Category Archive: Bread Baker’s Series

The Bread Baker’s Series

I love to bake bread. I enjoy the process of mixing the individual ingredients and using my hands to transform it into an elastic, smooth dough. I feel a great sense of satisfaction when the risen loaves are transferred to the oven and begin to fill the farmhouse with the unmistakable scent of fresh baking bread.

My grandmothers were both bread bakers.  Perhaps that fact has something to do with my love for baking fresh bread.  While they were both accomplished bread bakers, they each had their own unique style.

My paternal grandmother baked bread out of necessity. With nine children to feed and a farmer’s budget to consider, baking her own bread was the best option. She was a baker of the artisan style. She didn’t weigh ingredients and didn’t need to. There was no recipe to consult or cookbook to draw from. Instead, her instincts told her when to add more flour and when to brush the excess aside. She believed in doing everything by hand, kneading each batch until her hands told her that it was perfect. Watching her mix, knead, and bake bread was like watching an oil painting take shape. It was pure art.

My maternal grandmother became a bread baker later in life. She baked bread for the pure pleasure of sharing a fresh loaf with her family.  Friday was bread baking day and we were always eager to see what type of bread she had made for us. She was a baker of the scientific method. She weighed everything meticulously and followed instructions to the letter. She chose to use a bread machine to produce her loaves. She made notes regarding each loaf, adjusting the recipe each time she made it until it was perfect.

I tend to fall somewhere in between them on the bread baking scale. I do weigh my ingredients in order to ensure a well-made loaf and to correctly calculate the carbohydrates in each recipe. I’m the first bread baker in my family to be pairing insulin boluses with bread slices for my child.  For me, measuring and precision are an integral part of the bread baking experience.

Yet I do love to experiment in the kitchen.  So, when our sponsor Kitchen Kneads offered to send me a few tools of the trade to evaluate, I jumped at the chance.  I’m always looking for new ways to improve my bread baking skills and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to do so.

When the products arrived, I got busy baking.  Then I got busy thinking as I often do when kneading a batch of bread dough.  What if I worked with Kitchen Kneads to share a whole series of bread baking posts with you?  Together, we could share tips, tricks, and recipes to help us all become better bread bakers.

Whether you are an accomplished bread baker or an aspiring one, I hope that you’ll join us to learn more about bread baking.  I also hope that you’ll share your best bread baking tips, biggest challenges and frustrations, and favorite recipes right here.  If you have a bread baking question or challenge, please leave a comment.  I’ll do my best to include each of them in the series.

The Bread Baker’s Series is a creative collaboration between 1840 Farm and Kitchen Kneads.  To make sure that you don’t miss any of the posts in The Bread Baker’s Series, subscribe to our posts via Email and become a member of The 1840 Farm Community on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  You can also follow the Kitchen Kneads blog via Email, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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The Best Way to Store Fresh Bread

When I mentioned a few days ago on our Facebook page that the best way to store fresh bread was in a cloth bag, I had no idea that so many of my readers would ask the logical question:  “why?”  When I started to type the short answer, I realized something.  There is no short answer.

TheBestWaytoStoreFreshBreadBrandedInstead, there are several reasons why I believe that fabric provides the most hospitable environment for freshly baked bread.  Those reasons are altogether simple and complex.  The reason for my initial statement was the simplest of all:  my friend Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily had decided to treat me to one of her beautiful handmade linen bread bags.

A few weeks ago, we had been discussing the impending winter.  While neither of us was happy to accept that we would soon need snow boots to travel out to our coops and barns, we were both looking forward to a few cold weather pastimes.  One of those was baking fresh homemade bread.

I enjoy making bread, especially during the winter months.  During the long, cold winter here in New England I don’t need much encouragement to turn the oven on and commit to baking something for an hour or more.  Bread provides me with the perfect excuse to do just that.  Add in that it also provides fresh bread for my family to enjoy and you can see why I look forward to my cold weather bread baking.

I have been baking bread for my family for over a decade.  During that time, I’ve learned a few tricks, had a few failures, and developed several family favorite recipes.  I’ve also learned a thing or two about how to store fresh bread in order to preserve its texture and extend its shelf life.

There are several ways to store fresh bread.  There are also several decisions to make before doing so.  The first decision involves the use of refrigeration.  While it seems logical that fresh food will remain fresh longer if kept in the refrigerator, bread should always be kept at room temperature.

Obviously, the spoiling process occurs much more quickly in a loaf of fresh bread.  Whether it is of the homemade variety or purchased from a local bakery, these loaves typically do not contain preservatives.  Without preservatives to slow down the process, it doesn’t take long for the fresh bread to spoil.

In spite of this, bread should not be stored in the refrigerator.  The cold environment in the refrigerator will dry out the bread and ruin its texture inside and out.  In fact, a process called retrogradation takes place when bread is stored in the refrigerator.  Retrogradation is the term used to describe the crystallization of the starch molecules in bread or other baked goods.  This transformation is six times more likely to happen at refrigerated temperatures versus room temperature.

While the risk of molding is greater in a loaf of bread held at room temperature over a few days, refrigeration for a few hours can completely destroy the crust and crumb of a loaf.  When this information is taken into consideration, it seems obvious that fresh bread that will be eaten quickly should be stored at room temperature.

If you find yourself with fresh bread that will not be consumed in a day or two, fresh bread can also be frozen.  Frozen loaves should be allowed to thaw at room temperature and reheated briefly in a warm oven.  The warmth of the oven will help to liquefy the starch crystals within the bread and help to return its crust and interior to its original texture.

Multigrain Brioche loaves at 1840 FarmNow that we understand where we should keep our bread for both short term and long term storage, it’s time to decide what to store the fresh bread in.  Our best options include bags made from plastic, paper, or cloth.  Each material serves a different purpose and results in a different outcome for the loaf of bread inside.

First, let’s start with plastic.  I can’t help but think of sandwich bread when picturing a loaf stored inside a plastic bag.  There’s a perfectly good reason that sandwich bread is so closely associated with its plastic bag storage.  Soft sandwich bread and its plastic bag are a perfect match.  The plastic bag serves two purposes with regard to the spongy textured sandwich bread.

Because the plastic does not breathe or allow for the passage of air in or out of the bag, the loaf inside tends to resist drying out.  This helps to maintain the loaf’s soft texture.  During the natural process of trace amounts of moisture dissipating from the loaf, that moisture is actually trapped inside the plastic bag.  Therefore, at least some of that moisture is returned to the loaf, helping to keep it soft.

For sandwich bread, a soft crust and spongy interior are both admirable traits.  For a fresh loaf of crusty Italian bread or a French baguette, it is a disaster waiting to happen.  The same trapped moisture that keeps the sandwich bread moist destroys the crispy texture of the bread’s crust. Ironically, as the crust softens and overly chewy

Baguette or crusty loaves are better suited to storage in paper or cloth bags.  Both of these offer an environment that allows the dissipating moisture to exit.  While the bread will eventually become stale, the texture of both the exterior and interior will stand a much better chance of lasting a day or two.

Between paper and cloth, cloth is the clear choice for me. In my experience, loaves stored in paper tend to dry out more quickly than those stored in a cloth.  In fact, before I received a linen cloth bread bag from Lisa, I sometimes kept bread wrapped in a clean kitchen towel.  I think that you’ll agree that her beautiful bread bag is a bit more stylish.

In the end, great bread isn’t meant to be kept long term.  It’s meant to be enjoyed as soon as you bring it home.  The Europeans are far ahead of us on this tradition.  They view day old bread as a component for soups, bread puddings, croutons, and bread crumbs.  Day old bread is the very reason that Panzanella was born.  What better way to utilize slightly stale bread than by allowing it to absorb the delicious flavors of tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and vinegar?

Of course, I am speaking of Europeans who live in urban cities and can walk to any of a number of bakeries that produce delicious breads that can be purchased and enjoyed daily.  I don’t have that luxury, so I try to keep a loaf or two in the freezer and store today’s fresh bread in a cloth bag for tomorrow.  If I store it well, I have the option to warm it slightly in the oven and serve bread that is still delicious.  Of course, if it’s heirloom tomato season, I just might make Panzanella.

Now that you know how to store fresh bread, you need a good recipe for a homemade loaf and a fabric bread bag to store it in.  You can see the recipes from our Bread Baker’s Series and browse the selection of bread bags from Fresh Eggs Daily.


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Mocha Bread

I think that by now it may be painfully obvious that I love to cook and bake.  What may not be so obvious is my extreme tendency to try and make something less than ordinary into something extraordinary.  My complete inability to leave well enough alone.  It’s true.  Sometimes I just can’t bear to leave a recipe the way it was written.

I’ve never mentioned my inclination to alter any and every thing that finds itself in less than perpetual motion on our farm.  I also have grown to enjoy the challenge of finding a use for what we have on hand.  I find myself wondering if there is something I could do with the chaff left over from roasting coffee beans before I come to the conclusion that sending them to the compost pile is good enough.

Every week, I happily haul twice as much recycling to the curb as I do garbage.  We recycle all that our town will accept, we compost, and we feed healthy food scraps to our chickens and goats.  In fact, we’re left with only coffee grounds and eggshells in the compost bin now that we can feed orange peels and banana peels to our dairy goats as a morning treat.

I’ve turned old closet doors inside the farmhouse into re-purposed desks.  I’ve taken a reciprocating saw to a kitchen cabinet in order to reassemble it and relocate it within our farmhouse kitchen.  I might as well admit that this habit also spills over into my cooking and baking.

One day as I was making a batch of our whole wheat bread for the following morning’s breakfast, I decided to tinker.  I find it difficult not to.  I adjust seasonings, I change ingredients in the hope that I might improve on an already great recipe.  Sometimes I succeed.  Sometimes my family looks at me inquisitively and then poses the inevitable question.  “Why didn’t you just make it the same way you did last time?”

As I was mixing up the batch of bread dough, I wondered if substituting brewed coffee for a portion of the water the recipe called for would give this bread a little more depth of flavor.  I happened to have a little brewed coffee languishing in the morning’s pot, so I had nothing to lose by giving it a try.  My latest recipe experiment was underway.

My family never questions why I chose to play mad scientist with this recipe.  They’re too busy enjoying it.   While the original wheat bread was good, this new version is great.  It is a family favorite toasted with butter and fresh strawberry jam.  My success with this recipe doesn’t do much to stifle my desire to tweak recipes.  In fact, it makes me wonder.  What recipe could I experiment with today?

Mocha Bread
makes enough dough for two generous loaves

I adapted this recipe from the Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread loaf in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  If you haven’t tried making bread using their method, do yourself a favor and give it a try.  You’ll be glad that you did and your family will soon be enjoying fresh bread every day!


16 ounces (2 cups) brewed coffee, room temperature
10 ounces warm water
2 Tablespoons (18 grams) granulated yeast
1 Tablespoon sea salt
5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons honey
6 1/2 cups (780 grams) All-purpose flour

Place all ingredients in a container with a lid (not airtight) that will hold at least 5 quarts.  Mix using a wooden spoon or spatula until well incorporated.  Cover and set aside to rise for 2 to 3 hours.  The dough will rise and then collapse to create a flattened top.

At this point, the dough may be used immediately or refrigerated until ready to use.  Unrefrigerated dough will rise quickly but can prove to be very sticky and difficult to work with.  Refrigerated dough is much easier to handle but requires additional rising time in order to come up to room temperature.

When you are ready to form a loaf, prepare a loaf pan by lightly greasing with your preferred method.  I like to use a silicone pan placed inside a standard loaf pan.  The silicone prevents the loaf from sticking and yields a loaf that has a softer crust.  The standard metal loaf pan makes the silicone liner sturdy enough to move easily without causing the dough to fall.

Remove half of the dough from the container with damp hands.  Shape the dough into a ball by stretching and turning the dough while pulling the edges to the bottom of the ball.  Elongate the round dough into a loaf shape and place it in the prepared loaf pan.

Dip a serrated knife in water and use it to score the top of the loaf several times to allow for more even rising.  Allow the loaf to rise until it reaches the top of the pan.  Unrefrigerated dough can achieve this in about an hour’s time.  Refrigerated dough may require a rise of several hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

When the dough has risen sufficiently, place it on a rack in the middle of your oven.  If you have a baking stone or pizza stone, this is a great time to put it to good use.  Using a stone will ensure even heat and yield a more consistent loaf.

Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the loaf for 40 minutes.  Remove the loaf from the pan and return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes.  You can test the loaf for doneness by tapping it on the bottom.  If it makes a hollow sound, the loaf is fully baked.

Remove the baked loaf from the oven and place it on a clean kitchen towel.  Wrap the loaf in the towel and allow it to cool completely.  Cooling the loaf in this manner allows the escaping steam to produce a softer crust.  If you prefer a firmer crust, simply allow the loaf to cool unwrapped on a wire rack.

Once the loaf is cool, store it in a paper bag at room temperature for up to four days.  The remaining dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week.  In our house, it never lasts that long!

This recipe is part of The Bread Baker’s Series, a collaborative series of posts from Kitchen Kneads and 1840Farm. It’s easy to make sure that you don’t miss a single post in The Bread Baker’s Series. Subscribe to The 1840 Farm Community Newsletter or join The 1840 Farm Community on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Be sure to subscribe to Kitchen Kneads Email updates and follow them on Facebook and Pinterest.

By following Kitchen Kneads and 1840 Farm, you’ll be the first to see each post in our collaborative Bread Baker’s Series. If you have a great bread baking tip or recipe to share, we invite you to leave a comment and add your voice to the conversation!

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