I didn't really get into bread making until we did Peace Corps and lived in the middle of nowhere without electricity or a grocery store. One of our splurges was an oven that ran off a propane tank.
I had a simple soft pretzel recipe that I learned in eighth grade home-economics that became the basis for my bread. Lots of trial and error and four years later, making bread is a natural part of making dinner. I wish I hadn't been so isolated when I was starting out. A post like this would have really sped up my learning curve!
I've been tweeting with @ChrisKamprath trying to help him trouble shoot his bread making. This post was inspired by him. It takes way more than 140 characters to explain bread. Although I think the best way would be to teach someone in person. Here's my attempt to blog about it!
I should warn you all that this bread does not keep particularly well, once cut it gets dry over night. But it is perfect fresh out of the oven. The two of us, I have a very hungry husband, we can usually eat most of a loaf by ourselves. I use any left over bread for eggy-in-a-basket, peanut butter toast or to make bread crumbs in the next day or two.
This bread recipe is easy. The last time I bought bread it was because I had stitches in my hand and couldn't do the kneading for a couple weeks. It does take some time to do two rises, but if you plan it right, it is perfectly practical for daily dinners even if you hold a full time job. Plus it is cheaper and healthier than anything you can buy at the grocery store. Here's how you do it.
Simple Daily Bread Recipe
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus or minus a bit)
- Next add in the all purpose flour slowly mixing it in until you can't mix with a wooden spoon anymore.
Then, use clean, dry hands to kneed. Start by kneading in the bowl to incorporate all the loose flour.
If the dough is sticking to your hands, add a little more flour. Then turn the dough out on to the table and kneed for five minutes. (I've got some tips at the end of this post for how to know when you've reached the right consistency and troubleshooting if you have dry, dense, flat or other issues.)
- Lightly cover the dough with oil and let rest in a bowl covered with a towel. Put the dough in a warm place and let rise until double. I don't usually keep very close track to how much time this takes. This time I used a stop watch and I let it rise 40 minutes.
- Then punch down the dough and shape into your final form. I often just make a ball for a round loaf. Today I wanted bread bowls for chowder so I cut the dough into quarters and shaped it into rounds.
The most important thing to remember when shaping is to get all the air out so you don't have any air pockets in your bread. When I bake bread on cookie sheets I put down corn meal underneath to keep it from sticking to the sheet. For a loaf I roll it out with a rolling pin into a rectangle, roll it up into a log and then tuck the ends under. Then I put it into a well greased loaf pan.
- Let the dough rise again until double. I let it rise for 50 minutes which was actually longer than my first rise, but I was working on making the chowder and time got away from me. Bread making is not an exact science if you go over or under with raising time, it's usually not a big deal.
- Bake the bread in a 350 degree oven. For my four bread bowls it took 28 minutes to get a nice even golden brown all the way around. The larger your loaf the longer it will need to bake. I can usually tell when my bread is done by smell.
- Remove your loaf from the pan or sheet and put it on a cooling rack. This will keep condensation from forming and making the crust soggy. Allow the bread to cool at least 5 minutes before cutting into it. Then enjoy your daily bread however you choose.
Today's daily bread was bread bowls for corn chowder. I froze whole kernel and creamed corn this summer just so I could make this soup when sweet corn isn't in season. It is divine in a bread bowl! Simply cut a circle out of the top of your bread and then use your fingers to pull out the soft insides being careful not to puncture the walls of your bowl.
Make the dough in the morning and put it in the fridge to rise. It will rise slower when it is cool. By the time you come home from work you can take it out of the fridge and do the second rise. Putting the dough it a warm place will help the yeast get moving and raise the bread for a second time. Bake as normal.
Why the ratio of wheat to white flour? I know 100% whole wheat is healthier, but in order to get a 100% whole wheat bread I have to add almost a half cup of oil. Otherwise the bread is super dense and dry. Through experimenting, I've found the most wheat flour I can add without increasing the oil is one cup of whole wheat. I make sure to add it in the beginning and allowed it to hydrate before mixing in the rest of the needed white flour. I've also found seven grain cereal to be excellent in bread instead of the wheat flour. I usually make the seven grain cereal first so it is completely hydrated. One cup cooked cereal works well. You can even use the leftovers from breakfast. If you don't have wheat or don't want a wheat loaf just use all white flour.
Crispy crust: If I'm feeling naughty I add extra oil to the loaf pan so the bread is sitting in a couple millimeters of oil. As the bread cooks the bottom gets a crispy almost fry-bread like brown.
Why use corn meal under loaves when baking? Cornmeal can handle higher heat than wheat flour. I learned this trick from making pizza dough. Think about your favorite pizza I bet it has cornmeal underneath! Pizza is often baked at very high temperatures, think at least 500 degrees F. Cornmeal can take it, wheat flour would burn.
How to make this recipe into pizza dough: Simply up the oil to 1/4 cup. After the first rise shape into crust and then only rise 15 minutes for the second rise. Prebake in a 375 degree oven until just starting to brown. Then pull out the crust put on the sauce, toppings and cheese and bake for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. The extra oil makes for a crispier crust. Make sure to put cornmeal underneath your crust!
Why cover with a towel? The towel allows the yeast to breath but keeps the humidity high so the dough doesn't dry out. Some folks use plastic wrap, but I like a towel better because it is reusable.
Options for warm places to raise dough: I like to use a sunny spot if it is to be found otherwise I'll put it in the oven with it set to "warm". I've been told the ideal temperature for yeast growth is 82 degrees. In Panama I would put the dough in the cold oven with a lit candle. The warmth from the candle was enough to get a good rise. Just make sure to keep the towel and the candle well apart. My mom would put the bread to rise on the hot air vents in the winter. I've also had friends tell me they put it next to the fireplace; just remember to rotate the bowl so the yeast grows evenly. If you really want to know your bread, keep it in your lap; body heat works too.
How to know if you have added enough flour to your dough? There is no exact amount, it is a range. Slightly sticky, lighter dough will rise faster, have a courser texture and tend to be taller. If the dough is no longer sticky and hard to knead it probably has too much flour. Add a tablespoon of oil and knead it in. It will take a bit of work, but it should save your dough. I tend to err on the side of sticky if I want good bread for soaking up soups or curries. If I want sandwich bread that will hold up to juicy tomatoes and be denser I add more flour.
I hope this encourages you all to make more bread! Good luck and happy baking!
** I love that I am getting your tips and hard won bread knowledge in the comments! Please share your special tricks for making bread.