Friday, March 23, 2012

Accessible Bread

Bread for You, Bread for Me, Bread for Everybody

Removing the Mystery and Complication
from Bread Making

Daily bread—I couldn’t do without it. I’m a carb lover and won’t ever give up bread and its steaming aroma when I first slice through it, minutes after removing a golden loaf from the oven.
Bread making is simple. It is. I once was afraid to bake bread. Baking bread from scratch had an aura of mystery surrounding the act, and I was certain I would never master the alchemy that produced food from flour, yeast, and a few other ingredients. I mastered that art 30 years ago and have since filled my home with the aroma of fresh-baked bread.
Many bread bakers and authors of bread cookbooks promote the incorrect impression that it’s difficult to make a loaf of bread. In doing so, they scare away newcomers to the craft. Words like mill, wheat berry, gluten, spelt, grinding your own flour, artisan, and baking stone have probably sent many a would-be bread baker running to the Wonder Bread aisle in their grocery store.

Using the simplest ingredients, you can bake a loaf of bread.
It doesn’t have to be that way. A homemade loaf of bread is accessible to anyone who has a few basic ingredients and an oven. Bread making is so elemental to providing our daily fare that if it were that difficult, bread wouldn’t have been a food source for over a thousand years, in almost every culture in some form or another—loaves, tortillas, bagels, baguettes, breadsticks, sweet rolls, crackers. In those ancient cultures, grinding wheat berries, rye, corn, and other grains was an essential step in the process. That step is unnecessary today. Modern grocery stores have everything we need to make bread.
I’m starting with white bread because I want to share the easiest way to make bread with ingredients most people have in their kitchens: all-purpose flour, sugar, water, oil, and salt. Newcomers to bread making probably won’t have yeast in their kitchens, but most grocery stores stock it in the baking aisle.
Purists and whole food aficionados likely will not want to make this white bread. It’s basic and easy, and that’s the point. Beginners can produce a fresh-baked loaf of bread in a few hours and not be frightened away by a complicated process. A loaf of white bread made in your own kitchen is worlds better than commercially produced bread.
After 30 years of baking bread, most of the process is second nature to me. But I have one rule that must be followed: Do not kill the yeast. Yeast is alive. Yeast is what makes your bread rise. You must treat it with consideration. When dissolving yeast in water, it’s always better to keep the water (or other liquid) too cool rather than too hot. Room temperature is fine, even though it might take the yeast a bit longer to become active. You can do the baby milk wrist test if you think the water is too warm. Unless it’s expired, yeast will always activate, so remember to never, ever kill the yeast with hot liquids.

White Bread

1/3 cup warm water
1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (1½ teaspoons of bulk yeast if you have it)
2 Tablespoons oil—corn, canola, vegetable, olive
1 Tablespoon honey or sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons salt

In a large bowl, pour the 1/3 cup of warm (never hot) water. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. Let the water and yeast sit for about 10 minutes. It will start to look frothy and bubble. Add the oil and honey (or sugar) to the cup of warm water and stir. Add the water, oil, and honey mixture to the yeast. Stir.

The water and yeast mixture should look similar to this after about ten minutes.

Measure the flour you'll use into a large measuring cup.
Add 1½ teaspoons of salt to the bowl.
Measure 4 cups of flour into a large measuring cup. Begin adding the flour to the liquid mixture, one cup at a time, stirring after each addition. At about 3 to 3½ cups, the dough will be too thick to stir.

The dough is quite sticky at the stage you remove it from the bowl and place it on your kneading surface.
Using a counter, a table, or a large cutting board, first sprinkle some flour on the surface. Remove the dough from the bowl—it will be sticky, —and put it on the floured surface. Begin kneading. Kneading is simple and quite satisfying. Flour your hands, and shake a bit of flour from the cup onto the dough. Fold the dough and push the dough with the heels of your hands. Add more flour, fold, push, fold, push. When the dough gets sticky as the flour is absorbed, add more flour. Continue kneading for about 10 minutes until the dough feels soft and springy to the touch—a baby’s butt is the best way I’ve found to describe this stage. You might have some leftover flour; that’s fine.

After about ten minutes of kneading, you're ready to let your dough start rising.
Oil a clean bowl and put the dough in the bowl. Turn the dough a few times to cover it with oil. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel or plastic wrap and set it in a warm place for 45 minutes. I put the dough in the oven—a cool oven—with the light on. The heat from the light is the perfect temperature to spur the dough onto rising. Don’t clean your floured surface. You’ll use the area again to shape your loaf.

When the dough is close to double in size, remove it from the bowl. Knead the dough for a few minutes, adding a bit more flour if necessary, and then shape it into a rectangle that will fit a standard bread pan. Oil the pan and place the dough in it. Cover the dough and again let it rise for 45 minutes.

This dough has risen and is ready to be shaped and then placed in the baking pan.

Dough is ready for the second and final rise.

Cover the bread pan and dough while it rises the second time.
The dough has finished rising and is ready to bake.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Brush the top of the bread with water. Use a light touch so you don’t deflate the loaf. If you do, just let it sit for a few more minutes. Slide the bread into the oven on the center rack. Bake for 40 minutes. The bread is done when the top is browned and it makes a hollow sound when you rap it with your knuckles.

White bread loaf, just out of the oven and brushed with butter.
Ten minutes before the bread is ready, take out a stick of butter to soften. After removing the bread from the oven, brush the top with butter. You don’t have to do this step, but I like the taste and texture this produces.
Cool the bread for 10 minutes before you slice it. I have a bread knife, but any serrated knife will do for slicing bread. Slice, butter, enjoy!

This loaf won't last long.

If you have any questions about this process, or problems following the recipe, please post a comment on this blog and I will be happy to help you.

No comments:

Post a Comment