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.