Baking Tassajara Bread

The Tassajara Bread Book

This book is the only bread baking book I will ever use. I have a copy from 1978 that I purchased at a library book sale for .50. I could not believe my luck.

I got this book home and started baking from it immediately. A little background on my baking habit – I have been baking yeast breads since I was 11. That’s 50 years of baking. I used to wow my family on Sundays with homemade crescent rolls and other delights. I tried a new recipe almost every week. I love the sweet dough from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I love baking. I will bake anything.

My son has said that the option of not having flour in the house does not exist with me. And it doesn’t. I feel totally defeated without flour.

Over the years I have made horrid bread. But I keep trying, hoping that magical recipe will appear and I will keep using it. In the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown, I have found it. The basic yeast bread recipe is adaptable to whatever flours you want to use and for whatever purpose you intend the bread. I bake bread because I like to, but also because I don’t like store bread and sometimes I just can’t afford it.

Today I’m doing the French Bread from the book. This uses twice the amount of yeast as the base recipe and I’m using brown sugar as the sweetener, being out of honey. I also am using all white flour from King Arthur Flour. I only use King Arthur Flour. When I lived in Canada there was a mill in New Brunswick that turned out the most wonderful whole white flour I have ever used and I bought it in 20 lb bags. I will have to see if I can find that somewhere.

The Tassajara Bread is basically a two-step bread. Water, yeast, sweetener and between 7 to 9 cups of flour are mixed together. You add the flour 1 cup at a time, which I think is very important. This way you get all the flour mixed into the water/yeast/sweetener. Then, when enough flour has been added to make a mud-like mixture – you beat it 100 strokes. You will note this is all by hand. No bread machine would survive in my home. I have two hands – and that’s my bread machine. Those 100 strokes turn the somewhat lumpy dough into a marvelous mixture with no lumps at all. Then I set it to rise for 70 minutes.

At that point oil, salt and more flour is added. At least another 6 to 8 cups and 2 to 3 more for kneading. It needs to be kneaded for 15 minutes. I have cheated and got my son to do this. Ha! I do it too – but it is a lot of kneading. I like to hum or sing while I’m doing it and I always set the timer.

Then it’s back to rising. You can let it rise twice or just once, depending on the texture of the bread that you want. I’m usually in a hurry (!) so I let it rise an hour the first time and then cover it back up while I get ready to shape the loaves.

With the French Bread, I make four large loaves and put them two on each cookie sheet. I grease the cookie sheet and add some cornmeal sprinkled over it. Shaping the loaves is something I love doing.

I roll out 1/4 of the dough until it’s about 15 x 10. Then I roll it up starting at the long side into a roll. The way I keep it from having holes or coming apart is I take my fingers and push each roll down into the dough, like dimples. Then, when the roll is complete, I push the ends into the roll as far as I can and pinch the ends together. This makes a nice, neat loaf that won’t have an odd shape or come apart when you want to slice it for sandwiches or toast.

They raise again. I’d say about 1/2 an hour and then I cut slashes in the tops with a sharp knife. This is to let the loaves rise in the oven. I also heat the oven to 350 degrees – the recipe calls for 375 but it also says that if you have an electric oven, lower the temp by about 25 degrees. Once the rising is complete I pop it in the oven and wait for heavenly bread to come out. It is my most favorite food.

Bread is magical. Homemade bread can feed a family for days and I always freeze at least 2 of the 4 loaves I’ve baked. They will last in the freezer for at least the next two to three weeks, provided nobody eats them first.  Or provided I don’t eat them first …………bread



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