Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Slow-Rise Batter Bread (Yeast Bread)

Those of you who are regular readers know that my husband, Don, is a cardiac patient. He is on an low-fat, low-cholesterol, ultra-low-sodium diet to protect his heart and to keep his blood pressure low. Most commercial breads, even whole-wheat breads, carry a higher sodium content per slice that he should consume. He also tries to keep his overall carbohydrate intake down. He especially avoids the high-glycemic carbohydrates from the likes of white flour or potatoes, because these most reduce the effectiveness of some of his medications.

For all these reasons we have learned to make our own bread. Some readers may be surprised to read that bread does not need added salt, but it's true. In fact, yeast works better without sodium in its environment, so making unsalted bread is a snap. We have also learned how to work making home-made bread into our busy lifestyles on a regular basis. We both have jobs and many other projects and commitments in our lives. 

The answer for us has been to make a slow-rise batter-bread. Advantages are that the loaves do not have to be kneaded, a time-saver, and the dough can be left to rise on any cool spot in the house, which is great because warm spots are in short supply in our home at this time of year. Most of these ideas come from King Arthur Flour's 200th Anniversary Cookbook, my absolute favorite cookbook for basic baking, ever. (I know I plug King Arthur products a lot, but it's due to genuine love for the company's products). 

Making the bread is actually quite fast, the rising time is quite long, so by planning ahead and making the bread on a routine basis, I spend very little time on the bread, can get all kinds of other things done while it rises, yet have fresh, hot loaves available almost whenever we need them. Side-benefits are terrific flavor from the slow rise of the regular (NOT fast-rising) yeast and the delightful smell of bread rising and baking in the house. The resulting bread has a rich, almost sourdough-like flavor, too. 

This method uses less than the usual amounts of yeast and flour found in regular bread recipes. Before you start, you should know how to measure flour accurately, an essential part of baking bread. Visit this link for details and even a video on how this is properly done. I also recommend you know how to proof yeast. Search online for all kinds of how-to articles and videos, or read up in the King Arthur Flour cookbook or some other resource. 

You will also need two bread-loaf pans as well as the ingredients mentioned in boldface below.

When I wake up in the morning, I start the bread before I go to work. But if I want bread in the morning, I start it in the evening before bed. There are all kinds of variations on this recipe, but the basics are like this: take two cups of lukewarm water (about 80°F), one or two tablespoons sugar, and mix them together in a pre-warmed large glass or ceramic bowl. I add 1 teaspoon REGULAR yeast and proof the yeast. Once I am satisfied that the yeast is active, I add two cups of flour, usually 1 3/4 cup whole wheat and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. I make all kinds of substitutions and variations at this point; I am quite a creative baker. For ideas on how to do this, I suggest consulting the King Arthur Flour cookbook, or leave comments below and I will respond as best I can. 

After you've stirred the flour(s) into the water,cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and leave the dough, called a "sponge" at this point, in a cool spot to rise. The ideal temperature is between 50 and 60°F. For even slower rising times and an even more flavorful bread, the sponge can be covered and left to rise in the refrigerator, but I rarely have room in the 'fridge for this.

Several hours later, after getting home from work, for example, you will find that the sponge has risen considerably or "doubled." Mix two more cups of whole wheat flour into the sponge to form the batter for your bread. If you like and can eat (optional) salt in your bread, this is the time to add it in (no more than a tablespoon at most; Don and I skip this step for the sake of our health). Another option, whether you add salt or not, is to add a tablespoon or two of (optional) vegetable oil. The benefit of the oil, besides its flavor, is that the bread will keep a little better after it is baked. The disadvantage is the added fat and calories, so the decision is up to you. The bread should come out fine whether you add the oil or not. Stir them in with the flour just until they are well mixed and no more. 

The batter will be quite wet compared to a regular bread at this point. This is what makes it a batter bread. It does not require kneading and will come out quite moist, but its texture will be much coarser than a kneaded bread. Let the batter rest for a few minutes while you grease the two bread pans.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans, cover the top of the pans with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and leave to rise again. Since your yeast have multiplied and are hopefully very active at this point, your dough should rise a little faster. How long will mostly depend on the temperature. When I am cooking supper in the evening, for example, I will often put the loaf pans on the counter near the stove or oven to benefit from the added warmth. Let the dough rise until it is about an inch or so from the top of the pans. 

Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put the pans on a rack in the middle. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove and turn out on to a rack to cool. 

My final recommendation is to allow the loaves to cool completely before eating or storing them. This is the hardest part, because the bread will smell so wonderful, you won't want to wait to cut into the loaves. They will keep better and be moister if you do not allow the steam to escape from them by cutting into them too soon, however. 

Sometimes I care; sometimes I can't resist temptation.

Wrap the uneaten portion of your loaves tightly and store on the counter at room temperature. Use within the next two to three days. Other options are to store them in the refrigerator or freezer, but this will rob your loaves of moisture. 


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