Post # 231 The Best of Bread

March 24, 2014 at 4:23 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 231 The Best of Bread

Nope, not the music group from the 70’s and 80s’s.  We’re going to be talking about the stuff you eat made of flour, water, and yeast.  Those are the basic ingredients.  It all starts from there.  I’m always a little surprised at how intimidating bread-making is.  I hear it all the time, how people are scared to bake bread.  I can understand why in some respects, but the easiest way to get past the uneasiness is to just make the bread.  If it doesn’t turn out right, who cares?  It’ll still taste good.  Then you try again until you get it right.  No one is born knowing how to do this stuff.  It just takes practice.

One of the things that makes some cooks shy away from making bread is the time it takes.  It can take several hours and that’s quite a commitment to something that might not work.  There are different kinds of breads that take significantly less time, and those have a place in the bread pantheon.  But when most people think of bread, they think of the loaf that can be sliced and used for sandwiches.  It has a firm texture, few holes, and a good taste.


Recently, bread making machines have been on the market to simplify the process.  You throw your ingredients in the correct order, set the machine, and three or four hours later you come back and take out a perfect loaf of bread.  Initially, these machines made tall loafs that looked more like tubes than a standard loaf.  However, changes have been made to the technology involved and many of them make the standard loaf shape and size.  Prices have dropped considerably, too, but don’t buy on the cheap if you’re going to invest in one.  I use mine continually and have been through almost a half dozen of them.

I’ve also made bread by hand, mixing, kneading, etc. and have come up with some superlative loaves, and some real duds.  It’s hard not to be discouraged when the ambient humidity can affect the finished product.  That’s where practice and experience comes in.

There are loads of different kinds of bread.  There are the basic yeast bread that require rising, or “proofing”, times.  Depending on how tasty you want them, you may need to let them rise a couple of times.  These require the biggest outlay of time, but have the smoothest texture.  The there’s the “artisan” breads which are yeast breads but made more roughly, and shaped into other forms.  These are known by the large holes inside the bread, and the thicker crusts.  Quick breads are breads made without yeast and the baking time is also the rising time.  This category is typified by cornbread and banana bred style loaves.  There are also breakfast breads, things like muffins, scones, buns, biscuits, etc.  Buns, rolls, and biscuits could also be another category, or sub category.  Cinnamon rolls would fall here.  Finally, there are flat breads, breads made with no rising agent at all.  There are as many of these kinds of breads as there are countries and cultures on the planet.  Some of the better known are tortillas from Mexico, Naan from India, and pita bread, or pocket bread, from the middle East.

I’ll talk today about the basic loaf of white bread and how to do it successfully by hand.  Later in the week, I’ll talk about the specialty breads, then finish up with the sweet breads.

Like I’ve said before, bread is just flour, water, and yeast mixed together properly then baked.  Sounds simple, but it’s really not.  First, you want to use the right kind of flour.  The thing that gives bread its texture and personality is created when water hits flour.  It’s called gluten, and it’s the protein strands that give the finished product its shape and strength.  It’s the thing that people who are allergic to wheat flour are actually allergic to.  I’ve written about gluten free diets here before so I won’t go into that.  But gluten is formed and reformed during the rising and kneading processes and is critical to a good loaf.  Some flours have a higher concentration of protein to form gluten.  You make have heard of bread flour, or cake flour, or all purpose (AP) flour.  Second, you want to be certain that the water is the right temperature so it doesn’t kill the yeast.  If the water feels slightly warmer than your skin, it’s about the right temp.  Third, you want to be certain you have the right kind of yeast and that it isn’t dead.  Most of the time, storing yeast in the fridge, or using the handy vacuum sealed envelopes is all the precaution needed.  Sometimes, if you’re using yeast from a block of yeast, or you aren’t certain about your yeast, you will need to “prove” the yeast.  Add your yeast to a tablespoon of water and some form of food for it, mostly sugar but flour will do.  After ten minutes, it should be foamy and have grown.  The yeast is good and can be added to the flour for bread.  One thing to remember about yeast is salt is a killer.  Salt is added to bread recipes for two reasons.  First, to add flavor, and second, to control the rise of the yeast.

Loads of other ingredients are added to bread recipes to make them richer, or slightly sweeter, etc. but I suggest mastering the basic white bread recipe before moving on.

Here it is:  (this makes two loaves)

  • 7 cups AP flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 4-5 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 cup warm water (120-130 degrees)

Mix 3 1/2 cups flour with the sugar, salt, shortening, and yeast in a large bowl.  Add the water and beat either by hand or with a handheld mixer.  If you have a stand mixer, that’s even better!  Beat on low for one minute, scraping the bowl often.  Increase speed to medium for another minute, remembering to scrape the bowl.  Stir in enough flour, one cup at a time to make the dough easy to handle.  You might use all the flour and you might not.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about ten minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Place dough in a large greased bowl, then turn so greased side is up.  Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free place until the dough has doubled, anywhere from 40-60 minutes.  (One trick I’ve learned is your oven will work wonderfully as long as it’s NOT ON.)  The dough is ready if you touch it firmly and the indentation remains.

Grease two loaf pans with baking spray.  Punch down your dough (that’s the fun part) and divide in half.  Flatten each piece of dough by hand or with a rolling pin to a rectangle 18″x9″.  Fold crosswise into thirds, then roll out to a 9×9 square.  Roll the dough tightly and seal the ends by pressing with the side of your hand.  Fold the ends under and place in a loaf pan seam side down.  Brush the top with butter and let rise again until doubled, anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

Heat your oven to 425, and place rack so the top of the loaf will be in the center.  Place loaf in pan in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  The loaves should be a deep golden brown and sound hollow when you tap them.  Remove from oven and pan immediately and place on wire rack to cool.  I also cover with a clean dish towel to avoid uneven cooling.  Try not to eat these hot or warm.  Part of what will give the loaves stability is allow the steam in the loaf to escape gradually.

Let me know how it goes!




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