Sunday, May 27, 2007

Getting Loopy with Yeasted Doughs

Odds are, if you're reading this, you're not a baker. My friend and ex-coworker Kristal is probably the only exception. Odds are even slimmer, since you are not bakers, that you have heard of "dough hits." Believe me, dough hits are something that you need to know about, even if it's just good party conversation.

There are 12 steps to baking bread. These steps are fairly consistent for any dough that includes yeast as a leavener.

1. Mise en place: The fancy French words for getting all your shit together before you start. Scaling out your ingredients so you don't realize midway through step 2 that you don't have any flour in the house.

2. Mixing: Kneading. Break a sweat and do it by hand or throw it in the mixer with a dough hook. This builds the gluten strands that are soooo important to bread.

3. Primary Fermentation: The first big chunk of waiting time. The yeast does it's thing, making little yeast gasses and releasing alcohol. The gluten strands developed in step 2 trap the gas, making it rise.

4. Punching Down: A good chance to release the day's agressions by beating the crap out of your beautifully risen dough (if it's done correctly it should have doubled in size). The dough is punched (usually just one time, so really give it a good whallop) to release the trapped gasses, which deflates the dough. REMEMBER THIS STEP. It's where the dough hitting fun begins.

5. Dividing: Scaling the dough by weight according to how you want to bake it.

6. Rounding: Yes. You round the dough, that is now portioned by weight.

7. Benching: Resting the dough. Give yourself and the gluten a chance to relax. This takes some time, so maybe have a beer.

8. Shaping: Shaping the dough, which is now perfectly weighed, into whatever you want (baguettes, boules, dinner rolls, aligators, whatever).

9. Proofing (Secondary Fermentation): A second opportunity to let the yeast do it's thing. The dough is going to double again, only this time it's shaped into aligators. Those gators are going to get huge.

10. Baking.

11. Cooling: If you eat bread right out of the oven you will get a stomach ache like none other. Don't be stupid.

12. Storing and Eating: Pretty much the best step, except for step 4, because step 4 leads to "dough hits."

In step 4, you punch the dough down, and in doing so release a whole lot of trapped gas and alcohol. Here's how to do a dough hit:
* Inhale and exhale deeply
* Punch the dough down
* Get your head into the bucket/mixing bowl/whatever recepticle is holding your dough as fast as you can and inhale all of the gas and alcohol that is released. Work quickly - you only get one shot at this before all of the yeast byproduct is dispersed into the air. It sort of smells like a brewery. Hold the breath in your lungs for several seconds before exhaling.
* Enjoy the tingly feeling you get all over your body, along with a serious burn in your nasal cavity. It lasts about 10 seconds, and is seriously one of the funkiest feelings I've ever had.

I googled dough hits looking for more detailed scientific information about what happens to the body during a dough hit. I was surprised that it came back with no relevant information. I guess I won't be waxing "Alton Brown" today.

Surely this sounds ridiculous. Maybe you don't even believe me. Just remember step 4 the next time you're pulling out your bread machine and give it a shot. Inhale, hold, exhale.

Happy Memorial Day.

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