Bread. A staple in almost every kitchen. At first look, homemade bread may seem complex, but it’s actually a lot easier than you think. This is only the third time I’ve ever made homemade bread (not using a breadmaker). Below is a recipe for basic white bread from the book Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
Makes 2 loaves
2 ½ cups warm water (105 – 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
7 cups (approximately) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
½ stick (2 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Recipe says: Pour ½ cup of the water into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over the top and whisk to blend. Allow mixture to rest until the yeast is creamy, about five minutes.
Add remaining two cups water and about 3 ½ cups flour to the yeast. Snap bowl into mixer and attach dough hook. Mix on low speed to get the dough going a bit. Add remaining 3 ½ cups flour. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together. If dough does not come together, add a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time. Add the salt and continue to beat and knead at medium speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Recipe says: When the dough is thoroughly mixed, add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, and beat until incorporated. Don’t be disconcerted if your beautiful dough comes apart with the addition of the butter – beating will bring it back together.
I say: Well I was disconcerted with the addition of the butter. My dough ball started to come apart and stick to the bowl a bit. I poked at it with my spatula and tried to make it come back together but it refused. I decided to just go with it and when I turned it out in the next step it worked out fine. Now continue…
Recipe says: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Place it in a large buttered or oiled bowl (one that can hold double the amount of dough). Turn the dough around to cover its entire surface with butter or oil, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, about 45 minutes to an hour.
I say: If dough could be sexy, then this dough is sexy. It was silky smooth to the touch and formed a beautiful dough ball. It stuck a little bit to areas without flour but other than that it was great! To help the dough rise, place the bowl with the dough on top of a smaller bowl filled with hot water.
Recipe says: Butter two 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pans and set aside. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half and work with one piece at a time. Using the palms of your hands and fingertips, or a rolling pin, pat the dough into a large rectangle about 9 inches wide and 12 inches long with a short side facing you.
Pinch the seams to seal, turn the loaf over so that the seams are on the bottom, and plump the loaf with your palms to get an even shape. Drop the loaf into the pan, seam side down, and repeat with the other piece of dough.
I say: I think the shaping is the hardest part. Cookbooks never show enough pictures of this so I can see exactly how to do it. I’ve tried to take pictures (above) of what I think I’m supposed to do here so you can see.
I couldn’t quite get the bread into a perfect rectangle, but I figure it was close enough. I also only have one 8 ½ inch loaf pan and one 9 inch loaf pan. I think they look pretty good though!
When the loaves are fully risen (poke your finger in the dough and the impression should remain), bake them for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they are honey-brown and an instant-read thermometer plunged into the center of the bread (turn a loaf out and plunge the thermometer through the bottom of the bread) measures 200 degrees F. Remove the loaves from their pans as soon as they come from the oven and cool the loaves on racks. These should not be cut until they are almost completely cool; just warm is just right. Bread can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month.
I say: I don’t think I let the dough rise enough the second time around. The dough just barely reached the top of the pan on the smaller pan and didn’t even come close on the larger pan. I think it wasn’t warm enough in my kitchen. Next time I will let the dough rise longer or place each pan over a bowl of warm water like I do for the first rise.
The baking part was fine and the loaves popped right out of the pans.
Once the bread was cool I sliced one loaf and wrapped one for the freezer. The bread tastes great, even if I don’t think it rose enough. I’ve toasted two pieces for breakfast every day this week.
So is it worth it? There is nothing like the taste of homemade bread. It does not even compare to the store bought version. However homemade bread takes a long time to make. It’s not all active time; most of it is just waiting for the dough to rise or the bread to bake. It is a good activity for a Saturday or Sunday, especially now when it’s so cold outside (at least where I live).
Homemade bread is cheap to make and it’s all natural. So considering all the benefits (great taste, cheap, all natural) I think it’s worth it. I also find cooking and baking to be a relaxing activity, so for me the time is worth it too.
If you have never made homemade bread before I suggest you try it at least once. I know I was really intimidated at first but it’s not as hard as it seems. I believe it also takes practice to get it just right. With every batch you learn something new. No one can whip out a perfect loaf of bread on the first try.
Now go forth and make bread!