Last week March wrote about the sad state of cooking in America. After a comment I made about her post, she asked for tips on making bread. I thought there may be some others who could use a good recipe and instructions. Many people are terrified of making yeast bread. Don't let it scare you. Homemade bread is sooo good. Like anything you make yourself, you control exactly what goes into your bread. I have several recipes I love. I chose this one because it was sitting on my counter from the last batch I made. You'll find the basic directions, then some notes/tips.
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 tablespoon warm milk (110-115 degrees)
2 tablespoons oil (olive oil or coconut oil work great)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Combine the yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Add the warm water and milk; let the yeast and sugar dissolve and foam. Stir in the oil and salt. Stir in enough flour so the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5-10 minutes. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover with a damp towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Deflate dough and knead for a few minutes until smooth, then form into a loaf. Place in greased loaf pan and let rise until almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest in pan for a few minutes. Remove to a wire rack. Store in airtight container after it has cooled. This recipe can easily be doubled to make 2 loaves.
Bread is primarily made of flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and liquid. The yeast digests the sugar, producing carbon dioxide that makes the bread rise. Salt helps control this rate of rise. Honey may be used instead of sugar (or a combination of the two). Milk and/or water are the most common liquids included. Bread made with milk has more food value and a more velvety grain. Bread made with water only has a wheaty flavor and crispy crust. Some type of fat or oil is usually included; it helps the dough stretch and improves the flavor. Eggs are sometimes included; they add flavor, richness, and food value. You can add nuts, seeds, fruits, spices, and other ingredients after you're comfortable with a basic recipe.
* You don't need a thermometer for warming the liquids. Remember your body temperature is 98.6 degrees. As you're warming the liquid, drop a little on your wrist. If it's neither cold nor hot - you can't even feel it on your wrist - it's about 99 degrees. Let it heat a little longer until it feels warm, but doesn't feel VERY hot, and it's probably around 110-115 degrees. If you think you got it too hot, let it cool a little. Err on the side of not quite warm enough. Your dough will take longer to rise, but you don't want to kill the yeast with liquid that's too hot.
* When covering the dough to rise, a damp towel keeps the dough moist. You can use a dry towel, but the exposed surface will be a little dry.
*80-85 degrees is the ideal temperature range for rising. Dough will rise at a lower temperature but will take longer. At higher temperatures you risk killing the yeast.
* I like to use white whole wheat flour (sometimes called pastry whole wheat). It's made from hard white wheat instead of hard red wheat. You get the same goodness but it's a little milder in taste and texture. You can use any combination of flour you want - 100% whole wheat, half whole wheat and half all-purpose, etc. Just be aware that the taste and texture will be different.
* The amount of flour you add will vary (on a humid day you'll need a little more) so recipes give a range of flour (like 2 1/2 to 3 cups). Stir in enough that the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl - just enough to make it kneadable. Too much flour will make your bread stiff.
* To knead dough, turn it onto a floured surface. Fold the far side up over the close side and press down with the heels of your hands. Repeat this, turning the dough clockwise (or counterclockwise) as you go. You'll develop a rhythm after some practice.
* You can mix in fresh or dried herbs when you stir in the flour.
* Before baking, after the second rise, you can brush milk, melted butter, or beaten egg white on the bread and sprinkle with seeds or Parmesan cheese.
* When you remove the bread from the pan, you can rub butter on the crust and it will stay soft. This makes it easier to cut.
* Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to cut bread. An electric knife works great. Just turn it on and move it straight down.