Monday, September 27, 2010

Tools of the Trade Re: Bread Making



Bakers have a slue of tools to use when making bread. Bread making is a craft that is generally perfected over time and uses precise measurements to ensure the perfect loaf. Let’s take a look at just a few tools of the bread-making trade.

Measuring

As stated above, baking anything, let alone bread, requires exact measurements of different ingredients in order to get the right characteristics for the type of loaf you are trying to create. Many bakers rely on good measuring utensils, such as a standard measuring cup, measuring spoons and even various sizes of bowls that have notches in them to let them know how much ingredients are to be added.
There are some bakeries that even go as far as using beakers and test tubes to measure out exact quantities of ingredients. On that note, few bakeries even go as far as to look like science labs you may find at NASA. With high-tech tools, these bakers take their breads to the next level of production.
On the flip side, some well seasoned bakers only rely on proportions of ingredients, like your grandmother used to do, where one “cup” of flour is equivalent to the little blue coffee mug she had in her cupboard. While this is not the best way to make bread, it certainly worked then and should work the same now.

Mixing

In the old days, mixing tools extended as far as your reach; literally. Hands were the primary mixing devices utilized by bakers and even though some of the measuring tools have gone techie, hands are still a common denominator when it comes to making bread.
Other bakeries have invested in huge stand mixers that have a mechanical “arm” to do the mixing for them. These machines have even been scaled down to fit on the common counter top to allow efficient home mixing. While some bakers rely on the feel of dough between their fingers to know when it is done, stand mixers usually require constant supervision. The up side to a mechanical mixer is that your arms do not fall off after making large quantities of bread.

Dividing

Once you have a large ball of dough, making sure you get the exact amount in each bread pan can be difficult to achieve with the naked eye. For this practice, scales are used to divide the bread by weight. Some bakers use the standard balancing scales with a set of weights on one side while others go the digital route and tare the scale each time. Either way is sufficient for making a great loaf of bread.

Rising

Once the bread has been mixed and divided, it is time to let it rise. In the old days, bakers would let the dough sit out in the sunlight to rise. Now, there are special cabinets and even entire rooms built dedicated to helping dough to rise. These cabinets have a warm air humidifier installed, to keep the air warm and moist, allowing the yeast to break down as much sugar as possible. Again, for home baking, a simple bowl covered with a towel will do the trick, but be sure to keep it away from any air conditioning vents otherwise the bread will not rise properly.

Baking

As far as baking goes, there are two schools of thought. The traditional oven method is most commonly used in bakeries that produce large numbers of loaves each day. Single person bakeries, otherwise known as your kitchen, have opted for the set-it-and-forget-it bread maker. Both devices achieve the same end result, a beautiful and delicious loaf of bread.
While there are many different tools to use when making bread, the process is generally the same. The main thing is to find what works best for you and get consistent at making your favorite loaf. It doesn’t really matter what NASA is baking or what high-tech robotic arm is mixing the dough, what matters is that you get to enjoy your hard work and that, is the best thing since sliced bread.

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