1 Mezinris

Writing A 700 Expository Essay On Making Bread

Have you ever baked a loaf of bread, or witnessed a masterful baker at work? Through a mysterious process of beating, kneading, waiting, and baking, an unappealing, gluey mass of dough transforms into fragrant and delectable food. Freshly baked bread is one of the wonders of the civilized world.

Baking bread is eerily similar to the process of writing.

Bread making is a mystical combination of recipe and technique, mastery and luck. The result depends on factors you cannot see, such as microbial yeast organisms that coax the dough into rising and unseen protein molecules that create structure and “crumb.” The temperature of the room, conditions of the oven, gluten content of the flour, and the elevation above sea level all affect the results.

Despite these uncertainties, bakers manage to replicate their successes. They follow other bakers’ recipes or develop their own and master techniques for kneading, shaping, and baking the loaves they love best.

Bread recipes vary widely based on the flour used, the amount of time available, and the type of loaf you’re trying to create. Most share a basic structure, which looks like this:

  • Assemble the ingredients
  • Activate the yeast (or feed a sourdough starter)
  • Beat and knead the dough
  • Let it rise in the right conditions so the yeast does its magic
  • Knead it a second time and shape it into loaves
  • Let it rise yet again (the final proof)
  • Bake, figuring out exactly when to remove the bread from the oven

(There’s another step—cooling—but who does that when there’s homemade bread in the kitchen?)

The process is rather long and ambiguous. From time to time, you go about your life, letting the bread work without you. Then you come back to punch and knead it, working hard. Then walk away again. And you hope it all turns out well in the end.

That sounds a bit like writing.

A Writing Recipe

Writing is much more than simply putting words on paper. The work begins when you start thinking about the project, and ends when you’re done revising and ready to publish. If you were to create a recipe for writing, from start to finish, it might look like this:

  1. Research. Gather the ingredients. For nonfiction works, you may delve deeply into external research. Fiction may require more introspection and exploration. The research phase often continues even as you are drafting, but at some point you have enough material to move on.
  2. Let the ideas incubate.  Your brain is like the yeast organisms in bread dough, breathing life into the raw materials you’ve accumulated. Give it a chance to work.
  3. Structure the piece. Read through your notes and assemble a rough outline or other structure for your draft.
  4. Assemble the first draft. Dig in and create the first draft. You may have an unattractive mess when you’re done, but you’ll be on the path to something better.
  5. Rest before revision. Just as you would leave the bread dough alone to rise, let the first draft sit so you can get distance. “Not-writing” is an important stage of the process. Thoughts, phrases, different perspectives, and inspiration often strike as the draft rests.
  6. Revise and proofread. Revision is like the second kneading phase in bread making—vital to the quality of the result. You’ll wrestle with the piece from different angles, shaping it into its final form. A final proofreading is the finishing touch.
  7. Publish. Decide when it’s time to publish. Impatient as you may be for the final product, you don’t want to put your work out in the world half baked.

Why Bother with a Recipe?

Separating out the distinct steps of the process like this has significant benefits.

Time management: It’s easier to set reasonable deadlines and juggle concurrent projects when you understand and identify the different phases of the process.

Picking the right environment: Most of us need quiet surroundings, without interruption, to write the first draft. Research or revision can take place in open office environments or while riding on a train. And incubation often happens away from the desk altogether, while our minds can wander. When you isolate the steps of the writing process, you can align your surroundings with the work at hand.

Creativity: You’ll notice that the recipe outlined above has at least two periods of rest or incubation. Creative insight arrives on its own time, often when your brain isn’t completely focused on the task at hand. Schedule time for your inner Muse to process your thoughts, and you may be surprised by the insights that appear.

[This recipe is part of the book The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear]

Kneading image: Dreamy Pixel on Stocksnap.io.

Bread image: Mike Keanneally on Stocksnap.io

Every dough that we make in our bakeries follows all of these 10 steps from start to finish. This ensures we produce the best quality bread without compromising taste, texture, nutrition or our artisan craft.

As a home baker, if you follow these 10 steps when making breads at home, you will be on the right path to creating superb loaves.

Step One: Ingredient Selection & Scaling

Using good quality ingredients is crucial to making good bread.  At Le Pain Quotidien, we use only organic, unbleached flours from The King Arthur Flour Company.  When choosing flour for bread making, look for one labeled as “all-purpose flour” or as “bread flour.”

We use instant dry yeast (‘rapid rise’) and/or levain (sourdough) in our breads.  Both give us wonderful products whose qualities vary the types of breads we can create.  A levain is a culture that must be ‘fed’ and allowed to cultivate daily, which can often be difficult for home bakers but a challenge worth all of its effort.  Instant dry yeast is a good option as it has a long shelf life and does not need to be proofed in water before using.

Our salt is a high quality, unrefined sea salt from Sicily. Generally, whatever salt you keep in your pantry will work just fine, unless it is too coarse to dissolve easily. The water that comes from your tap is also good for making bread. What’s most important about the water is its temperature; we use the water to control the temperature of the dough. A dough will ideally come out of the mix at around 75°F.

We measure all of our ingredients (including liquids) in grams on a scale.  Scaling is much faster and more accurate than working in volume.

Step Two: Mixing

There are two stages to the mixing process: the first is to incorporate ingredients, the second is to develop the structure of the dough, otherwise known as the gluten network. Dough can be kneaded by hand, or mixed in a tabletop mixer. When using a tabletop mixer, keep it to the lower speeds to avoid damaging the motor.

Step Three: Primary Fermentation

Also referred to as rising, or proofing, this is where the yeast starts to do its work, converting sugars into carbon dioxide, alcohol and organic acids. Every dough has a different primary fermentation time, depending on its formulation. We work with time as well as our senses to determine when the dough is properly fermented.

Step Four: Divide and Pre-Shape

When the dough is properly fermented, it is time to divide it to the desired size and give the divided pieces a preshape.  A preshape is an intermediate shape—a loose suggestion to the dough of where it’s headed that will make final shaping easier.

Step Five: Bench Rest

After the dough has been preshaped, it needs to rest for a short time before final shaping.  Bench rest is typically 15-20 minutes long and during that time, the gluten network, which has been made more elastic through handling, will relax and become more extensible.

Step Six: Final Shaping

There are four basic shapes in bread making: the baguette (stick), the boule (round), the bâtard (a football-like shape) and the pan loaf (a blunt-ended bâtard). After shaping, the dough must be set somewhere to rest during its final fermentation. For baguettes and bâtards, we use baker’s linen and wooden boards; for boules, we often use wooden proofing baskets. The linen and the baskets help to hold the shape of the dough during the final fermentation.

Step Seven: Final Fermentation

After shaping, the dough must rest and continue to ferment. The length of the final fermentation varies from dough to dough; it could be anywhere from 15 minutes to 12 or more hours.  Again, we work with time and with our “dough sense” to determine when the dough is properly fermented.

Step Eight: Scoring

Most loaves will be scored, or cut, just before they are baked. Scoring has a decorative function, and it allows the dough to “spring” properly as the carbon dioxide gas that has accumulated during fermentation expands in the heat of the oven. Scoring is typically done with a razor blade or a small serrated blade.

Step Nine: Baking

Lean doughs (those like baguettes and levain breads made without fats, sugars, eggs, etc.) are typically baked at a very high temperature, around 450-475°F.  Enriched breads (brioche, challah, sweet breads) are typically baked around 350-400°F.  In most cases, a smaller loaf should be baked at a higher temperature than a larger one, so that it will take on the right amount of color in its baking time.  There are a few different ways to determine that a loaf is properly baked—by color, by the hollow sound you hear when you knock on the bottom of the loaf, and by internal temperature (at least 190°F for lean breads, 165°F for enriched breads).

Step Ten: Cooling

Although it is tempting to eat hot bread right of the oven, that’s not the best way to really taste its subtle flavors. When bread first comes out of the oven, it is still filled with excess moisture and carbon dioxide. The bread needs time to cool so that the moisture and gas will dissipate. After cooling, the texture, flavor and aroma of the bread will have developed into what they should be and you will have a flavorful, palate-pleasing loaf.

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Have any questions for our bakers? Drop us a line in the comments section below!

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