For my birthday, I went to a multi-grain bread class at the Bosch store near me. It was so awesome! They have free classes at various times but none of those times ever work for me. Since I took the day off work for my birthday, I could attend a class smack in the middle of the day.
I have to give a serious shout out to this store. They have saved me twice now when a part broke on my Bosch... my ancient Bosch to which some parts are no longer available. The store is run by a family and they only sell consistently high-quality grain. The instructor said, "Why would I teach you how to make bread and then sell you wheat that won't work consistently for you?" I'm definitely buying my wheat there in the future.
Anyway, even though my mom baked bread all of my life and I've gotten plenty of experience over the last year, I still learned a few things. I thought I'd share some tips with you that I've picked up in various places.
- Use a meat thermometer to tell when your bread is done. It should read between 195 and 200 degrees. It only makes a tiny hole in your loaf. You know how sometimes your loaf gets overly crispy so you can't tell if it truly sounds hollow? This will eliminate your confusion. Just poke it.
- Grease your pans with oil, not butter. For awhile, I was in the habit of using my fats pretty interchangeably. I've learned which work best for each purpose. If you grease your loaf pan with butter, the loaf is more likely to stick. Same for greasing your hands to handle the dough - use oil.
- Slap the dough a couple of times as you are starting to form it into loaves. It's fun to slap your dough, but it also causes the gluten to relax and you can actually see the dough become more cooperative.
- When your bread comes out of the oven, spray it with water. My mom always greased the top of loaves immediately to soften them. My friend throws hot loaves straight into plastic bags to seal in the steam. I don't do that because I don't want the plastic getting heated. Spritzing the crust with water works beautifully (even better than butter, and without the extra calories) to maintain a soft crust, even if it got hard while baking.
- Spread the leftover grease onto the back of your hands. Okay, so that one's not a bread tip, but I wish I'd learned it years ago. I get really dry hands in the winter - painful, bleeding, rough. All the time I was growing up, I hated greasing pans because then I had to use hot water and soap to clean my hands. In my quest to avoid lotion, I read a reminder that lotion hasn't always existed. In the past, women rubbed some leftover lard, etc., into their hands while in the kitchen. Now when I finish greasing a pan, I rub my greasy fingers on the back of my hands. My fingers are no longer greasy and my skin almost never cracks anymore. It's a great way to waste not, want not.