Monday, February 1, 2010

How to Make Bread

And now, by popular demand, my bread.  What?  You didn't ask how to make bread?  Tough.  You're going to learn.  Grandma would be proud of you...

Step 1

Clear your kitchen counter, tie your hair back and assemble your ingredients. And don't forget to wash your hands! Here's what you need:
  • A large bowl (two if you don't feel like washing and drying in between steps)
  • 3 cups flour - important note here:  bread flour is best. It has more protein than regular flour and results in more gluten strands being formed during the kneading process.  This is a good thing.  Really.  Trust me.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T. instant yeast -another important note here:  those little silvery packets of instant dry yeast aren't all that great.  The best yeast is instant yeast.  You can buy it at Sam's club.  You have to refrigerate it after its open but it should last a long time.
  • 2 cups warm water (about 105 degrees)
  • 1 cup warm milk (same temp as the water)

In the mixing bowl, combine the flour, the sugar and the yeast with a whisk.  Add the liquids to the flour and mix well.  You should have no lumps in the mixture, but usually I have some.  Its ok.  Its not rocket science.  

Now, you see that stuff around the upper top of the bowl?  Get a spatula and scrape it off so it goes into the dough.  Otherwise it dries and cracks and looks really gross.  Then cover this bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel.  Set this bowl in a warm place to rise until spongy - about 30 to 60 minutes.  I don't have a warm place in my house so I set the oven at 170 degrees and set the bowl on top of the stove.  It works great.
This is what it looks like after an hour.  Spongy goodness!

Step 2:
To the sponge mixture add:
1 tablespoon salt (yes I know.  Tablespoon. )
2 tablespoons melted butter
3-4 cups bread flour

Sprinkle the salt over the surface of the sponge, stir in and then add the melted butter.  Stir in the first 2 cups of flour, then add the third and possibly, the fourth if you can stir it.  This mixture will be wet.  Set aside about a cup of the bread flour and then place the dough on top of your already floured countertop.  Lightly dust the dough with more flour, using your fingers to distribute.  If you try to sprinkle from the cup, you just end up adding more flour than you want.  Now comes the fun part.  Begin kneading. 

And now, brief interruption to explain how to knead. 

Take some of the flour in the measuring cup, and sprinkle it over the top of the dough.  With the heels of your hands, push away from you, using the strength in your shoulders.  Hey, have you ever done CPR?  Or even taken the class?  Its like that.  Push from your shoulders.  After you've pushed, turn the dough a half turn and pull it back toward you.  Keep adding flour and kneading until the dough is no longer wet, and its smooth and elastic.  You should knead for at least 5 minutes.  The kneading is what forms the gluten strands that make the bread light and fluffy.  Its a great stress relief too. 


Place this dough ball into a greased bowl (Pam works great here) and roll the dough around in the bowl to grease all sides.  Spray the Pam on top of this ball too and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel.  At this point, you can place this in the fridge until you're ready to shape the dough and bake it.  It keeps up to 3 days.  Isn't that awesome????!!!

Step 2 is also the point where you can add stuff to your bread, like pesto, or raisins or other fun stuff, but we'll leave that for a future post.  Unless of course I have my own cooking show by then.  Then I just won't have time.  Hahaha!

 If you're ready to move on now class, we'll continue.  Take this covered bowl and put it back in your warm place (hey, I know what you're thinking and shame on you.) Back on the stove to rise for about an hour.  Again, this isn't rocket science and if you get sidetracked doing laundry or something more enjoyable, its ok.  If it sits for an hour and a half or so, it'll be fine. 

Step 3:
Pour the dough out of the bowl back onto your floured countertop.  You didn't clean it already did you?  I should've told you. Leave the counter all floury.  Save the clean up until the end.  Punch this down with your fist.  Again, more stress relief.  Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces; I make a peace sign with my counter scraper/cutter.  (This thing is one of my favorite kitchen tools of all time)

You really should let this rest for about 5 minutes as this lets the gluten relax and its easier to roll out the dough.  I never do.  Hmm.  Anyway, take one piece of dough at a time and shape roughly into a rectangle.  Roll out with a rolling pin - taking care not to make it wider than your bread tin.  (Or, you can do as I do and fudge it a little.  Not that big of a deal, really.)  Roll up tightly starting with the narrow end farthest away from you.  Once you have it all rolled up, place it into a greased bread tin. 

 This recipe makes 3 loaves so you'll need 3 tins.  Should've told you that earlier too I guess.   Anyhoo, put these tins  in your warm place  back on top of the stove and cover with a clean towel.  They'll need to rise again for another hour, or until the dough has formed a nice rounded shape over the pan.

              Aren't they gorgeous? 

Now bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the bread from the pans onto a cooling rack.  Let these cool before wrapping them up.
(But first, slice off a piece while its still warm and slather it with butter - its the best thing in the world!)

While this sounds complicated and time-consuming, it really isn't.  The hands on time is less than 30 minutes.  Like Tom Petty said, "The Waiting is the Hardest Part."  Its the rising that takes the most time so its good to bake bread while you're home doing housework anyway.  At least this way, there's a reward at the end.  Now, get your apron on and go to it. 

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