Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to bake a darn good loaf of bread

I know I already posted my bread recipe, but reading Katey's blog the other day made me realize some people think bread making is a mysterious, scary undertaking that requires tons of work and preparation and skill (and I used to think that), so I'm going to re-post it and walk through bread baking, step by step, in case there's anyone else who can use the extra help.

Step 1: In a large mixing bowl (or in your KitchenAid, if you are lucky enough to have one, using the dough hook) add these ingredients:

2 cups of whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour, or Golden Buffalo whole wheat flour, my favorite)
1/6 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup honey (do the oil first, in your 1/3 measuring cup, and the honey will slide right out)
2 heaping tablespoons of vital wheat gluten (try Bob's Red Mill, found at most health food stores and even in some Wal Marts nowadays)
1 even tablespoon yeast (buy it in the jars and put it in the freezer. It keeps a long time, and it's much cheaper than those silly little packets.)

Mix that all together a bit.

Now on the stove in a small sauce pan heat 1/2 c. milk and 1 1/2 c. water. Stir every so often to keep the heat evenly distributed and poke your finger into it often - you want it to be hot enough that you can't keep your finger in it for more than a second or two, but not hot enough to scald or start boiling. If it isn't hot enough, it won't activate the yeast, but if it's too hot, it'll kill it. This is something you figure out after a few tries.

Once the liquid is hot, add it to the bowl and mix well. Make sure you scrape the sides and get it all mixed in. Then cover the bowl with a tea towel, push it back on the counter, and leave it for half an hour or so. You'll know it's ready for the next step when the dough has climbed at least half way up the sides of the bowl - it gets pretty darn poofy.

When it's at that point, turn on your oven to the lowest setting and put a big glass bowl of hot water in it. When the oven has preheated to that low setting, turn it off. This is where you'll let your dough rise.

Add a tablespoon of salt and about 2 1/2 more cups of flour to the bowl and mix it all in. If it feels really sticky still, you can add more flour (I don't usually need to.) Now, you knead it. If you have a KitchenAid, you can cheat your way right through this - just turn it on, lock the top and let it go for about ten minutes. (A great time to get dishes done or knit a few rows.) If you're not so lucky, you'll have to knead by hand. (Consider employing slave labor.. err, kids... if you have them handy.) Knead and knead and knead - you'll probably want to go 10 or 12 minutes. I'm not sure it's possible to over-knead bread dough. I never have, anyway. The final product will be lighter and fluffier the more you knead it, don't skimp on this part, even though it's the hardest! (Try using your kitchen table instead of your counter - the lower surface is easier on back and shoulders.)

Grease your pans and shape your dough now. This recipe is enough for two regular size loaves. I usually make one regular sized loaf in a loaf pan, a short twisted loaf, and some dinner rolls. (I put the dinner rolls and the twist on a cookie sheet.) Once everything is shaped nicely, put them in/on greased pans and put them in the oven with the bowl of water. Leave them there until they rise. (Don't keep opening the oven to peek. Use the light - that's what it was made for. Drafts slow the rising process.) You'll be able to tell when they're ready, they'll have nearly doubled in size (or more, if you're lucky!) Rising can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on things like elevation, humidity and moisture, etc. I usually leave mine for 30-40 minutes and that's plenty, but do what you need to to get the dough big enough.

When it's finished rising, turn the oven on to 350, leaving the bread in the oven where it was rising. I usually remove the bowl of water, but you don't have to. Don't worry about preheating - set your timer for 22 minutes and let them bake.

When the time goes off, pull out the loaf pan (it usually cooks a little slower than twists or rolls) and gently knock on the bread (yes, like you're knocking on a door.) It should sound hollow. If it doesn't sound hollow, put it back in the oven for another 4 minutes or so. Do the same to the rolls and/or twist if you made those. When it sounds hollow - it's done!

If your bread is getting brown on top before the timer is going to go off, slide a piece of foil, shiny side up over the bread. It'll stop the browning.

Take the loaves out of the pan immediately and let them cool on a wooden cutting board or a cooling rack if you have one. Leaving in the loaf pan will result in soggy bread sides - ew.

They say not to cut into bread until it's completely cool. I'm not sure who they are, but they are crazy. :o) As soon as the bread doesn't burn my fingers when I touch it, I slice off an end, butter it up and enjoy it - the kids usually do too. And it's never caused any problems, far as I can tell.

So that's it. It's not hard. It does take a little bit of time, but it's so worth it.

Oh, and bread freezes. Once it's cool, put it in a ziploc bag, squeeze the air out, and toss it in the freezer. It'll thaw in an hour or two and taste almost as good as fresh. That means that, if you have a mind to, you can make four or six loaves at one time and have them waiting in the freezer when you need them.

Happy Baking!


1 comment:

Crazy Homeschool Mama said...

WOO HOO will try this Friday... Thursday we are off with some fellow CM homeschoolers to learn to make candles :)