My First Tassajara Bread

It's just out of the oven. It smells like divine. It's beautiful like heaven. It tastes like earth. I'm so proud. Kneading and baking your own bread is so inspiring... Give it a try. Do not be intimidated by the length of the recipe. It's long because the author explains every single detail to make the work easier for first time bread makers. In the book, there are also some drawings illustrating most of the different steps. When you are used to the method, it doesn't take that long to bake the bread. And it is really worth it. 

Tassajara Bread Recipe (for two loaves), from The Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown (p.14-29; p.34)

I. Mixing up the sponge:
3 c lukewarm water (85-105 degrees)
1 1/2 tbs yeast (2 packages)
1/4 c sweetening (honey, molasses or brown sugar)
1 c dry milk (optional) (I haven't used it)
4 c whole wheat flour (substitute 1 or more cups of unbleached white flour if desired) (I've used only whole wheat flour)

1. Measure 3 cups water and put in a good sized-bowl.  Lukewarm does not feel warm or cold on your wrist.Sprinkle the baker's yeast over the water and stir to dissolve. For faster rising and lighter bread, use an additional package of yeast (about 3/4 tbs).
2. Add 1/4 cup sweetening. You can rinse the measuring cup out in the water if you wish. Two tbs would be quite sufficient for the growth of the yeast; amounts larger than 1/4 cup may be added to make more of a breakfast bread.
(3. Add dry milk and stir to dissolve.)
NB 1-2-3-: Complete dissolving is not necessary, as the ingredients will become well mixed when the batter is thicker. The bread will have a grainier taste and a coarser texture if the dry milk is omitted. In this case, less flour will be needed.
4. Then add whole wheat flour a cup or so at a time, stirring briskly after each addition. As the mixture thickens, begin beating with a spoon, stirring up and down in small strokes and in small circular strokes at the surface of the mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. After 4 cups of flour have been added, the mixture will be quite thick but still beatable - a thick mud.
5. Now beat about 100 times until the batter is very smooth. Do this at the surface of the dough, ducking the spoon under the surface, then bringing it up above the surface, pulling up the batter in a circular motion. The dough will become more elastic as you do this and air will be incorporated into the sponge.

II. Setting of the dough to rise:
1. Cover the bowl with a damp towel to keep off drafts. Set in a warmish place (about 85-100 degrees). In the summer almost any place might do. Otherwise set it on the top of stove over pilot light, on a shelf above a hot -water heater, in a oven with a pilot light, or in an oven that has been on for several minutes and then turned off. If the bread is rising in a cooler place (70-85 degrees), it will rise more slowly. If it's frozen, it will not rise at all but will when it is thawed. Heat above about 125 F will kill yeast, which is what happens when the bread is baked.
2. Let the dough rise for an hour or 45 minutes.

Advantages of the sponge method:
The sponge method, omitted in most bread recipes, is advantageous in many ways. The yeast gets started easily in the absence of salt, which inhibits its functioning, and in the presence of abundant oxygen. Gluten (or elasticity) is formed when the sponge stretches in rising, which would otherwise be the product of your labor in kneading. This added elasticity makes it easier to incorporate the remaining ingredients and to knead the dough. Even a 10- to 15- minute rising at this point will facilitate the remaining steps.

III. Folding in oil, salt, and dry ingredients
4 ts salt (or less if, like me, you use less flour; 3 ts)
1/3 cup oil or butter
3 cups whole wheat flour (I've used 2 cups whole wheat)
1 cup additional whole wheat flour (or unbleached white flour) for kneading (I've used 1/2 cup whole wheat)
Folding in is the method used to mix from this point on. Do not stir! Do not cut through the dough! Keep it in one piece as much as possible. This will improve the elasticity and strength of the dough. 

1. Sprinkle in the salt and pour on the oil. Stir around the side (or bottom) of the bowl and fold over toward the center. Turn the bowl toward you a quarter turn with your left hand and repeat folding until oil and salt are incorporated. 
2. Sprinkle dry ingredients on the surface of the dough about a 1/2 cup at a time. 
3. Fold the wet mixture from the sides (and bottom) of the bowl on top of the dry ingredients. Turn the bowl 1/4 turn between folds. When the dry ingredients are moistened by the dough, add some more dry ingredients. Continue folding. After adding 2 cups of wheat flour, the dough will become very thick and heavy, but don't be intimidated. Continue folding in an additional cup of flour until the dough comes away from the sides and bottom of bowl, sitting up in the bowl in a big lump. The dough is ready for kneading when it can be turned out of bowl in pretty much of a piece, except for a few remaining scraps. Take time to scrape the bowl (as well as the spoon), and lay the scrapings on top of the dough on floured board. It is not necessary to wash the bread bowl at this point; just oil it lightly.

IV. Kneading the dough:
The kneading surface, a board or a tabletop, should be at a height on which your hands rest comfortably when you are standing straight. You need to be able to exert some downward pressure. Keep the surface floured enough to prevent the dough from sticking during kneading. The purpose of kneading is to get the dough well mixed, give it a smooth, even texture, and further develop its elasticity.

1. Flour your hands and sprinkle some flour on top of the dough
2. Picking up the far edge of the dough, fold the dough in half toward you, far side over near side, so that the the two edges are approximately lined up evenly. 
3. Place your hands on the near side of the dough so that the top of your palms are at the top front of the dough. 
4. Push down and forward, centering the pushing through the heels of the hands more and more as the push continues. Relax your fingers at the end of the push. Rock forward with your whole body rather than simply pushing with your arms. Apply steady, even pressure, allowing the dough to give way at its own pace. The dough will roll forward with the seam on the top, and your hands will end about 2/3 of the way toward the far side of the dough. Removing your hands, see that the top fold has been joined to the bottom fold where the heels of the hand were pressing. 
5. Turn the dough a quarter turn; clockwise is usually easier for right handed people. Fold in half toward you as before and rock forward, pushing as before. 
6. Turn, fold, push. Rock forward. Twist and fold as you rock back. Rock forward. Little by little, you will develop some rhythm. Push firmly yet gently so that you stretch but do not tear the dough. 
7. Add flour to the board or sprinkle it on top of the dough as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the board or your hands. As you knead, the dough will begin stiffening up, holding its shape rather than sagging; it will become more and more elastic, so that it will tend to stretch rather than tear. It will stick to your hands and the board less and  less until no flour is necessary to prevent sticking. The surface of the dough will be smooth and somewhat shiny.
8. As you continue kneading, you may stop occasionally to scrape the bread board and rub dough off your hands, and incorporate these scarps into the dough. Then reflour the kneading surface.
9. When you have finished kneading, place the dough in the oiled bread bowl smooth side down, and then turn it over so the creases are on the bottom. The oiled surface will keep a crust from forming on the top of the dough. 
10. Cover the dough with a damp towel and set it in a warm place.

V. Rising and punching the dough:
1. Let the dough rise 50 to 60 minutes, until  nearly doubled in size.
2. "Punch down" by pushing your fist into the dough, as far as it will go, steadily and firmly. Do this maybe 15 or 20 times all over the dough. It will not punch down as small as it was before rising. Cover.
3. Let rise 40 to 50 minutes, until nearly doubled in size. If you are short for time, the second rising may be omitted. The loaves will be slightly denser.

VI. Shaping the loaves:
1. Start the oven preheating. (Adjustment of oven temperatures may be necessary. Electric ovens, especially, should probably be set 25 degrees lower than indicated temperatures.)
2. Turn the dough onto the board. If it is of the proper consistency (i.e. moisture content), you won't need much flour on the board. if it is too wet, it will stick on the board. Use flour if necessary. If it is too dry, the folds will not seal together easily. It's too late now, but add less flour next time. (Dipping your fingers in water or oil as you are shaping might provide a bit of "glue".)
3. Shape the dough into a ball by folding it to the center all the way around as in kneading without the pushing. Turn smooth side up, and tuck in the dough all the way around.
4. Cut into 2 even pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, and let them sit for 5 minutes.
5. For each loaf, knead the dough with your right hand. turn and fold it with your left hand. Do this about 5 or 6 times until the dough is compact. This gives the loaf added "spring", similar to winding a clock. After the final push, turn the dough a quarter turn.
7. Beginning at the near edge, roll up the dough into a log shape. With the seam on the bottom, flatten out the top with your finger-tips. Square off the sides and ends. Turn the dough over and pinch the seams together all the way along it.
8. have bread pans in a stack. Put some oil in the top one and turn it over, letting it drain into the next one. Place a loaf in the oiled pan with the seam up. The dough can fill the pan 1/2 to 2/3 full.
9. Flatten the dough with the backs of your fingers. Turn the loaf over so that the seam is on the bottom. Press it again into the shape of the pan with the backs of your fingers.
10. Cover. Let rise 20 to 25 minutes fro the time you finished the last loaf, depending partly on how long you take to make the loaves and partly on how fast the dough is rising. The center of the loaf will be at or close to the top of the pan by this time.

VII. Preparing to bake and baking.
1. Cut the top with slits 1/2 inch deep to allow steam to escape. 
2. For a golden brown, shiny surface, brush the surface with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tbs water or milk). 
3. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds if you wish.
4. Bake at 350F for 50 to 60 minutes. (Smaller loafs will bake faster). When done, the tops should be shiny golden brown, the sides and bottoms should also be golden brown, and the loaf will resound with a hollow thump when tapped with a finger.
5. Remove from pans to let the loaves cool. For clean-cut slices, let cool 1 hour or more before cutting.

VIII. Storing
- When completely cooled, bread may be kept in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. 
- Finished bread may also be frozen and thawed for later use, with slight impairment of flavor and freshness.
- Somewhat stable bread may be freshened by heating in a 350F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

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