Friday, April 13, 2012
Easy Homemade Bread
Remember when I hosted that birthday party and made a big bread and cheese tray? This is one of the breads I made for that tray. I chose this one because 1) it's good, 2) it's something everyone likes, and 3) it freezes well, so it can be made ahead of time.
Bread is really not hard to make, it's just time consuming because you have to allow it to rise. And, it can be a bit of a mess. In my instructions below, I detail how I reduce the mess as much as possible. I live in a very small apartment with a very small kitchen, so reducing mess is high on my priority list.
Though I'm usually a fan of wheat and seed breads (recipes for some of those to come!), there is a great deal to be said in the favor of a classic, homemade, loaf of white bread. We aren't talking about preservative filled, fluffy, store bought, nutrition-less white bread-- we are talking about dense, delicious, hot-from the oven white bread. I can't say it's the highest on the nutrition scale, but, if that concerns you, this recipe works exactly the same with whole-wheat flour. This recipe is one I adapted from one in the 1969 vintage Betty Crocker Cookbook. Cookbook info. is in my sidebar.
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Easy White Bread Yield 2 large loaves
2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup warm water (105*-115*F)
2 2/3 cups warm water
1/4 brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons butter (if you are diary-free or keep kosher and want this to be parve, you can use shortening)
9 - 10 cups of all-purpose flour (you can use bread flour/self-rising flour, but then omit the salt)
Step #1 - Dissolve the yeast in 3/4 cup warm water. I like to whisk it with a ford to help the yeast dissolve.
Step #2 - Add the remaining 2 2/3 cup water, the salt, sugar, butter, and 5 cups of the flour. I like to add in the water, salt sugar and butter first, then add the flour. It's very soupy while you do this. Mix this with mixing spoon (not a mixer) until it becomes smooth.
Step #3 - Add in the remaining flour, one cup at a time, until the dough becomes easy to handle. Usually, it takes four cups for this to happen. If you take less/more than the 9-10 cups in the instructions, that is OK. 'Easy to handle' means that the dough is a little sticky, but you are able to pick it up as a blob and handle it/move it from one surface to another.
Step #4 - Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. To do this, flour your hands and move the dough around the surface in a pushing motion with the heel of your hands. There are good pictures of how to knead here.
OK, here is my cheaters confession-- I don't turn mine onto a floured surface. I just don't have the space. Instead, I put a layer of flour on top of the dough, flour my hands, and I kneed the dough right in the bowl.I'm sure all the trained bakers out there are crying at the idea of this, but it works for me. The down side is that your hands get a lot more messy in the beginning that with the traditional method. For the first few minutes, I look like some sort of dough fingered Muppet monster. I don't have any pictures of this process for this exact reason-- although you can amuse yourself imagining me trying, which I totally did.When it's done, it will look like this: (Note: this is not the bowl I kneaded it in, this is the bowl for the next step).
Step #5 - Place the kneaded dough into a clean, greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).I cover mine with wax paper and a tea-towel, but I spray the wax paper with cooking spray before I cover the dough with it. This prevents the dough from sticking to the covering as it rises. It's best if you can find a warm place for your dough to rise. The pilot lights on m stove keep the surface warm at all times, so I put mine there.
Step #6 - Punch down the dough. One the dough has risen, punch it down. Literally, punch the dough with your fist. This is baking and stress relief in one nice, doughy package.
Step #7 - Divide the dough in half and place in two greased 9x5x3 pans. Cover and let rise until double in size (about 1 hour). The original recipe has instructions on how to create perfect rectangular loaves. I don't find they come out all that different form just blobbing it in the pans with my hands. I think that, if you do the rectangle thing EXACTLY right, they rise so they don't bulge over the edge like you can see my loaves doing in the 'after' picture. Once you put the dough in the pans, you have the option of brushing the loaves with butter at this point if you would like. I've done it both ways and have not noticed a difference in the final outcome. Cover the loaves with greased wax paper and a tea-towel and let them rise. REALLY grease the wax paper, you don't want it to stick or your loaves will fall when you uncover them. At some point in this hour, think about preheating your oven to 425* F.
Step #8 - Bake and 425* F for 30-35 minutes or until deep golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped. If you opted to brush your loaves with butter in step #7, I suggest putting a cookie sheet or some foil on a rack below them in the oven, as sometimes the butter drips off and burns in the bottom of the oven. When you place the loaves in the oven, put them on a low rack so that the loaves themselves are in the middle of the oven. Make sure they are not touching each other or the sides of the oven.
Step #9 - Remove the loaves from the pans. To do this, wait for the loaves to cool until you can handle the pans with your hands. I like to cover mine in a tea towel while they cool. Then, run a butter knife down the sides of the pans to loose then loaves. Flip the pans over and tap on the bottom until the loaves pop out.
Step #10- EAT!!!!!!! This bread is delicious warm. And, like I said above, it freezes very well.
To freeze the bread.....
Wrap the loaf in a layer of plastic warp, and then a layer of foil.If it fits in a plastic bag or airtight container, put it in one. If not, add another layer of plastic wrap and another layer of foil.