So here we are, back to my hippie cooking lessons from when I lived on the self-sufficient organic farm in my hippie youth.
Bread, I learned, requires only 3 ingredients- flour, water and yeast. All the rest is extra. The addition of oils and milk will give you a moister bread, eggs add richness and flavor, sunflower seeds will lend oil and crunch . . . you get what I mean. Today I am going to share with you my favorite bread recipe – which goes a little beyond the flour, water and yeast version – and talk about how to make your own homemade bread.
The first thing to know about making bread is that temperature is very important. Yeast is a living organism. If your water or other liquids are too hot, you can kill the yeast. If the mixture is too cold, it will put your yeast to sleep. Ideally everything should be on the lukewarm to warm side of things.
That means if you are going to add eggs to your bread, you need to take them out of the refrigerator ahead of time so they can reach room temperature before adding them to the batter. Same with your flour. If you keep it in a cool pantry, bring it out and leave it in a warm kitchen overnight so it is at least room temperature in the morning. Cold ingredients can lead to flat bread.
I like to add milk, butter and honey to my bread. The milk, however, has to be scalded and then the butter and honey melted in the milk, so that all has to be done ahead of time to allow time for the whole mixture to cool to lukewarm before adding it to the yeast. You don’t want to scald your yeast when you add the milk as that too can lead to flat bread.
To scald your milk, heat it just to the point that the oxygen starts to bubble out of the milk along the sides.
Then place your stick of butter in the hot milk to melt it, then stir in your honey.
I use 3 cups of milk to one stick of butter and about 5 tablespoons of honey. This amount will produce 3-4 loaves of bread. (If your bread is still dry, consider substituting oil for the butter). When I think that the milk is getting to the right temperature (stick your clean finger all the way to the bottom to gauge the temperature) I start preparing the yeast.
I begin by putting the water into a bowl – again, about 3 cups of water – making sure the water is lukewarm to a little warmer. (It cools quickly so I start it out a little warm when putting it into the bowl). Then I add two packets (or tablespoons if you are working with bulk yeast) of yeast to the water. Ideally you should use one packet or tablespoon of yeast per loaf of bread, but this amount works well for the amounts I will give you without making it rise so much that holes form inside the bread.
As I said, yeast is alive and when you put it in a nice warm wet environment it comes to life. And like any new life, it comes out hungry so I always add a tablespoon of honey to the warm water and stir it all gently with a metal spoon until the yeast has dissolved. Yeast also feeds off of wheat, so if you don’t want to add honey to your bread, add some flour so the yeast has something to feed off of.
Then I let it sit in a sunny window or a warm place for about 5-8 minutes to let the yeast wake up, have some honey and start to grow. You want to see it puff up and start to expand in the water before you start.
This part is important because you need to know if your yeast is good. I can’t tell you how many times I have made a batch of bread, only to watch is sit as a blob in the loaf pans, barely rising, and producing thick, hard loaves of sorta bread – sigh – because I did not know to feed the yeast and keep it warm during the process – or I killed it by adding milk that was too hot or flour that was too cold.
So once you have your yeast happy and growing, slowly add in the lukewarm milk/butter/honey mixture and gently stir it all together.
Then it is time to start adding your flour. I use about 14 cups of flour to make my 3-4 loaves of bread. I add it two cups at a time to the liquid, stirring it in until it all seems to be moistened, then add two more cups – going until I just can’t stir in any more. That is when you flip it out onto your floured bread board and start kneading the remaining flour in.
There comes a point when you are kneading in the remaining flour when you know you have enough and you shift your main focus to just kneading the dough. I do this for 20 minutes as it is the kneading process which develops the gluten in the bread. Gluten, for those who don’t know, is the protein portion of the wheat berry and is responsible for the elasticity in your finished bread. You will still be adding small amounts of flour to the bread board, and thereby to your bread, but that’s okay. What is important is to give the bread dough the time to develop – to work out the excess air and work in the elasticity.
I will usually commandeer a child (or husband) while I am kneading the dough to wash out the bread bowl that I made the bread in so that I can then oil it and put my bread dough in it for the first rising. Basically cover the bottom and sides of your bowl with oil – put your bread dough in the bowl, turn your dough over, so that the oil covered bottom is now on top, cover your bread bowl with a towel and leave it somewhere warm (again – not hot) to rise until it is doubled in size. It usually takes 1-2 hours, depending on how active your yeast is. If you have a drafty house (like mine) you can put it in your oven. I will sometimes warm the oven just a little before I put the dough in just to make sure it stays warm but not hot.
Sorry – I forgot to take pictures of this. Sometimes I just get on a roll and forget that I am blogging this. Basically, after 20 minutes of non-stop kneading I am so happy to have it in the bowl rising and to sit down that my mind takes a quick little nap – or shifts to the next recipe I am working on that day.
When you think the bread dough is double its size, butter your loaf pans.
If you make bread alot you will be able to rationalize spending money on things like Fiestaware loaf pans. I got one in orange and one in yellow for myself a few Christmases ago. They make me happy – even if they are a little small.
Once the dough has risen to double in size, you punch down the dough – which is just like it sounds. Take your fist and punch it down right through the center of your dough – the entire pile of dough will deflate. It only takes one punch.
Then take the dough out of the bowl, put it on your bread board, divide it into the number of loaves you plan to bake and form your loaves. I take each piece of dough, pull it roughly into a rectangular shape, then I roll it into my “loaf” which I then place in the loaf pan.
This time I only made two loaves. You will see why this was a mistake later – I should have made 4 loaves from this batch. Anyway, after the dough is in the loaf pans, again grab your dish towel,cover your dough and let them rise in a warm place until they look like loaves of bread.
This takes about 30 minutes – maybe a little more. If you have soft butter, you can gently rub some of the butter on the top of your loaves.
Then bake them at 350 º for an hour and they should be done. Always preheat your oven before putting them it. It really does matter.
When they are finished, they should just fall out of your pan. Cool them on a rack.
This is how they look when cut.
Kinda spectacular, don’t you think? My family thinks so. They don’t even mind when it turns out all overgrown on top like this batch did. See, that is why I should have divided this into 4 loaves instead of two. Sigh.
So that is how we make bread in our house.
You can always experiment with this recipe – adding eggs, sesame seeds, ground oats, other types of flours – anything you want. You can leave out the milk, butter and honey and make a peasant bread. (Add more water though). Dress it up or down, there is nothing like warm homemade bread. Love it.
Hope you do too.
Have a great weekend all.