Vegan Grandma

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fragrant Focaccia and Some Tips on Baking Yeast Bread

I spent a very pleasant day yesterday with wonderful friends- friends I don’t get to see often enough. We went to a nature sanctuary and among other things we watched a pair of eagles on the lake. For lunch my friend made a fresh salad, most of which was made with vegetables from her garden. With the salad she served homemade whole wheat rolls that were fantastic. That inspired me to do some baking today. Baking bread is a very satisfying activity, and who can resist freshly baked bread?

Instead of making a loaf of bread today (I will do that next week), I made focaccia. Focaccia is a flat bread topped with herbs and vegetables. It is popular in Italy, and is related to modern pizza. You can top focaccia with all kinds of things. In Professional Vegetarian Cooking, Ken Bergeron has a recipe for focaccia, topped with red onion, olives, rosemary and garlic.

Today I made a recipe from Cooking With PETA, Great Recipes for a Compassionate Kitchen, by People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, published by Book Publishing Company, Summertown Tennessee, page 50. This focaccia is topped with tomatoes, basil, onions, green pepper, and garlic. The recipe is easy, and of course vegan.

Fragrant Focaccia
makes 8 slices

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon sweetener of choice

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup unbleached white flour

½ cup seeded and chopped plum tomatoes

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup finely chopped onions

1 clove garlic finely minced

½ green pepper finely chopped

Sprinkle the yeast over warm water, and let soften for 5 minutes. Beat in the sweetener, olive oil, and salt with a mixer or wooden spoon. Add the whole wheat pastry flour. Beat, then knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (see Tips for Baking Yeast Breads, below). Cover the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Punch down the dough and knead briefly. Lightly oil a 12 inch round pizza pan. Roll and stretch the dough to fit the pan. Punch holes in the dough about every inch over the pan with the end of a wooden spoon or chopstick. Sprinkle with tomatoes, basil, onions, garlic, and green peppers.

Let rise for 15 minutes. Bake for 12 minutes, or until browned. Cut into wedges and serve.

Some Tips on Yeast Bread Baking
The Staff of Life:For thousands of years, in all parts of the world, bread, in various forms, has been an important food. Bread has been called the staff of life. Bread differs around the world, but the common ingredients are water, and some sort of ground grain. Wheat is the most common grain used. Only wheat flour contains enough gluten (a protein) to make the dough rise. White flour has had the nutritious "germ" removed, and along with it, most of the vitamins and fiber. Whole grain bread is a much healthier choice.

Basic Steps For Making Yeast Bread: Preheat oven, activate or "proof the yeast, add ingredients, knead, rise, punch down, knead and rise again if recipe calls for this, shape, bake, cool.

Always Preheat the oven for at least 10 minutes. Center the shelf for best circulation of heat.
Mix the ingredients thoroughly to evenly disperse the yeast.

Activate the yeast: The first step in making yeast bread is to activate or "proof" the yeast. This is done by dissolving the yeast in warm water and sometimes with sugar. Do not use hot water. This will kill the yeast. The water should be at about 98 degrees F, the temperature of the human body. If the water feels hot, it's too hot. Let the yeast rest for 5 to 6 minutes. The yeast will begin to bubble, and smell yeasty. If this does not happen, try adding a scant teaspoon of sugar per tablespoon of yeast. Wait another 5 minutes. If the yeast still shows no signs of life, the yeast is probably too old.

Yeast must be fresh when used in a recipe. If your bread is not rising well, it may be due to aged yeast. Test the yeast by adding a teaspoon of yeast to 1/4 cup warm water with a little sugar dissolved in it. In ten minutes the yeast should have dissolved and become a frothy liquid. If the dissolved yeast looks like a gray-brown, thin liquid without foam, its probably stale or dead. Throw it away and get more yeast.

Quick-rising yeast does not need the proofing step. It can be added directly to the dry ingredients.

Water: In bread recipes, water stimulates the growth of both the yeast and the development of gluten. It dissolves and activates the yeast, it activates the protein in the wheat flour and blends with it to create a sticky and elastic dough. You don't need any special kind of water, so use it from the tap, unless it is highly chlorinated which can sometimes kill the yeast. If you have trouble getting yeast to work, try using distilled water instead of tap.

Use beer for deeper flavor: You can substitute beer for half the water in the recipe to add a deeper, richer, sourdough flavor.

Use potato water: If you use the water from boiled potatoes instead of plain water, the bread will stay fresher longer.

You can use vegetable broth in place of water will provide a special flavor and make a lighter, crisper crust.

Adding the ingredients: Read through the whole recipe, and make sure you have all of the ingredients on hand. Bring all ingredients to room temperature before using. Yeast needs warmth to do its job.

Measure accurately. Measure dry ingredients in a dry ingredients measuring cup or spoon. First fluff up the flour in its container, and then lightly spoon it into the dry measuring cup. Level off the top with the back of a knife.

If the recipe gives a range for how much flour to use , for example, 4 to 5 cups, begin by using the smaller amount, because the amount of flour needed depends on the protein content of the flour and sometimes the weather. Sometimes the difference can be as much as a couple of cups.

Measure liquid ingredients in see-through measuring cups at eye level. For sticky ingredients, such as molasses, measure them in a metal measuring cup. First spray the cup with vegetable oil spray as the ingredients will slip out easily.

Baking with yeast demands that the ingredients are in a certain proportion to one another and the proper timing is used when adding them, otherwise problems occur. Yeast needs simple sugars in which to ferment, but too much added sugar can kill it. Salt regulates the yeast's activity, but added directly kills it. So make sure you follow the recipe as closely as possible.

Flour: Use bread flour for non-sweet yeast breads. It has more gluten than all purpose. For sweet yeast breads, such as coffee cake, use all-purpose flour, which has less gluten and will produce a more tender bread.

In very humid weather, a 6-cup bread dough recipe may require as much as a cup more of flour, because flour easily absorbs moisture from the air.

Substituting whole wheat flour for white flour: You can substitute up to half whole wheat flour (preferable whole wheat bread flour or kamut flour, (a form of whole wheat flour) for white flour in the recipe. If you use more whole wheat flour than that, the bread may be too heavy.

Always use white flour to dust the kneading surface because whole wheat flour is too course.

When using whole wheat flour in the place of white flour, add 2 tablespoons extra flour for each cup of whole wheat flour because the bran in whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture.
Whole wheat flour makes the bread more chewy and darker.

When using whole wheat flour, add the flour slowly to the water and mix gently as you add the flour. Whole wheat absorbs water more slowly that other types of flour. The bread will be more moist if you do this.

Using other grains: Only wheat flour contains enough gluten to trap the carbon dioxide released by the yeast, to make the bread rise. Yeast breads made only of cornmeal, rye, or oat flour would be much too heavy. You can combine wheat flour with other grains. Use no more than one cup of another grain to three cups wheat flour (whole wheat, all purpose, or both).

To increase gluten in whole grain breads: Add gluten flour. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons gluten flour to a 4 cup bread dough recipe which calls for low gluten flour.

Sweeteners: Use a sweetener that goes well with the grain you are using. Molasses goes well with corn bread, and dark brown sugar or maple syrup goes well with oat flour or rolled oats. If you use a liquid sweetener, use a little more flour in the dough.

Sugar adds flavor and rich brown color to a bread's crust. Table sugar is commonly used, but brown sugar, molasses, jams and dried fresh fruits may also be used. Fruit juices also add significant amounts of sugar. Do not use sugar free sweeteners, unless the recipe is written to specifically include them. Sugar free sweeteners contain chemicals that can damage or kill the yeast.

If too much sugar is added, it slows yeast fermentation. Yeast competes with the sugar for the moisture in the recipe. This leaves the yeast cells without sufficient moisture to grow properly, and the dough doesn't rise as it should. Therefore, sweet breads are usually dense and not as large as sandwich breads.

Adding herbs and other additions: To add herbs to the bread, knead in 1 cup loosely packed minced fresh herbs or two tablespoons crumbled dry herbs during the final kneading (use no more than 1/4 cup minced fresh rosemary, as rosemary is strong).

Cinnamon has a direct effect on the yeast activity and in large quantities it will stop fermentation completely. Do not use large amounts of cinnamon in the dough itself. Use cinnamon in the fillings where it can have only limited effect on the yeast activity. Use only 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per cup of flour in a recipe.

Orange, lemon or grapefruit peel as well as alcohol will have a retarding effect and too much will stop the yeast activity completely. So be careful to follow the recipe.

To add roasted garlic, knead in two mashed roasted garlic cloves during the final kneading.
To add sundried-tomatoes, blot dry six oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes and mince them finely. Mince 1/3 cup black or green olives. Knead in the sun-dried tomatoes and olives during the last kneading.

Soak dried fruit before adding them to a yeast bread recipe. If you don't, they will absorb water from the bread's ingredients, resulting in a dry loaf. To prepare the dried fruit: place them in a saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil under medium heat. Drain on paper towels before using.

Dried fruit and nuts will slow the rising time. Its best to add them right after the dough is punched down after the first rise and before shaping the dough. Knead the dough until the add-ins are evenly distributed.

Fats: Olive oil and margarine are just some of the fats you can use to make a bread tender and moist.

Kneading: Kneading helps develop the gluten which is necessary for proper rising. A wooden kneading surface works better than a plastic one. Plastic surfaces do not "grab" as well. Coat your hands with oil or cooking spray to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands.

Add just enough flour to the kneading board dough and your hands to keep the dough from sticking. Try not to add too much flour as you knead. It may make the dough easier to handle initially, but it will make the bread heavier. The dough should be sticky.
Turn the ball of dough onto the board and cover it with an inverted bowl. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. This makes the dough easier to work with.

Remember to take your rings off before kneading bread , or you will have a mess on your hands.

When kneading by hand, Pat the dough into a ball, which should feel sticky. Flatten the dough and fold it toward you.

Using the heels of your hands, push the dough away with a rolling motion. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat the "fold, push and turn" steps. Keep kneading the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Use a little more flour if the dough becomes too sticky, always working the flour into the ball of dough.
Kneading is complete in about 4 to 10 minutes, or when the dough is smooth, satiny and elastic, and when you poke it, the dough springs back. You know the dough is ready when you can hold it in your hand for 30 seconds without it sticking to your hand.

Cleaning the equipment: For cleaning utensils and equipment used for making bread dough, rinse first with cold water, then switch to warm. Warm water melts the dough and makes it sticky and hard to clean off. Do not use hot water for cleaning. Also, avoid using plastic scouring pads. The pads will never come clean again Do not use a sponge, which also will become clogged with dough.

Resting and rising the dough: After kneading place the dough into a bowl large enough to allow the dough to double in size. Mist or lightly brush oil on the top of the bread to keep it soft and moist. Cover the top of the mixing bowl loosely with a damp, clean cloth or plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Set the dough in a warm, draft-free place. With Active Dry Yeast keep dough covered until it doubles in size, anywhere from 1 to 2 hours

If using RapidRise Yeast, let the dough rest for 10 minutes. It is not required to double in size.

To provide correct rising temperature: The ideal rising temperature is 85 degrees F. Some ways to achieve this temperature are: The dough is ready when you can hold it in your hand for 30 seconds without it sticking to your hand. Fill a heat-proof bowl with boiling water and let it stand while you prepare the dough. Throw out the water, dry the bowl, and let the dough rise in the warm bowl. Or fill a large stockpot with a few inches of tepid (not hot) water. Place the covered bowl of dough in the stock pot, and cover the stockpot. Or, run the dishwasher on the rinse cycle for a few minutes, then place the covered bowl of dough into the dishwasher. Or preheat the oven on warm for a few minutes, and place the covered bowl of dough inside the oven. Or place the covered bowl of dough on a hot radiator with a towel underneath the bowl as well as on top of the bowl.

To monitor the dough’s rise, use a straight-sided, transparent container. Mark the height of the dough at the start of rising.

To determine if your dough passes the ‘doubled in size, stage: It is important to let the dough rise just enough. If it doesn’t rise enough, the bread will be heavy and soggy. If it rises too much, the bread will be full of large holes. Press the tips of two fingers lightly and quickly about ½ inch into the dough. If the impression you made stays, the dough is doubled.

Punching Down: After the dough has risen, punch down the dough to break up large pockets of carbon dioxide. Some recipes will then call for a second kneading, and then some recipes will call for a second rising . This makes a more tender bread.

If the dough rises before it is convenient, punch it down and refrigerate the dough. You can store the dough in the refrigerator as long as overnight. After removing from the refrigerator, Let the dough rest at room temperature for an hour, then bake.

You can freeze dough after it’s first rise. Punch out the air, seal in a zip-lock freezer bag, leaving a little room for expansion. When the dough is frozen solid, remove the air from the bag, reseal, and store in the freezer for up to two months.

Shaping: let the dough rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then shape. The type of bread you are making may vary the shaping process. For regular bread loaves, lightly flour the work surface; shape the dough into a smooth ball. Use a rolling pin to form a rectangle. Beginning at the short end of the rectangle, roll the dough tightly to make a loaf shape. Pinch the seam and ends of the rolled dough with your fingers to seal it closed. Place dough, seam side down, in greased baking pan.

If you are using a recipe that requires a distinctive shape, follow these same basic instructions but shape accordingly.

To make stuffed breads: Roll the yeast dough into a rectangle 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle on a filling such as sliced spinach or soy cheese. Do not over fill. Roll up, pinch the seams to seal, let rise again, make a few steam vents in the top, and bake.

Slashing the tops: You can slash the tops of the bread just before baking with a single-edged razor blade, kitchen shears, or a sharp knife.
Baking: Preheat the oven for at least 10 minutes. Use an oven thermometer for accuracy.

Some recipes call for steaming during the first few minutes of baking to delay the setting of the crust and allow for maximum expansion. To do this, when putting the bread in the oven, throw a cup full of water on the bottom of the oven and close the door.

Allow air space between pans. Place the baking pans several inches apart on the center oven rack.

Oven temperatures may vary, so check your loaves about 10 minutes before recipe says they should be done. Internal temperature should be between 190 F-205 F; baked loaves should be evenly browned.
To test for doneness, tap the bottom of the pan lightly. If the bread is done, tapping will produce a hollow sound. A thoroughly baked loaf will pull away from the sides of the pan and slip out easily.

Do not use shiny pans: Use a dull finish aluminum pan. A dark pan may cool to quickly, and a shiny pan may not cook evenly.

A preheated baking stone will speed the warming of the dough and develop a crisp bottom crust. You can save money on a baking stone by buying unvarnished quarry tiles at a home-supply store.

To bake breads with a thick, crisp crust:Do any of the following. Use bread flour with a 12 to 13 percent protein content. When handling the dough use as little additional flour as possible. Slash the top of the bread just before putting it into the oven (see Slashing the tops, above). Brush or spray the dough with water, before putting it into the oven. Use a heated baking stone.

To avoid a crisp crust: About half way through baking, open the oven door and throw in a few ice cubes to create steam. This will also make the inside of the bread more chewy.
To make a great-looking crust: brush the top of the bread with cider vinegar 10 minutes before the bread is done. Return to the oven for the last 10 minutes of baking.

Some ways to avoid over baking: Do any of the following. Use baking parchment , double the pans to insulate the bottom when the bottom is browning too fast, turn the pan half way through the baking if the sides are browning too quickly. If loaves are browning too much, remove them from the oven and make an aluminum foil "tent" to shield them, and then return them to the oven.

Cooling: Cool bread on a wire rack to prevent it from getting soggy from steam accumulating on the bottom of the pan. Let the bread cool thoroughly before you cut it. The inside of the bread continues to bake once its out of the oven. Also, if you cut the bread while it's warm, you will smash it, making mushy bread.

Storing: Keep bread wrapped and stored in a bread box at room temperature.Seal it tightly and keep it in a cool, dry place. Bread keeps well in the freezer, but not in the refrigerator. Wrap bread tightly in plastic and freeze up to six months. To defrost, wrap the bread in foil and place in a 350 degree F. oven until it is completely thawed. Or wrap the bread in paper towels and microwave until the bread is thawed. Start with two minutes, then repeat at onr minute intervals. Do not microwave too long or this will make the bread tough.

Trouble Shooting:

Strong yeast odor-Avoid over-fermentation. Be sure dough is doubled in size (use finger-top test) .

Sour taste- Avoid adding too much salt. Make sure yeast used is fresh .

Odd or uneven shape Let dough rest for 10 minutes for easier handling/shaping. Be sure bread pan is correct size for recipe .

Crust cracked on top- Reduce flour used in kneading and shaping.

Bread collapsed -Don't let dough continue to rise beyond time called for in recipe. Avoid too high temperature for dough-rising period.

Flat top- Knead as directed in recipe. Avoid too short kneading period. Do not allow dough to rise too long before baking.

Wrinkled crust -Pull dough firmly when shaping.

Soggy crust- Do not keep bread in pan after baked. Remove promptly; let cool on wire rack.

Crust separates from bread -Grease surface and cover dough when rising.

Thick crust -Do not overbake. Bake in correct oven temperature. Keep dough "tacky", not dry.

Tough crust- Use all-purpose flour or bread flour

Bread did not brown on sides -Shiny pans reflect heat, causing insufficient browning. Use glass pans


Grandmother's Food Secrets, by Dr. Myles H. Bader, published by Mylette Enterprises, LLC, Las Vegas NV 89102

The Essential Vegetarian Cook Book, by Diana Shaw, published by Clarkson Potter Publishers

Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tips, by David Joachim, published by Rodale

Professional Vegetarian Cooking, by Ken Bergeron, published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, Eleventh Edition, revised by Wilma lord Perkins, published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston Toronto, 1965