Post #470 The Wonders of Bread

April 15, 2016 at 11:42 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #470 The Wonders of Bread

I love bread.  I really do.  As my younger brother says, “As long as there’s a loaf of bread in the house, I  won’t go hungry.”  Of course, he’s been known to misinterpret the picture on the loaf of Sunbeam bread and make a yellow mustard sandwich instead of eating bread and butter.  But that’s another story, which I’ve told here a few times.

Bread is about the most versatile food there is.  It can be white and bland.  It can be dark and hearty.  It can be sweet or savory.  It can be a vehicle for nuts, fruits, and seeds.  It can be fresh or stale.  It can be toasted, grilled, baked into a pudding, or torn and eaten as is.

One year for the Christmas feast, I wanted to make homemade stuffing from homemade bread.  I made three loaves of bread and left them sitting on the kitchen table to get stale.  Unbeknownst to me, my sister and her husband and best friend showed up in the middle of the night ravenous.  They descended on the loaves like a plague of locusts, a “feeding frenzy worthy of a pack of Great Whites” they described it later.  I woke to find two thirds of a loaf amidst a pile of crumbs.  But I had enough to make the stuffing I wanted.

I’m constantly on the lookout for the perfectly easy, perfectly successful every time, perfectly tasty perfect loaf of bread.  I’ve tried many and some are a little more involved than others.  It’s hard to believe that something so simple can be so difficult.

Basically, bread is made up of four things:  Flour, Water, Yeast, and Salt.  You can get by without the salt but you give up flavor.  Other additions just make the bread taste better.  Also, basically, bread is the same process.  Bloom the yeast, mix it with the flour and salt, and knead it until smooth and elastic.  Let it rise, punch it down, and let it rise again.  Punch it down, let it rest briefly, then form into loaves and let rise again.  Bake until done, cool down, slice (or rip) and eat.  Bread is an investment in time.

I started making bread in my teens, but it was problematic.  My mom suggested the already made bread that you just did a “brown and serve” with.  Then we graduated to frozen dough which was wildly successful but again, it’s an investment in time.  After I got married, we invested in a bread machine.  I’ve had a bread machine ever since, although I seldom use it to bake bread anymore.  Before we got the bread machine, to satisfy our craving for fresh bread, I made the “quick” loaves, the artisan breads that don’t need a lot of work or rising time.  Breads like Irish Soda Bread, Sally Lunn, etc.

Now I’m getting older, though, and bread making doesn’t seem as onerous a task as it once did.  I’m still looking for that perfect recipe for that perfect loaf.  Over the weekend, I ate the last of the store bought bread, but rather than run out and buy more, I decided to stay up late and bake a loaf while I was working on the computer.  I used a standard recipe and turned out a standard loaf.  It was a white bread, hearty and sustaining, but still not the perfect loaf I was looking for.

So the next recipe in the trial is this one:

basic bread

Basic White Bread Recipe

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 6-7 cups of unbleached bread flour

Heat 1 cup of milk and 2 tbsp butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat when the butter is melted. Set aside to cool.

Pour 1/2 cup of warm water into a small bowl. Slowly pour yeast into bowl while stirring. The constant stirring while adding the yeast will prevent the dry yeast from clumping. Set the bowl of yeast water aside for about 5 minutes while you work on the next 2 steps.

In a large bowl, add sugar, salt, and 1 cup of warm water. Mix.

Check the small saucepan of milk and butter. If the contents are warm to the touch, pour the liquid into the large bowl and mix.

Pour the yeast water into the large bowl. It is important that the batter is warm, not boiling hot. Hot liquid, such as the milk you heated up, will kill the dry yeast and prevent the bread from rising.

Begin mixing in the unbleached bread flour, one cup at a time. By the fifth cup of flour, the dough will begin to get stiff and it will be difficult to mix it with the wooden spoon. Turn dough out onto a floured board and begin to knead the dough. Continue adding more flour and kneading the flour into the dough until the dough is smooth, not sticky.

Next, grease a large bowl with butter. Put the bread dough into the bowl and then turn the dough over so that the top of the dough is now buttered. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise at room temperature until double in size or about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead out all the bubbles for about 5 minutes. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a loaf by rolling the dough into a rectangle. Roll the dough up like a jellyroll. Pinch seam closed. Pinch and tuck edges under the loaf.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter two loaf pans. Spread a light layer of yellow cornmeal on the loaf pans, if desired. Set loaves in pans, cover with kitchen towel, and allow to rise until double in size or for about a half hour.

Bake bread for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove bread from oven and turn out loaves onto a rack or a clean kitchen towel. Allow to cool before cutting.

I’ve read through the recipe a couple of times and it’s standard stuff.  I’ve already seen a couple of ways to streamline it.  I’ll let you all know if this turns out my “perfectly perfect” loaf of white bread.  Here’s hoping.

I’ll leave you with a funny story.  It involves bread marginally.  My younger brother once worked for a construction crew for a short time in his late teens.  They got assigned to a job out of town and for the first time, he was earning a salary plus per diem.  Per diem puzzled him until I explained that the company was paying his living expenses since they were requiring him to leave his home.  He was gone for about three weeks.  When he got back, he told us that to save money, they had all decided to eat nothing but fast food for every meal.  Their last night, they decided to treat themselves and went to a “nice” restaurant.  I don’t remember which one they chose, but it was along the lines of Denny’s or something.  They still wanted to spend as little as possible so they’d have a more to bring home.

When the salads were served, my brother told me, “They put dried up old stale bread crumbs all over it!”

I grinned.  “Those are called croutons.  They’re supposed to be there.  They add flavor and crunch to a salad.”

His outrage was still high.  “I don’t care what they’re called.  It was terrible.  I made them take it back and take them all off!”


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