I bake the bread for Molly’s Café and on this chilly day I was thinking about how satisfying it is to warm up the café with the smell of freshly baked bread. I have been baking bread for years. When I was a young hippie mom, I would make 12 loaves at a time to sell and barter and feed my family. Then I would put in everything but the kitchen sink– wheat germ, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, of course whole wheat flour. Here in Turkey my options are more limited, but often I still add pekmez (a grape molasses) as sweetener, bulgur for extra crunch, a little yogurt if there is only a little left in the container, potato water left from cooking potatoes (yeast loves it).
So today I was also thinking about how bread works. An essential component of bread is yeast. You can get dry or wet yeast. Right now I am using wet yeast, and since I had to buy a whole carton of it, I keep it in the freezer. Truthfully, I was not sure if it would be ok, but it is. I get out a block whenever I need it. Yeast is a living organism. It feeds off the sugar and breaks down the starch molecules into sugars. As it does so, it creates ethanol alcohol, which evaporates, and carbon dioxide. The latter is what makes the bread rise. This is actually a kind of fermentation. The recipe I use has several risings– one is the sponge, there are two more in the bowl (actually, I shorten it to one), and one more in the pan. This allows the bread to turn out a little sweeter.
Recipes call for the yeast to be dissolved in warm water. This is important, because if the water is too hot it will kill the yeast and if it is too cool, the yeast will not wake up. You should test the water with your finger before you put in the yeast.
The flour used in the bread is important, as it should have good gluten. I finally found bread flour at a place in Rami, an area of food wholesalers. I buy it by the 50 kg. However, when I was using the borek flour, it worked ok. The flour feeds the yeast and the yeast raises the bread. Whole wheat flour makes the bread a little heavier, though I add white flour to alleviate that.
As I said above, I often add other ingredients. These include oats, bulgur, corn flour, even leftover rice. The sweetening can be sugar, pekmez, or honey. The original recipe calls for milk powder, which I do not have around. I may add a little yogurt or even some cooled scalded milk, or not add any milk products, in which case it is vegan bread 🙂 Some breads, such as challah or bagels, call for eggs, which make a richer bread. Some people add walnuts or olives to their bread, but since mine is for sandwiches or toast, I don’t use those.
Bread, unlike pastry, likes to be handled. The more you handle it, the better it rises.
Some people ask if I use a bread machine. No! First, it does not produce the amount or the kind of bread I want. But mostly I believe bread responds to the thought put into it. Perhaps the yeast is tuning in. I know that when I am not fully into making the bread, it often turns out too heavy. It is calming to knead the bread and the smell as it is baking is heavenly.
It actually does not take that much effort to make bread. It takes maybe 10 or 15 minutes to mix up the sponge and maybe 15 minutes to knead it. After that, it just needs some time to rise. And when you are done, you have lovely homemade bread to serve.
I am pasting the recipe I use below. As I noted above, I usually don’t add milk products and I skip one rising. Since I use it for sandwiches, I pat it into pans and cut it into shape. This recipe fills four big pans and each pan cuts into eight sections. Afiyet olsun!
Tassajara Yeasted Bread
This is the bread I used for everything, sandwiches and toast.
6 cups (1.5 litre) lukewarm water
2 tbsp (30 ml) yeast
½ – ¾ cup (100 – 15- gr) sugar
7 – 9 cups (850 – 1000 gr) flour (preferably whole wheat, but white is fine)
*Can also add about 1 cup (120 gr) fine bulgur or 1 cup (120 gr) corn flour instead of one cup of flour
*You can also add up to 2 cups of yogurt instead of the liquid if you have some you want to use up
*If you have water from cooking potatoes, yeast loves it, so you can use that as all or part of the liquid
*I often use pekmez or honey instead of sugar, about the same amount
Dissolve yeast in water. Stir in sweetening. Stir in enough flour to make a thick batter. Beat well with a spoon (100 strokes). Let rise 30 to 60 min.
2 1/2 tbsp (40 ml) salt
1/2 – 1 cup (240 ml) oil
6 – 8 cups (700 – 800 gr) more flour
Fold in salt and oil. Fold in additional flour until dough comes away from sides of the bowl. Knead on floured board, using more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking, about 10-15 min, until dough is smooth. Let rise 30 – 50 min.
Shape into loaves. I put it in pans and cut it accordingly to make panini sized bread. Let rise 20 min.
Bake in 350 F (180 C) deg oven for 30 min for small loaves to one hour for big ones. Remove from pans and let cool.
Original recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book