Monday, December 27, 2010

White Bread: I Don't Care What You Call Me, Just Don't Call Me Late For Fresh Bread

country bean soup with
The other day I mentioned we were having some bean soup and that it would be good with some bread...which it was. I know I said "crusty" but I also knew I needed a loaf for the next morning's French toast, so I made a batch of this basic white bread.

 And then I realized I had never given you my bread recipe.

Let's start out with some facts:

1) I am not a very good bread maker. I mean, I'm better than a bread machine but I'm no artisan. But I enjoy making my own bread and I believe that makes a difference.

2) This bread is good for sandwiches, toast, French toast. It's not so great for tearing apart for dunking or slopping up the last dribbles of the white wine sauce on your mussels.

3) Fresh homemade bread is better than store bought for a number of reason--but if you are expecting your loaf to be like that soft, squooshy wonderbread-esque crap, it won't be. That "bread" (in quotes because this is a loose definition of the word in my book) is like that in part because it's made with all kinds of extra preservatives which keep it from staling and/or molding quickly. Homemade bread doesn't (and shouldn't) contain all that extra fat and crap (*technical term) because it's better. (you better believe I said that it in a "nah-nah-nana nah voice). So when you are making your own bread, plan to use it that day or the next and freeze the rest.

4) Bread is a staple of life. As such, there are about a bazzilion recipes out there for bread; of which, this is just one. It's the one that works for me. You may find this bread isn't what you are looking for and move on to another recipe. And that's cool as long as you TRY making your own bread at least once in your life. You may find you have a new passion, a new skill, a new appreciation for the simple things.

The recipe in question (*can easily double):

1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 pkg active dry yeast or 1 compressed yeast cake
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs shortening or oil
Approximately 6 cups of AP flour (or 1/2 white and 1/2 whole wheat flour)--why "approximately"? we will get to that, grasshopper

First, place the milk in a small saucepan and scald it (this is heating the milk until it begins to steam, but does not boil).
yeast having breakfast
Yeast dies at 140 degrees so, until the bread goes into the oven, the ingredients should never ever be near that temperature point. However, because yeast is a dormant but living organism, you must wake it (with moisture and heat) and feed it (with sugar) to achieve the results one desires in bread--bubbles and lift.

For this reason, place the room temperature water and sugar in a mixing bowl and add the milk. If you need to, use a thermometer but make sure that the liquid is between 85-120 degrees before adding the yeast. Let these ingredients sit in the bowl for 10 minutes. The yeast should be waking and eating; so you should see a foaming or bubbling in the bowl. This shows the yeast is alive and good; if, after 10 minutes, you don't see this-you're yeast is dead and you need new yeast so throw out what you have in the bowl.

Assuming your yeast is alive and had it's breakfast, we shall continue. Add the salt to the bowl and either the shortening or oil. Lately, I've been having a better time with vegetable oil for my bread. That's just me-you might find that warming up the shortening in the microwave briefly works well too.

Just kneaded dough
Begin mixing the ingredients together and add two cups of flour. As the dough begins to absorb the flour through mixing, add more. Leave about a half cup back as the dough comes together. You may decide to hand-knead the dough from this point. Not all mixers are created equal and there is great satisfaction in kneading your own dough. Don't flour the surface of the table or counter unless the dough is sticking to everything including your hands. That's where that reserved amount of flour comes in.
If you are kneading the dough in the mixer, you will see the dough remove any bits from the sides of the bowl as it rotates. If you look into the bottom of the bowl, you will see the base of the ball of dough sticking somewhat to the bottom. How much is pooled there lets you know how much flour may need to be added. This is why I say "approximately" on the flour because some days the dough may need more or less flour dependent on humidity, weather, and other normal variance around you.

Knead for 5 minutes or until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic feeling. This means that you have properly developed the gluten bonds that give bread it's texture.

ready to rise
dough after 2 hours
Grab a deep bowl and spray or butter it. Add the dough and flip it over in the bowl so top and bottom have some spray or butter on it. This keeps the top from drying out as it grows. Cover with a damp clothe and place in a warm place-a window sill, on top of a running dryer, or the top of your stove that is heating slightly. The dough needs to double in size so this may take anywhere from and hour and a half to two hours.

bread, panned and ready
to rise
loaves, doubled and
ready to bake
When the dough is doubled in size, press it down (otherwise known as punching down the dough). Cut the dough in half and place in two 9x5 loaf pans that you have sprayed or buttered, just like the bowl. Repeat the process for letting the dough double. The more times you let a yeast dough rise and double, the more flavor the bread has. Cover with a damp towel and set a timer.

Approximately 15 minutes before the loaves are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375. I have aluminum pans that help the bread bake quickly and evenly so my loaves were done in 25 minutes. However, if you are using glass loaf pans, you may be baking the loaves longer-like 35 minutes.  What you are looking for is that the top is dark golden brown and-if you flip the loaf over and tap on the bottom, it sounds hollow. The base of the loaf should be lightly golden as well.

fresh from the oven
our daily bread
Always remove your loaves from the pans to cool properly. Place them on their sides or upside down to allow steam to escape. Also, allow the bread to cool completely before trying to slice it. Use a sharp, serrated knife for best slicing.

This is basic bread. It made fantastic toast and amazing French toast. Will it meet all my bread needs? No, but I do work up another batch every time I take the last loaf out of the freezer because it's something we don't like to be without.

1 comment:

Mother B said...

Looks as good as the stuff we got from the "Creative Crust".m