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Time-saving Secrets for Making Knittle Bread

by Lori on January 8th, 2011

Time to make the dinner rolls

It’s no secret that making homemade bread takes time and patience. If you are short on either of those ingredients, let me share with you a few secrets to speed things along. I’ll start with an old-fashioned bread recipe, called Knittle Bread, which I’m told dates back to the 19th century. Then I’ll mix in a few 21st century time-saving tricks.

The Story

I discovered Knittle Bread during a cooking class at Iowa’s Living History Farms. Living History Farms is basically a “living” agricultural museum, complete with a farmstead of houses and buildings built to replicate life in the early 1800s. The staff at the museum dress in period costume and teach visitors about the various aspects of farm life back in the day.

So here’s what I learned about baking in the 1800s, which made me appreciate our modern conveniences:

  • Without running water, there were no dish-washing machines. Those 19th century women built up their arm strength hauling large buckets of water to and from the kitchen to clean the dishes. I do love my automatic dishwasher, and I will never complain about loading and unloading it again.
  • Without electricity, there were no microwaves nor electric stoves. To boil water, you had to wait for the wood-burning stove to get hot enough. Again, the women built up their biceps hauling wood for the stove. I will no longer take my microwave and electric stove for granted.
  • Without electricity, there were no electric stand mixers. All batters and doughs were mixed using old-fashioned elbow grease. My Kitchen Aid stand mixer is now my BFF (Best Friend Forever).

The Moral of the Story

I also learned the women of the 1800s must have had incredibly toned arms. Another good thing about the lack of electricity was that, by candlelight, it was harder for your family to see if you messed up the recipe. So the moral of the story is to look for the bright side. If you can’t find one, then find a few short cuts to make life easier.

The Secrets

Instead of giving you the play-by-play for making this bread, knowing you are short on time, I’ll skip ahead to the secrets for speeding things along. To get the full play-by-play, and details for making this recipe, see the original recipe for Knittle Bread published by Living In Iowa.

Secret 1: Use your electric stand mixer to knead the dough.

You don’t need to knead the dough by hand. If you have a hook attachment on your stand mixer, use it. Set the speed to “stir,”  and pretend you are Captain Hook if you feel guilty about not kneading the dough by hand. You’ll also save time because you and your hands will be free to work on other things during the 10 minutes of kneading.

Meet Captain Hook

Secret 2: Use your microwave and electronic thermometer to get your water temperature just right.

It is important your water is precisely110 degrees before you add your yeast. That is just warm enough so the yeast will “grow,” but not too hot that it will kill it. To get that perfect temperature, I put my half cup of water in the microwave and “nuke” it for about 30 to 60 seconds. Then I check the temperature with my digital thermometer, before adding a package of instant yeast.

Proofing the yeast

Secret 3: Use a warm stovetop to expedite the yeast-growing process.

Set your oven on “warm.” If you don’t have a warm setting on your oven, preheat it to about 160 degrees. Then set your yeast and warm water mixture on the warm stovetop to keep it warm and speed up the proofing process. Below is how it looks after about 10-15 minutes on a warm stovetop. Look at the bubbles. Aren’t they beautiful?

The yeast also rises

Secret 4: Use your warm stovetop to help the bread rise too.

Using the same technique to proof your yeast, after you have shaped your dinner rolls, cover them with a tea towel and place them on the warm stovetop to rise.

Shhh... They're sleeping

Secret 5: Use your dish-washing machine for a speedy clean up.

I made the mistake of washing my mixing bowl and utensils with a dish cloth. Bits of dough stuck in the cloth, but I thought they would wash out in the washing machine. I was wrong. I put the dough-covered dishcloth in the dryer with a bunch of other towels, and ended up picking out hardened pieces of dough from all my towels for weeks.
My dishwasher

Secret 6: Use your freezer to store baked bread for fast access later.

This is probably the best time-saving secret of all. After baking, let your rolls cool completely. Then wrap individually in saran wrap. Put the wrapped rolls into a freezer bag and freeze. Whenever you want homemade bread, grab one out of the freezer, and warm it in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
Freeze for later

The Recipe: Knittle Bread

The recipe was posted by Living In Iowa. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the recipe for Knittle Bread.

What are some of your bread-making secrets?

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