The aroma of fresh-baked yeast bread can do more for the soul in winter than cuddling under a warm blanket with a great book.
And baking bread can be simple, it’s just time-consuming when you have to knead it for 20 minutes, and let it rise a couple of times.
When you make batter bread, you get a delicious-tasting loaf of bread in half the time. Batter yeast breads are easy to mix and rise quickly. They don’t have to be shaped because they take on the shape of the pan or bowl in which they are baked. The bread can be baked in cake pans, casserole dishes, pie plates, coffee cans, muffin tins or a cast-iron skillet.
It’s important to remember to fill containers half full to allow space for rising. Because the dough is not kneaded, the bread turns out coarser in shape and texture than bread prepared with kneaded dough. Since it has a higher ratio of liquid to flour and other dry ingredients, beating the batter a few minutes develops the gluten, though not as much as a kneaded bread. The dough rises only once, in the bread pan.
Batter breads generally do not rise as high as kneaded breads, but they provide a wonderful smell of yeast bread throughout the house, and the taste is delightful.
Oatmeal is one of the ingredients bakers use when making batter bread, and Quaker Oats has some tips that will make your bread baking experience satisfying on a winter day.
Making batter breads essentially involves three phases: dissolving the yeast, mixing the dough and varying the crust.
DISSOLVING THE YEAST
Be sure the yeast is fresh by checking the expiration date on the package. Test the temperature of the liquid ingredients with your hand (they should feel warm, but not hot) or test with an instant-read thermometer. The temperature should be warm (105 to 115 degrees for active dry yeast; 95 degrees for compressed, fresh yeast). Liquid that is too hot will kill the yeast; liquid that is too cool will not activate the yeast.
In a small bowl, combine the yeast with all or a small amount of the warm liquid. Let mixture stand 3 to 5 minutes until it gets foamy and expands. In many recipes prepared with quick-rising active dry yeast, the yeast is not dissolved in the liquid. Instead, the yeast is mixed with the other dry ingredients in the recipe. The liquid is heated to 120 to 130 degrees, then stirred into the dry ingredients. The remaining ingredients are then mixed in. This combination of warmer dough and the quick-rising yeast means the first rising can take as little as 20 minutes compared to 60 or 90 minutes for traditional active dry yeast or compressed, fresh yeast.
MIXING THE DOUGH
Warm mixing bowl by filling it with hot tap water. Pour out water and dry. Place dissolved yeast in warm bowl. Add remaining liquid ingredients (any liquid not used to dissolve the yeast, eggs, honey or molasses); mix well. Add fat, sugar, salt, spices or herbs and about two-thirds of the flour called for in the recipe.
Beat vigorously with a large spoon or with a standing electric mixer fitted with the flat or paddle beaters for at least 1 minute.
The results will be a thick, rough, lumpy batter not stiff enough to hold its shape. Gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour (about a quarter cup at a time) to make a stiff, but slightly sticky dough.
Continue beating 5 to 8 minutes until dough appears to smooth out and stretches as the spoon or beater works through it. Turn dough into greased loaf pan. Cover and allow dough to rise to the top of the pan. Bake as directed in recipe.
VARYING THE CRUST
For a golden brown crust: Before baking, brush the top of the bread loaf with egg wash (egg mixed with milk or water). Or, before baking, brush the top of the loaf with milk.
For a softer crust: As soon as the bread is removed from the oven, brush the top with melted butter. Wrap hot baked bread in a clean kitchen towel; cool completely wrapped in the towel.
To avoid random cracks on top of baked breads, just before baking slash the top of the bread with a very sharp knife. This will allow the steam to escape.
The batter bread most of us are familiar with is beer bread. It often comes out ugly, but the taste is delicious. You may not need a recipe, but here’s one if you do.