c) some waiting (from weighing the ingredients to taking it out of the oven, this takes about 2.5 - 3 hours. And it's too hot to eat, then!)
On the pro side, you can individualize it using different sorts of flour (I'm not an expert on gluten-free, but maybe that'll work too!) or grains or ground grains. This will give you guidelines as to what will probably work. I've tried this with wheat, rye, spelt, buckwheat, wholemeal or regular, it works all fine with me (see step 1 on rye, though).
As with any sort of bread-making or bread-baking, much depends on where you live (altitude, climate). I live in Germany, so what I'm talking about here applies to those conditions (and products!). This also means that measures in this Instructable are metric and Celsius; I'll try to find correspondent US measures for you.
Step 1: Ingredients
- 750 gr (26.46 oz) flour.*
- 500 ml (16 2/3 fl oz) buttermilk, handwarm
- 3 teaspoons sea salt, moderately heaped
- 1 packet PLUS 1 teaspoon dry yeast**
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Prepare all the ingredients to be at hand and at room temperature except for the buttermilk, which should be around 35° Celsius (~95° F) or: nice and warm to the touch. I heat the buttermilk on the stove, where you might notice a slight aggregation of the "white gooey liquid" separating itself from a yellowy, watery liquid. I hope the picture explains that one better... but anyway, you can re-mix it with a spoon or whisk if that happens. Closely watch the temperature and don't measure it when those two liquids are separate, because the white will be cooler than the yellow. Don't ask me why...
* In the baking process pictured here, I use and mix buckwheat ground grains and wholemeal flour, wheat wholemeal flour, and regular spelt flour (type 630 for German users). You can also use rye flour or rye wholemeal flour, but it should not exceed 50% of the flour used, since it's quite heavy and the yeast probably won't suffice to let it rise.
** here in Germany, yeast packets contain 7 gr (0.25 oz) dry yeast and the packaging says "for 500 gr flour" (17.64 oz). This is the size I use. I have not tried this recipe with fresh yeast, packets of which contain 42 gr (1.5 oz) of fresh yeast over here.
Step 2: Mix it, baby!
When the buttermilk is nicely warm, but not hot (otherwise the poor yeast beasties will die a death of heat), pour it into the bowl and stir it all together with a spoon. It won't be long until you'll have a thick blob of goo on that spoon and its handle (see last picture in this step), and you'll come only so far with stirring that way before you'll have to switch to kneading.
PS I do this by hand because I've quite come to like it. I don't have a fancy kitchen machine or bread baking apparatus, it's all very basic with me, I'm afraid. But kneading by hand also lets you appreciate the texture of the dough better, and you'll be able to decide whether it needs more flour, or more liquid.
Step 3: Because I knead the dough
Back to business, though. After you've come just about as far as you'll get with stirring, switch to kneading. I keep the dough in the bowl at first because it's very un-homogeneous and I don't want the buttermilk running all over the place. When kneading in the bowl, I notice that most of the time a bit of the flour will remain seperate from the dough in the bottom of the bowl, so when I switch to kneading on the table top, I use that to keep the dough from sticking to the table top. This is an important step: Always dust the table top with a little flour (1 - 2 table spoons), or the dough will stick to it, making it very difficult to knead it.
The feel of the dough should be warm, a little moist, but not sticky. Rule of thumb: If too sticky, gently add (one table spoon at a time) flour. Most of the time, 2 or 3 table spoons do the trick. If too dry (dough won't come together, stays in crumbles), moisten your hands a little with water, buttermilk or milk, and go on kneading, repeat if neccesary. It doesn't work well to add liquid to the dough in any other way, in my experience.
Okay, at one time or another then, you'll come to the point when you have the right dough texture. This means it doesn't stick to your hands or the table top and you can knead and handle it quite comfortably. From this moment on, you knead for structure. The more wheat flour in the dough, the longer you should knead it. This activates the glueing components of the wheat flour (which is whwat gluten is, by the way), improving the structure of the bread. Normally, I knead vigorously for about 5 minutes after I stop adding things to get the right texture.
If using a rye-containing mixture, you can reduce that time by about half, because rye flour's glueing components don't need to be activated that much. I don't know about buckwheat or spelt flour, but with my 5 minutes of kneading I get nice results.
Listen to you hands: they should tell you that the feel of the dough changes a little during this kneading process. It should get even less sticky and soft/firm at the same time. A bit like play-dough after you handled that for a while. It's hard to explain, much easier to feel for yourself, so go experimenting!
Step 4: Waiting...
Put the bowl somewhere warm and free of draughts to let it rise. You can use your oven heated to about 35°C (~95°F) if you want - but my oven for example has 50°C als minimum heat, and that would be too hot: The rising is done by the little yeasty beasties and they die at that temperature, so my dough wouldn't rise in my oven! You can leave the door of your oven open a little to make it cooler than the minimum heat, but that wastes a LOT of energy.
Fortunately, I have an alternative which works very good.
Step 5: ...but how long?
If the rising is done, gently lift the dough out of the bowl - you should be hearing a slight whispering of dough bubbles bursting, thats a good sign! A bit of the dough will probably stick to the bottom of the bowl: get that out, too.
Then start kneading again. Those bubbles I spoke about just now need to get out of that dough for the second rising. Some people even smash their dough from above head high to the table top. It's a most satisfying step of the baking process.
After another 2 minutes or so of kneading, form a loaf or place the dough into a baking form. The dough is firm enough to bake without a form but I like to use one. If you do, take a non-stick or silicone one (one that'll take the heat - see next step) or take a regular one and grease it. You can cover the "grease layer" with a little flour, but in my experience greasing the form's enough.
Cut the top of the bread with a serrated knife to a uniform depth of about 5 mm (.2 in) in a pattern of your choice: two or three diagonal strokes or in one down the center, parallel to the long sides, or whatever. This helps the bread rise more uniformly. Again, mist the dough's surface with a little water.
If you want to decorate your bread with grains, now's the time. They'll stick on better if you mist the bread a little more and really press them into the dough gently but firmly. Use just enough pressure not to deform the loaf or surface. Still: Be prepared for quite a loss of the grains when taking the bread out of its form after baking, or when cutting it. If anyone has a hint for better stickyness, let's hear it!
Cover again with the dish towel and place again in that nice, warm place for about another 30-45 minutes.
Step 6: Baking
Temperature should be as high as your oven can manage. With mine, that's a little over 250°C (482°F). Up to 300°C (572°F) should do the bread good, above that I don't know (but maybe there's a baker around here who can tell). If your oven doesn't go that high - no worries. 180-200°C (356-392°F) suffice to bake bread! Just heat it to that and follow the next steps regardless.
Before putting the bread in, boil some water (about 2 cups or 500ml, this doesn't need to be exact) and pour it into that oven-safe dish or bowl. Please be very careful doing this because of the oven heat, the dish's heat and the steam. Don't be alarmed or jump when the water sizzles when you pour it. It's better to place the dish in while pre-heating, since placing a cold container in a hot oven and then filling it with boiling water could damage the container or even burst it. After pouring the water, close the oven door as soon as possible to catch the most of the steam inside the oven.
Above that water dish place the bread on a baking tray or grill tray. It should be on the lowest rack that's possible considering the water dish should go under that (this is so that the steam can enclose the bread from all sides). Now, too, take care to put the bread in quickly so as not to lose heat or steam.
Bake at this high heat for about 10 minutes. Then do open the oven door to let a good deal of the heat out. If you have an oven thermometer, let the heat drop to about 180-200°C (356-392°F). The rest of the time, the bread should bake at that temperature. This takes about 25-30 minutes. Yes, these are a lot of "about"s, but really this is not rocket science. Relax and give it a try. I like to bake at less temperature for longer, since I don't like my bread too dark. Your taste might differ.
If you've used a form, you can take the bread out (gently. I had it happen to me that the top of the bread tore off, leaving the lower half in the form. After that, I always greased my form.) after about 20 minutes and bake it for the rest of the time without its form to give a nice crunchy crust. Spraying it on all sides with water before putting it back in helps, too.
The bread's ready if it sounds hollow when knocking on the underside. Take good care of your hands doing this, that bread is HOT!! If it doesn't sound hollow, give it another 10 minutes, then try again. If you feel it's getting too dark for your taste, cover with aluminum foil (and maybe bake it at a lower temperature next time!)
I let it cool down in the open oven, this also is good for the crust. Remove the aluminum foil before this, otherwise you'll get no crust at all.
Sorry, almost no pictures for this step since I forgot to take them this time. I'll make good on that next time I bake (which should be on the weekend). Stay tuned!