These days, many of us are looking for ways to pass the long days at home. For some, that means hanging out in the kitchen, happily hunched over a sourdough or focaccia recipe. But for others, spending hours watching dough rise and then waiting for the oven timer to go off seems downright daunting.
Chef Mark Eastman of Chefs’ Haven in Hockessin knows a thing or two about making bread: His shop offers a variety of artisan types, including country rye, French country, sourdough, ciabatta, baguettes and tordu.
Here, Eastman shares his top tips for cooks who might knead some help getting ready to roll on their own homemade bread.
Before you get started, buy a kitchen scale to precisely weigh ingredients instead of using cup/volume measurements. “That’s very important,” Eastman says, because you want include the exact amount, and cup measurements can vary from person to person.
Next, make sure you’re working with high-quality ingredients. Eastman recommends using flour that’s free of bleach and bromate but high in gluten for better elasticity. He says brands like King Arthur Flour and Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour are great options.
Dry active yeast is fine to use, so don’t worry about a bread starter, he says, as this just adds work for home bakers. It’s also important to wait until the second fold of the bread mixture to add the salt. Adding it at the beginning of the bread-making process can hinder the yeast from eating the sugar it needs or even kill it, he says.
Three major factors go into baking bread: time, temperature and moisture.
Even the time of year can affect your bread, Eastman says. If it’s a humid summer, your mixture won’t need as much water as, say, during a dry winter. The dough should be moist, with a “sticky” consistency to help the bread rise better. One tip that isn’t in the recipe books: adding apple cider vinegar to the dough to help with the rise and elasticity.
Also, using less yeast means a longer rise but a more flavorful bread. Placing the dough near a source of warmth, such as an oven, can speed up rising time, he says.
When it comes to choosing which type of bread to bake, Eastman recommends trying one that doesn’t need a lot of folding. Look for something you can bake in a cast-iron pot, too. Start in the oven with the lid on and take the lid off near the end of baking to create a golden crust.
Moisture is also an important aspect of the baking process. No one wants overcooked or undercooked bread, and Eastman says home ovens can be tricky. To keep the oven at the proper temperature and moisture level while bread is baking, he recommends opening the oven and spraying the inside with water, then closing right away to allow steam to build up until the next time you need to spray (usually a minimum of 10 minutes between sprays).
Patience is perhaps one of the most important “ingredients” in making bread, Eastman says. Your first loaf might not be what you expected, but it’s important to keep trying and experimenting until you get the hang of it. “It’s going to take a few times,” he says.
For freshly baked bread, prepared meals and other specialty food items, visit Chefs’ Haven at 1304 Old Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 234-2040, chefshavende.com
Published as “On the Rise” in the July 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.