It was a year ago today that I made my first post on this blog, my old favorite recipe for gumbo. It's been a fun year, and I hope to be able to keep this blog going for years to come.
I revisited bread baking in January of this year. In the past, I had problems killing off my yeast after the first rise. It took very little to do it, too. It might happen if I let it rise too long the first time. Or, it could be caused by mixing in other ingredients, like olives or nuts. I would often let the dough rise in a slightly warm oven, and if the oven was over 90 degrees, there went my yeast. I wouldn't kill all of it off, but the dough would rise about half as much as it should and then stop, resulting in heavy bread. It was the bread of unhappiness. And while it didn't happen every time I made bread, it happened often enough to be discouraging.
This year, I did some research, and discovered the benefits of making a sponge before you mix the dough. The sponge, also called a poolish or pre-ferment, is a wet mixture of flour, yeast and water that is allowed to ferment. The original source I used suggested leaving it in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, so that's what I've been doing. Other sources suggest 2 hours to overnight. At the other extreme is the No Knead Artisan Bread method, that allows you keep the sponge refrigerated for up to a week. Using any of these methods results in bread with deeper flavor that keeps longer. Best of all for me is that I have gotten a terrific rise with every single loaf. I'm starting to feel confident that I can experiment a lot more with my bread baking and still have reliable results. Pre-ferment, for the win!
This is the recipe for the buns that you see in the lead picture on The Great Grilling Post. It's a variation on Rosemary-Walnut Bread. In addition to sandwiches, these buns are great cut into bread sticks to have with pasta or soup.
Shaped buns ready for a second rise.
Herbed Ciabatta Sandwich Buns
1-1/4 cups warm water, about 105 F
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup bread or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried, chopped
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, or 1 tablespoon mixed fresh herbs
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour (or more as needed)
Add water, yeast and all-purpose flour to a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with dough hooks. Combine well with a fork, cover, and let stand for 45 minutes to an hour. The mixture will bubble up and expand.
Add herbs, vital wheat gluten, sugar, salt, and olive oil and combine with a fork. If you're using a stand mixer to knead the dough, start it now. Add remaining flour, stopping to combine the last of the flour with a fork if necessary. Let mixer knead dough for 5 minutes on low, or turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. If dough is sticky, add more flour as necessary, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time.
Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for an hour, until doubled in size.
Shape dough into a rectangle about the size of 6 slices of bread, 8 x 12 inches. The dough will be slightly less than 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 6 buns. Transfer buns onto an oiled baking sheet. Reshape, and place with edges touching. This will give you a defined edge when you're ready to cut the buns open for sandwiches. Allow to rise until doubled in thickness, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Bake for 10-12 minutes.