Discovering the secrets of home-baked bread

Making, baking, and breaking bread may indeed be the touchstone of life, but to Bert Porter the recent revival in breadmaking at home is 50 percent memory. Remembering the aroma of grandmother's home-baked bread brings back some wonderful nostalgia, Mr. Porter says. But grandmother's bread-baking was a major project, taking about 10 hours from start to finish. Today Mr. Porter's easy method takes only 4.

Breadmaking is very creative, he says. No two people, even using the same basic recipe, will produce identical results. Some of the personality, the spirit of the baker, goes into every loaf, roll, or muffin. A vice-president who started as a salesman for one of the oldest flour companies in the country, Bert Porter is probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. Knowing as much as he does about flour and its uses means that he is also an expert on breadmaking.

Semiretired, he is still responsible for the quality of King Arthur flour, which he guards as carefully as Major Grey guards the famous chutney recipe.

Not that there are many secrets when it comes to King Arthur flour and why it costs a bit more than other flours and is different from the others. King Arthur flour is not bleached and never has been. It has more gluten, which is the protein part of the grain. Most all-purpose flour is milled from a blend of soft and hard wheat, but King Arthur is milled only from hard spring and winter wheat, the kind that gives bread the greatest volume and texture.

Here are some pointers from Mr. Porter's fund of knowledge of bread. If you have never made bread, they will help take away some of the mystique about breadmaking. How to knead

Kneading is folding the dough over on itself and pushing it away with a rocking motion until it looks smooth and feels elastic and satiny.

Fold the outside edge of the dough over on itself toward you and push the dough away with the heel of your hand. After every push, turn the dough a quarter of the way around and fold it over toward you. Then press it with the heel of the hand. Repeat in rhythm.

While kneading, you will occasionally have to sprinkle more flour on the board to keep the dough from sticking. But when it has been kneaded enough, it should not stick to either board or hands.

Now place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning it over in the bowl to grease the entire surface. Be sure to use a bowl that will not be more than half filled when dough is placed in it. Cover the bowl with a towel and set in a warm place from 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until double in bulk. From 78 to 82 degrees F. is best for a warm place. After rising

To be sure your dough has doubled in bulk, press a finger deeply into it. If the impression remains, the dough is light and ready to be panned. Do not let it rise too much, because it will result in a yeasty taste. Punching down

Punch dough down by plunging your fist into the center of it. Fold the edges of the dough over from the four sides to the center and punch again. Punching it breaks up the large gas pockets that make holes in the bread.

Divide dough in half, shape it into two loaves, and place in greased bread pans. Let rise about an hour or until double in bulk. Baking the bread

To let the heat circulate freely, do not place pans too close together. The first quick rising in the oven is called "oven spring." This takes place during the first 10 minutes of baking.

If oven temperature is right, the bread does not brown during this time. It is done when loaves shrink from the pan and sound hollow when the top crust is tapped with the finger.

When baked, remove from pans immediately and place on cooling racks. Do not cover when cooling -- this makes the bread soggy. If soft crust is desired, brush the top with melted shortening. Be sure bread is completely cold before storing.

Bread freezes perfectly. Place it in a cellophane bag when cool, seal end, and place in freezer. To defrost, remove from freezer, let set in the sealed bag at room temperature until defrosted. Defrosting in the sealed bag retains moisture and flavor. Basic White Bread 1 cup water 1 cup milk 6 tablespoons butter or margarine 2 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons salt 1 package active dry yeast 5 1/2 to 6 cups King Arthur flour

Combine water, milk, and shortening in saucepan and heat until lukewarm. Let set until shortening becomes soft. Pour lukewarm liquid into mixing bowl, add sugar, salt, yeast, and 2 cups of flour, and beat for 2 minutes with electric beater at medium speed.

Gradually add rest of the flour, stirring by hand, until the dough pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.

Place dough on floured board, knead 7 to 8 minutes, let rise in greased bowl until double in bulk, punch down, divide in half, place in 2 greased bread pans, let rise until double in bulk, and bake in preheated 375 degree F. oven for 45 minutes. Oatmeal Bread Supreme 1 1/2 cups milk 1/2 cup water 1/4 cup margarine or oil 1 cup rolled oats 1 egg 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 cup molasses 2 packages active dry yeast 1 cup raisins, optional 4 3/4 to 5 1/2 cups King Arthur flour

Combine milk, water, and shortening in a saucepan and heat until quite warm. Add rolled oats, stir, and let set until lukewarm. Pour into mixing bowl, add egg, salt, molasses, and yeast and beat 2 minutes with electric beater. Add raisins if desired. Now gradually add the rest of the flour, stirring by hand, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.

Place dough on lightly floured breadboard or countertop and knead for about 8 minues, adding only enough flour to the board to keep the dough from sticking. The dough will be stickier than white bread dough.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning over to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down, divide in half, form into 2 loaves or 1 loaf and rolls, cover, and let rise until double in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Mr. Porter's familiarity with breadmaking comes to the fore when people ask him questions about why their home baking has been less than perfect.Here are some of the questions he is asked most frequently, with his answers. Why does my bread taste so yeasty?

Because it has had too long a period for rising, probably in too cool a place. If you want a yeasty, sourdough flavor, let it set overnight in a cool place at about 45 degrees F. Why is my bread heavy on the bottom?

Because the oven heat has been uneven, too hot on the top and too cool on the bottom. How can I make my bread rise higher?

Put more dough in the pan or use a smaller pan. Why is my bread so dry?

There are two basic reasons for dry bread. The first is overbaking, and the second is the addition of too much flour, either in the bowl or in the kneading process. Try gradually cutting down on both the baking time and on the amount of flour used. Why is whole wheat flour bread so much heavier than white?

Because there is no gluten in either the bran or the wheat germ in whole wheat flour. Therefore, bread made with all whole wheat flour will be heavier than that made with part whole wheat and part white flour. The greater the proportion of white flour, the lighter the bread will be. Why is gluten important in breadmaking?

Because gluten is what makes the bread dough become elastic as you knead it. It gives the bread its texture, because as the gas is generated by the yeast, these strands of gluten stretch, trapping the gas in the loaf and causing the bread to rise.

After about 10 minutes of baking, the heat from the oven sets these strands of gluten so that the loaf holds its shape.

If gluten in your flour is weak or of poor quality, you may have large air holes. The loaf will not be as high, and often it will fail or "flatten out" in the oven.

For more bread recipes, write and ask for three recipe booklets from King Arthur Flour Company, 160 Dascomb Road, Andover, MA 01810.

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