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You've heard of the horse whisperer. Now meet the bread whisperer.

Betsy Oppenneer can transform rather ordinary-looking lumps of dough into masterpieces of bread baking with a wave of her magic hands, and has appeared on countless cooking shows. Writing cookbooks and making videos have been her latest projects, but she often travels to teach classes, and was in Logan in March.

The crowd of people at Logan's Kitchen Kneads attests to her popularity among ambitious bakers, and everyone is riveted on Oppeneer, waiting to see what her next magic trick will be.

"You have to listen to your bread," she tells her audience, making breadmaking even more mystical. "If you're mixing and you hear a sound like " (Oppenneer makes an angry, hissing sound) "give it a rest because you've mixed it too much and it's going to get up into your machine and wreck it."

Oppeneer has made enough bread in her lifetime to know what it should sound like. Working as an apprentice at a small bakery from the time she was 12 gave Oppenneer an auspicious beginning to a bread baking career, and she went on to train at several cooking schools. She is an active member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and has earned the title of certified culinary professional. Always exuberant and enthusiastic about bread, even after a long flight from her home in New Hampshire, Oppeneer's baking tips reveal her vast experience.

"You don't want to use a terrycloth towel to cover the bread while it's rising," she said. "You're trying to make a little incubator, so you want to keep air out. Use a bowl that's a little bit taller than it is wide, with less space around the edges, and use a tightly-woven towel to cover it."

Oppenneer offers other suggestions for would-be bakers, pointing out that unsalted butter is fresher than salted, and won't destroy growing yeast. She talks about different gadgets and mixers, saying some work better if users ignore manufacturers' directions.

"I don't know why they tell you to start with the dough hook," she says, shaking her head as she watches her mixer combine ingredients for herb bread.

"It really works better if you start with the paddle, I promise."

Kneading should be slower and easier than most bakers make it, she said. "If you keep smashing it, it will get sticky and you'll have to keep adding flour," she says as she comically demonstrates the wrong way to knead bread dough. Too many bakers knead by smashing and smearing the dough across the counter, Oppenneer says, and it's just not necessary. In her able hands, the smeared dough becomes a perfectly smooth ball. All the dough scraps from the countertop are scraped off and added back into the dough ball.

"You can't leave these little pieces," she says. Oppenneer holds up a tiny piece of dough, one most bakers would undoubtedly throw away without a second thought.

"This is almost a whole bite of bread!" she exclaims. "Never throw away little pieces."

Food Processor Buttermilk Rye Bread

(makes 2 baguettes)

This is a marvelous bread to slice thinly and serve with cheeses. The buttermilk gives a slight bite and the molasses adds a strong flavor.

2 scant tablespoons or 2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast

1/2 cup 110-degree water

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

3 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 1/2 cups rye flour

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

3 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Glaze: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

1. Combine yeast, water and sugar in a measuring cup. Let sit for 5 minutes. The yeast will begin to grow and will be full of small bubbles. This is called "proofing" the yeast.

2. In the work bowl of the food processor with the plastic blade, put the unbleached flour, rye flour, caraway seeds and salt. Pulse to mix the

ingredients.

3. Heat buttermilk, molasses and oil to 100 degrees.

4. With machine running, add proofed yeast through the feed tube, then buttermilk mixture as fast as the flour will absorb it. Stop the machine; remove the top and check the dough. If dough is too dry, pulse in water one tablespoon at a time. If it is too wet, pulse in flour one tablespoon at a time. The dough should form a soft ball that sits on top of the blade when the machine is running. The formation of the ball marks the beginning of the kneading process/

5. Turn the machine on and let the ball "knead" 60 seconds do not let it knead any longer! If using the metal blade, only "knead" 45 seconds.

6. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, turning once to grease the top and cover with a towel and let rise for one hour.

7. Turn the dough out, divide in half. Roll each half into strands about one inch shorter than the pan. Place dough on well-greased baguette pans or baking sheets. Cover and let rise 40 minutes.

8. About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 425 degrees.

9. Just before baking, brush each baguette lightly with glaze and slit

diagonally about 1/4-inch deep.

10. Bake for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the baguettes reaches 190 degrees.

11. Immediately remove from pans and cool on a rack to prevent crust from becoming soggy.

Herb Bread

(makes 2 loaves)

The tenderness of this bread goes perfectly with any herb. I particularly like the combination of sage, marjoram and thyme; however, try your favorites instead of mine. (I recommend using dried herbs, only because you need an awful lot of fresh herbs, and your bread will start to go green. People don't like to eat green bread.)

2 scant tablespoons or 2 (1/4-ounce) packages of active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)

2 cups warm milk (about 110 degrees)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons salt

6-7 cups unbleached flour approximately 1 tablespoon fresh rubbed sage or 1 teaspoon rubbed dry sage

1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves or 1 teaspoon crushed dried marjoram leaves

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1. In a large bowl, stir the yeast into water to soften.

2. Add milk, butter, sugar, salt and 2 cups of flour to the yeast.

3. Whisk herbs with 1 cup flour until well blended. Add to yeast mixture and beat vigorously for 2 minutes.

4. Gradually add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.

5. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.

6. Put the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide in half and

shape into loaves. Put into two well-seasoned loaf pans.

8. Cover with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes.

9. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

10. Bake 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the loaves reached 190 degrees.

11. Immediately remove bread from pans and cool on a rack to prevent the crust from becoming soggy.

Whole Wheat Raisin Nut Bread

(makes 2 loaves)

The combination of whole wheat, raisins and nuts make a delightful bread. I love egg salad and sprout sandwiches made with this bread.

2 scant tablespoons or 2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups whole wheat flour

4-5 cups unbleached flour, approximately

1/4 cup unsalted butter

2 1/2 cups hot water (about 125 degrees)

1 cup raisins

1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. In a large bowl combine yeast, brown sugar, salt, whole wheat flour and 2 cups unbleached flour. Make sure the yeast is mixed in thoroughly.

2. Add the butter, water, raisins and walnuts to the yeast mixture and beat vigorously for two minutes.

3. Gradually add remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.

4. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.

5. Put the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel, and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

6. Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough in half. Shape the dough into loaves and place into well-seasoned loaf pans.

7. Cover with towel and let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

9. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees.

10. Immediately remove bread from pans and cool on wire rack to prevent the crust from becoming soggy.

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