity increases, rapidly rising the dough. At the same time, the crust sets, becoming less elastic. Slashing the top helps control how the loaf expands. Slashing is not necessary for braided loaves or small shapes like rolls.
    Blowout: Dull knife, shallow slashes, but nice flour dusting.
  • Use a baking stone or two, if possible. They make your oven more like a brick oven. Here's info on the stone I use, which fits my oven very well. If you don't have a stone, at least make sure to preheat the oven.
  • Let the oven preheat for at least 30 min prior to baking, so that the oven walls and stones are hot. I turn the oven on when I set my loaves out for the second rise.
  • If you're using a stone, slide the bread and parchment directly onto it to bake. If the bread is in a pan, place the pan on a rack just above the stone.
Egg wash and poppy seeds
  • Allow the bread to bake and "set" for about 12 min for small rolls, 15 for large loaves, before inserting a temperature probe into the center. Bake until the internal temp is 190-205°. I usually set it to 127°. Some loaves and rolls are prettier lightly browned, while others benefit from deeper browning. If the bread is browning too quickly, a sheet of aluminum foil laid on top will slow the process while the bread finishes cooking.
  • For an artisan loaf and/or large slashed loaf where you want to encourage oven spring and a heartier crust (thanks go to Peter Reinhart for this technique in "The Bread Baker's Apprentice"): 
    • Preheat the oven 100° above the desired baking temperature. 
    • Place a baking pan on a rack below the baking stone when you turn the oven on. 
    • Heat a cup of water to boiling. 
    • Have a spray bottle of water ready, set to "stream" rather than "mist". 
    • Open the oven, cover the oven door window with a towel, and slide the bread onto the stone. 
    • Slide out the hot pan and very carefully pour the hot water into it. Quickly remove the towel and close the door.
    • Count to 30, open the door, and spray a stream at the sides of the oven, taking great care to not spray glass or lightbulb fixtures. About three pumps on each side should make some good steam hiss into the oven. Close the door.
    • Count to 30, then spray again. Close the door, reduce the temperature, and set a timer for 15 min for putting in the temperature probe.

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