Friday, December 12, 2008

A Bread Machine!

Santa Came Early This Year! I’ve been tossing around the idea of a bread machine for several years now. I know that many people use breadmakers to do the kneading while shaping and forming the dough themselves. That feature sounded interesting to me. I’d heard good things about the Zojirushi machine, but it is rather expensive. I didn’t want to spend money on something I might not really use. So I hesitated and never did anything.

A few weeks ago my son & his family came down for a visit. In between playing with my two darling granddaughters, I chatted with my daughter-in-law about a whole range of subjects including breadmakers. She told me that she had one and used it all the time. Well, that conversation got me from just thinking to talking about eventually getting a machine. I must have blathered on & on about it because about a week ago I got a surprise gift from my husband. Yup, you guessed it. He bought me a Zojirushi and two bread machine cookbooks. He’s always buying me things that I just won’t get for myself.

Of course, I had to try it the day it arrived. Boy, what a disaster! I followed the manual’s recipe for white bread, but the loaf sunk and never got fully cooked. I was beyond discouraged. I know what successful bread dough is supposed to feel like, but I hadn’t checked on the dough during the kneading process. I stupidly thought I didn’t have to. A few days later, I tried just making dough for dinner rolls. This time I opened the top during the kneading process to check on the dough. Everything was fine, and the rolls turned out great. I felt a little more confident.

A few days ago I tackled a 100% whole wheat bread. I used coarsely ground Stone Buhr whole wheat flour and used the recipe for a two pound loaf. I knew from experience that whole wheat flour seems to just suck up liquid, so I watched the dough carefully during the kneading process. I ended up adding about two extra tablespoons of water, one teaspoon at a time. I kept pinching the dough, and when I thought it was OK, I let the machine finish its work. I felt pretty confident but was prepared for a squat, super dense & heavy loaf. When the beeper sounded, I could hardly believe my eyes. The loaf was perfect! We’ve been munching on it ever since. It is so hearty that one slice toasted can keep you going all morning. I think it will become my weekly standard.

And, of course, the good news is that I think I will be able to use the machine both for dough making and for complete loaves. Beth Hensperger’s "The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook" has been a great help. It’s not only full of great recipes that I can’t wait to try, but it is a source of invaluable information.

A Disclaimer: Because I’m still getting used to my new toy, I have followed the recipes exactly as written and have used the full measure of salt called for. Once I become more comfortable with the machine, I will reduce the sodium content, probably by only half.

A Note on Baking Low Sodium Bread: Salt serves an essential purpose in bread making. Beth Hensperger explains it well: “Salt is very important in bread not only as a flavor enhancer, but in controlling the rate of yeast fermentation. In the presence of salt, the dough rises at a slower rate and the salt strengthens the gluten. Loaves with no salt collapse easily. The addition of salt results in a good crumb, better keeping qualities, and more flavor.”

In simple terms, salt keeps the yeast under control. Yeast dough made without salt or with a lower salt content will rise much faster and could collapse. A good rule of thumb to remember is to reduce the amount of yeast the same as the amount the salt has been reduced. For example, if the salt content is reduced by half, then reduce the yeast by half. Obviously, if you’re making totally salt free bread, you need to reduce the yeast by at least half and watch the dough carefully during rising. It will probably rise at close to double speed, so you need to check it often. Do not let it over proof or it will collapse once it starts baking.

Even if you have lowered the amount of yeast used, it still is important to watch the dough as it is rising to avoid over proofing. Unless you let the dough take its time rising in the cool environment of a refrigerator, you can’t just walk away and forget it. Dough made with less salt is not quite as forgiving as regular dough. For a more thorough understanding of dealing with salt free or low sodium bread making, please read this discussion from Cooking for Engineers.

I’ve found that I get better and more useful information from bread making cookbooks and websites than low sodium sites. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there regarding working with low sodium yeast dough. Here are some of the inaccuracies I’ve found on low sodium websites: “Removing salt alone will still give you a bread that rises but not very well. Salt in bread is not the sole leavening agent... And it won't rise to the commercial level you're accustomed too." It’s pretty obvious from those statements that the role of salt as a yeast inhibitor is not understood. Yet these statements come from low sodium sites purporting to give advice on baking with yeast dough.

Some suggestions for making low sodium breads in a bread maker:
  • Reduce the amount of yeast as much as the salt has been reduced. If making salt free dough, reduce the yeast by at least half.
  • Until you're completely comfortable making low sodium loaves in your machine, use a recipe for the smallest loaf your bread maker can handle. You don’t want to run the risk of the dough over-proofing and spilling over the bread pan and onto the heating elements.
  • Choose one recipe for a basic loaf to experiment with. Reduce the salt each time you make the bread. Reduce the salt in increments of ¼-½ teaspoon at a time and make notes about the results. Be sure to reduce the amount of yeast accordingly.
  • If baking in the bread machine, be sure to check the dough frequently during both kneading & rising. If the dough seems to be rising so quickly that it might overflow the pan, remove it and continue with rising, shaping, & baking manually.
  • Use the dough setting only; shape & bake the dough manually. However, check the dough during both kneading & rising. If the dough seems to be rising so quickly that it might overflow the pan, remove it and continue with rising, shaping, & baking manually.
  • Consider using a biga, poolish or other pre-ferment to add flavor to your low sodium bread. Sourdough starter is another good choice. Find recipes made especially for bread machines so you can follow the correct techniques. Lean, French type breads really benefit from a pre-ferment or starter.
  • Consider using recipes that call for buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream. The acid/sour component adds a flavor kick that low sodium breads lack.
  • Sugar, fat, and dairy all add flavor to low sodium bread, so try to use recipes that have some of each.

  • Additions of spices and herbs (dried or fresh) can make bland low sodium breads more flavorful. Dried onion flakes and chopped chives are great, as are dill seed and rosemary. Additions of nuts and seeds (especially if they're toasted) add both flavor and textural interest, again something that's often needed with the blander low sodium breads.
  • Beth Hensperger recommends adding at least 1-2 teaspoons of vital wheat gluten to each cup of white bread flour and 1-1/2 to 3 teaspoons per cup of whole grain flour in bread machine recipes. If you can’t find this product at your local grocery or natural foods stores, both Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour sell vital wheat gluten online.


Mama Squirrel said...

Wow, Santa was good to you! ;-)

As far as texture and rise go--I've had good success with some of the no-salt machine recipes in 500 Low-Sodium Recipes. (The Basic recipe is written wrong--way too much yeast; but some of the others are very good.) Flavour is another story, though--nothing wrong with the recipes, it's just the whole issue of "selling" no-salt bread.

And I tried just cutting the salt back in my favourite ww bread machine recipe--as you note, you need to adjust the yeast as well, and I didn't, so it fell in. Absolutely inedible.

The Hard Rolls recipe from that book turned out very well, although I think I added more liquid. I've made no-salt pizza dough from Don Gazzaniga's books, and that was fairly successful both in terms of baking and in "customer appreciation."

OhioMom said...

WOW! Those rolls look absolutely fabulous, congrats on conquering the machine :)

giz said...

Great tips, as usual. The bread makers are totally dangerous - especially when you can fill the machine and set it to go off before morning and have that bread ready and smelling incredible when you crawl out of bed.

shambo said...

Mama Squirrel, thanks for your input. I've read the cookbook you referred to and worried about the amount of yeast in the recipes. I'm also concerned (and disappointed)that many of the low sodium cookbooks & web sites don't adequately discuss the special techniques needed to successfully deal with low salt or no salt yeast doughs. They just give recipes with no discussion about the relationship of salt to yeast and the adjustments that must be made. The danger of overproofing is very real.

Linda, thanks for the congratulations. I'm starting another whole wheat loaf in a few minutes. It should be ready in time for a mid-afternoon snack.

Giz, I'm not there yet, but eventually I'd like to have a couple of dependable low sodium recipes I can just fix & forget. I think I need to play around with my machine for a bit more. The last thing I want is to wake up to bread dough that has crept over the top of the pan and flowed onto the heating elements.

Matt said...

(Can you tell I just found this blog today? LOL)

I've been baking all my own bread since my CHF diagnosis, at least, after I discovered that a local provider's bread was mislabeled and "45mg sodium per slice" really should have been "280mg sodium per slice."

As I detailed in a newer post, I can use salt substitute. I have found that the "NoSalt" brand (in a white container) works 1-for-1 for table salt in all bread baking. Other substitutes I've tried did not. I've used it in pizza crusts, white bread, wheat bread, and now sourdough (my new everyday bread) and it works perfectly. It does rise about 20% faster than doughs with salt, so you could cut back on the yeast by about 20% to make the times work out the same.

It's very difficult to eliminate all the salt in recipes without salt substitutes, but I've generally found that I can reduce the table salt to 1/2 teaspoon per loaf (1200mg sodium, or about 75mg per slice, not counting sodium in other ingredients like milk or eggs) while cutting the yeast by the same proportion. I found that trying to go to 1/4 teaspoon or less produced dough that took too long to rise because it had too little yeast to start.

Long rising times make more flavorful bread, but that doesn't always fit with my schedule.

Salt inhibits yeast reproduction, so omitting it makes the yeast go crazy. They over-multiply, the dough balloons up too quickly, and it "overpoofs," meaning that the yeasts have used up all the food in the dough before the loaf gets into the oven. Ideally, you want the yeasts to be at the peak of their strength when you put the dough in the oven for the best rise.

(I make dough in the bread machine but shape by hand and bake in the oven because the bread machine can't give ovenspring—the huge rise you get when dough hits a hot oven. The bread machine has to heat up with the dough in it, so it gets less spring. Plus, shaping makes a more structured dough with a better crumb. It's easy to do.)

Also consider adding ingredients with small amounts of sodium that will regulate the yeast without table salt. I use King Arthur Flour's Pizza Dough Flavor, adding one tablespoon per pizza dough (or breadstick) recipe. It adds 180mg of sodium but, with salt substitute, regulates the yeast just perfectly. Without salt substitute, you'd want to cut back about 1/3 on the yeast, but the taste is much better.

Make a pound of pizza dough in your bread machine. Roll it out on parchment paper into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 1/2-inch to 1-inch long strips. Brush with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil, some seasoning of your choice (I use salt substitute and freshly ground black pepper), and 1/2 to 1 ounce of italian cheese (freshly grated real parmigiano-reggiano from Italy is only 140-180mg of sodium per ounce; the domestic stuff in the green can is three to four times more salty). Bake in a preheated 450°F oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then you have hot breadsticks!

(This actually works even better with pre-made refrigerated dough, because the heat of the oven on the cold dough makes it rise a bit more and they're fluffier. But even with dough just out of the machine, this is easy and tasty. Enjoy!)

shambo said...

Matt, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your willingness to share your low sodium cooking experiences. And I'm particularly happy that you "get" the role salt plays in inhibiting yeast when making yeast doughs. As you've indicated, it's necessary to reduce the amount of yeast in a dough recipe if you're also reducing the amount of salt. This principle isn't always understood or explained by many low sodium cookbooks or websites.

I'm glad you've had success using salt substitutes. Unfortunately, my husband's doctor has discouraged their use because of the potassium. And, the few times I used them, even just a dash, I did not care for the metallic taste. Everyone's needs and reactions to products are different, that's for sure.

I'm another one who prefers to let the bread machine do the hard work and then shape & bake in the oven. I feel I have more control over the dough that way. I can adjust it perfectly if it needs more liquid or a bit more flour. And I can gauge exactly when it needs to go into the oven, no over proofing.

Matt said...

I wish you all the best in doing without the salt, because I tried for a month or two to just "get rid of the taste for salt" and it simply didn't work for me, especially since I have to eat out at times (and with family). I know everyone can't use them.

So for yeasted doughs, I think it's even more important to rely on good, high-flavor ingredients that have low amounts of sodium to help with both problems at once. I sometimes make a Parmesan Black Pepper bread that's to die for with grilled cheese, and the sodium in the cheese plus a bit of that Pizza Dough Flavor adds about 800mg of sodium to the loaf, and that's really all the sodium that you need to regulate yeast (as long as you cut down on the yeast in the original recipe some, which was measured to overcome all that sodium plus the added salt).

I completely agree that many of the "salt-free baking" recipes I've read seem to have no understanding of the chemistry involved in baking. Have you made any sourdough starter yet? Starter is just flour, yeast, and water, and you can keep it in the fridge with only occasional attention. Turning it into bread requires only starter, flour, water, and salt for flavor (and yeast regulation).

Faster sourdoughs add more yeast, but for low-salt baking, you'd want to use fed starter with almost no added yeast and a nice slow rise in the fridge. It might take a day to rise (unattended), but if you have adjusted to the taste of bread without salt (or very little salt), it should be an easy way to make it.

Let me dig up some links for you:

Sourdough basics including how to make your own starter

Another easy starter recipe

Fast sourdough (with added yeast)

Slow-rise sourdough with no added yeast

Since yeast goes crazy without salt, you'll want to consider cutting back on the sugar in those recipes too, and be careful with adding citric acid (sour salt, but not really a "salt") to the dough because yeast loves it and will go even crazier.

One last tip: You can make dough in the machine and then just cover the pan and put it in the fridge for a slow rise, but the machine heats the dough to about 80°F as it kneads, so it will be somewhat warm going in and will still double, in the fridge, within an hour. You'll need to stir or punch it down at that point and then you'll get the slow rise you want. If yours doesn't double within an hour or two, then you don't have to do that.

Hope it helps!

shambo said...

Matt, again, I appreciate your comments. I agree with you on enhancing the flavor of lower sodium breads. I make a lot of sandwich/hamburger buns and then freeze them for later use. I always flavor them with different herbs and/or spices. Your Parmesan & pepper sounds good. I often make either rosemary & black pepper or chive & black pepper. It's amazing how that little bit of flavoring makes you forget that the bread is actually lower in sodium.

I've got to agree with you on sourdough bread too. It has a good flavor even when the sodium content is really low. I've got some starter in my fridge that's waiting to be fed.