I can't tell you how thrilled I am that some of you are following along in this series. This week I thought we would talk about rising and baking.
In most recipes, you will allow the dough to rise twice, once before shaping into rolls or loaves and again before baking. You will find some recipes that only use one rising time, and a few that have three rises. so there is always exceptions.
After the dough has been mixed, allowed to rest, and kneaded, grease a large bowl. I usually use a small amount of oil. Place your ball of dough in the bowl and turn it over so that all sides are lightly greased. Cover the bowl with a towel, plastic wrap, or cocked lid. It should not be sealed air-tight so that the dough can expand. Usually recipes then say to sit the dough in a warm place. In Grandma's drafty old house, the back of her wood stove was the perfect place. In our climate controlled houses, you can place it almost anywhere, though avoid the fridge or freezer!
But if it is a cold drafty day, you are wearing a sweater and still a little chilly, your dough will be cold as well. It will still rise, the process will just take longer. If you are in a hurry, find the warmest draft free place possible. That may be a sunny window sill (if not drafty), the top of your refrigerator, or in a warm oven. If using a oven, I like to turn my oven to warm, heat briefly, turn the oven off, and then pop my dough inside (in a heat proof bowl). You don't want the dough to begin baking, just be warm and cozy! The goal is to allow your dough to rise until doubled, which is usually about an hour. But the time varies depending on the heat and humidity, so check in a half an hour - and don't be shocked if it takes an hour and a half. Make a mental note of how big your dough was when you put it in the bowl, so that you know when it has reached double size.
When the dough has risen, it will appear bubbly and soft. If you push your finger into the dough, the indent will slowly refill. Now it is time to punch the dough down, which is just what it sounds! Plunge your clean fist into the ball dough which will cause it to quickly deflate. Form it into rolls or loaves as desired, place dough in your greased pans and allow to rise again until doubled. I have found that solid shortening (such as Crisco) work best for greasing bread pans and baking sheets. I hate shortening and refuse to use it for anything else, but I still keep some around just for greasing pans. After this second rising period which some call "proofing", preheat your oven and slide your bread inside. (Or maybe you already had your bread rising in the warm oven and just need turn up the heat.) Ovens vary but unless you are sure your oven thermostat is off, I'd start with the recipe's stated temperature. For most bread recipes that is between 325 to 375 though the hearth type breads call for higher heat. (And is a topic for another day!) I always set my oven timer for a few minutes less then the recipe states. Size of loaves or rolls and the kind of baking pan (glass, steel, aluminum) can really make a difference on the baking time. Usually you will know that the bread has finished baking when the fragrance begins to fill the house AND the bread is golden brown AND it sounds slightly hollow when thumped.
I am notorious for under-baking bread, as I just can't wait to sink my teeth into what is producing that great smell! Often my loaves are high and perfect, until a few minutes on the cooling rack when they begin to sag - a sure sign of under-baking.
For rolls, check the bottom for a slight golden tone. It easy to over-bake rolls.
I really wasn't trying to get an illustration for this post, but last week I was trying a new recipe and completely under baked the bread. The bread was lovely, golden, and high - but when we sliced into it we found the center was completely raw and it sunk down into a slimy hole.
So, in case you think I have this bread baking things figured out - here is proof that I'm still learning. I was just glad I didn't decide to gift this poor loaf!
Remove your bread immediately from the pans onto cooling racks. If your loaves seem to "stick" to the pan, give it a few minutes to "sweat" in the pan and it should slide out easily. Now is the hard part, waiting for the bread to cool. Bread will continue to bake internally while it cools. According to the experts, you are not to cut bread for an hour or until it completely cools. But how impossible is that!
Since I usually make several loaves at a time, we often begin one loaf immediately even if it slightly collapses. Hot buttered bread, moments from the oven needs to be in everyone's childhood memories at least once!