Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Home Baked Loaf Bread, part 1 of 3

The pix and draft of this post have been hanging around in my computer for months. Suddenly I decided to leave Livey's sweet dog and cat, and her gorgeous flowers and house, alone for just a bit, and post this one instead.

First is the recipe part - short and simple. Then comes the explanation of all the stuff it helps to know if you've never made bread from scratch before - way long! Even if you have baked bread before, there might be some interesting info in there for you. So don't be afraid to peek.

And don't worry. It's NOT hard to do this. If you've tried before and it didn't work out right, you'll probably see the answer here, and I betcha $5 it'll be a simple answer at that.

Snog Dot, this one's especially for you. Yes! An actual BREAD RECIPE! You don't have to be depressed any more, son. It's AAALLLLLL better now. Mama k gonna take good care of you!

oh - and, um, seeing as how I'm at my usual technochallenged self here, this one will be in 3 separate posts because I still don't know how to post more than 4 pix at a time, okay?

Hey. Stop with the giggling, will ya? At least I can bake bread, all right? ;-)


Loaf Bread
½ c warm water
1 T yeast
1 T sugar

Put water and sugar in large bowl; sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit for apx. 10 minutes until foamy.
Meanwhile, measure out:
2 c warm water
½ c oil
½ c sugar
1 ½ t salt
1 egg

Blend this into the yeast mix.

Next, mix in a total of:
8-10 c bread flour

After half the flour is added, mix on high for 1 minute. Add remaining flour, mixing in the last cup or two by hand.

Cover and rest 10-15 minutes.
Knead 10-12 minutes until smooth and elastic.
Put dough in oiled bowl, turn, and cover.
Let rise until double, apx. 1 ½ hours.
Punch down and form loaves; put in oiled loaf pans.
Let rise until almost double, apx. 1 hour.
Place in cold oven, turn heat on to 375 degrees, and bake for apx. 35 minutes.
Cool on wire racks.

Some recipes truly need very exact measuring and so forth. This one doesn't. There are many ways to handle the yeast mixing, for example. Here, I've put down what works best for me; certainly there are many other perfectly good methods.

In this recipe, the quality of the ingredients DOES make all the difference in the world. The yeast and flour are especially important. I buy mine at Sam's, where commercial quality (professional) yeast and bread flour cost far less than what the local food stores charge for significantly inferior products.

As in any bulk shopping, you'll get more yeast and flour than you may need. It's okay. It's truly worth it, even if some gets thrown away. And if you have a really great time making and eating this bread? You'll use up all your flour and yeast and go back for more.

Yeast - The yeast at Sam's is simply Fleishmann's dry yeast, the same brand as at the local food store. The difference is in freshness and cost. The Sam's pack is 2 vacuum-packed containers, 16 oz. each. It's been properly stored so it's truly fresh. Total cost for all 32 oz is around $3.50. That's about what you pay for a grand total of only 3/4 of 1 oz - yes, that's not a typo - of usually improperly stored *dead* and expired yeast packs at the local food store.

If the yeast isn't fresh your bread won't rise. Any rising problems you've had in the past are usually because the yeast was expired. If you really don't want both packs from Sam's, give one to a friend or neighbor. Yes! Inspire breadmaking pursuits in those near and dear to you! It's GOOD for them!

Since I live in hot humid South Florida, after I open the pack, I put the yeast in the fridge in an airtight container to keep it fresh and dry.

Flour - Use that commercial quality bread flour. Again, it's big: a 25 pound bag. Cost? All of $5.50 or so. If you don't use it all, still, it's way worth it, in cost and quality both. Flour is almost always presifted these days. I usually give it one more sift as I go, to make up for settlement during shipping and to remove any shreds of the paper bag I accidentally got in there because I'm clumsy.

Oil - This is another Sam's purchase for me: I use their Extra Light Olive Oil - NOT Extra Virgin, but Extra Light. There's no olive oil flavor to it, so don't worry, your bread won't taste a bit odd. Traditional alternatives are lard, Crisco, corn oil, etc. For quite a while I used goose fat I'd rendered from roasted goose, which gave a fabulous bread. I only stopped using it when I became allergic to goose. About the only oil I'd recommend against here is butter. For some reason it just doesn't make good loaf bread.

Sugar - Since the yeast consumes sugar as it rises, use regular white sugar rather than a low-calorie substitute.

Water - The water should be around 110 degrees. To me, that's slightly warm on my wrist, just like a baby bottle. I nuke it. In my microwave, the initial 1/2 c water takes 20 seconds, and the 2 cups 2 minutes, to hit the right temperature. Livey's got a very good microwave, so hers takes a little less time to get the water the right temp. If it's too warm I add a little cold water before I measure it.

Mixer - Any electric mixer is fine; I use a plain hand mixer. Of course, you can mix it by hand, but that requires more strength than I want to use, especially for the *beat 1 minute on high* part. Eeek!

Rising - For rising, a glass bowl is best, if you have a big one handy. Why? Metal conducts temperature better than glass or wood; a metal bowl stays cooler, which holds back the rising.

Loaf Pans - Glass (Pyrex) loaf pans make a far better crust. Metal pans almost always burn the crust a bit. I use spray oil in the pans, then also dribble a bit of melted butter both in the pan and on top of the loaves for tenderness and flavor.

Cooling - For cooling the loaves, any wire racks are good, including a BBQ grill. It only needs around 1/2" of air under the rack for the bread to breathe as it cools.

Cutting and Storing - Fresh bread is notoriously hard to cut. Use a bread knife: long, serrated and sharp. To make the bread firmer - thus, easier to cut - I put the loaves in the freezer for about an hour when they're just cooled, then take them out and slice them, slightly frozen.

Fresh bread stays fresh only for a day or so. If I won't use it that fast, I put it back in the freezer, sliced, in freezer ziplocks. I also ziplock any bread I'm not freezing. Yes. Fuss fuss fuss.

Mixing - Using a big ole metal bowl, one the mixer won't chip, put in the 1/2 c warm water and 1 T sugar; sprinkle the dry yeast on top and let it sit a few minutes. This gets the yeast *started* and dissolved. If it's not all dissolved when you start mixing the other ingredients in, that's okay. The timing on this part is not critical.

The yeast, sprinkled on top of the water, is dissolving and getting foamy.

Mix in the flour 1 cup at a time. After you've mixed in about half the flour, beat on high for one minute, then add in the remaining flour a cup at a time.

The dough quickly becomes stiffer. Stop using the mixer and blend the last of the flour in with a very strong spoon or your hands. Keeping the flour content as low as possible gives you a lighter, more tender bread, so always use just enough flour to keep it from sticking too much.

At the end, the dough clings together and leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn it out onto a lightly floured kneading surface and knead in the last bits of flour and little shreds of dough.

Knead in the last bits of flour. It looks all gloppy as you get to the end.

Kneading and Resting - Kneading bread dough develops the gluten, the substance in wheat and potatoes that makes dough *gluey* and elastic. Developed gluten holds in the air bubbles (CO2) that the yeast - *leaven* - makes as it consumes sugars. The bread dough rises and becomes light and airy, delicate, not thick and solid or crisp like unleavened bread products such as crackers and matzos.

Alternatively, resting the dough lets the gluten *undevelop* a little bit. That makes it less stiff and much easier to work with, to knead and to form loaves. You can *rest* the dough pretty much any time you like; some people even take a short break in the middle of kneading.

So: After you've added the last of the flour, cover the dough and let it sit - rest - for 10-15 minutes.

To knead, get comfortable. I sit down on a high chair in front of my kneading surface, which is my perfectly ordinary kitchen counter. Lightly flour the kneading surface, adding more flour from time to time if the dough sticks. I use a metal strainer for sprinkling flour on the surface, the same strainer I use for sifting.

Fold the far end towards yourself...

Put the dough on the lightly floured surface. Put your open hands on that dough. Push down and away from you, like you're trying to press it through the surface. Turn it 1/4 way (90 degrees), fold the farthest edge back toward you, folding it over the hunk of dough, and repeat the pushing motion.

...then push it away from you.

With my too-small hands, I press it 4 times along the surface before turning it. Kneading ain't written in stone.

Although I will say, I've seen people beat their dough. Slam! turn. SLAM!!! ouch!

Personally, I just don't get it. It's totally unnecessary to whack the stuff, okay? It looks and sounds violent to me, like they're mad at their bread. It takes far more energy too. Me, it would hurt my arthritis something fierce, instead of giving me that nice hand massage I get by kneading dough gently.

Some modern recipes show 5-6 minute kneading times. No no no. That's not enough time to get the tastiest product. The folks that say that's okay? Those are people who hate kneading, and who believe you're a wuss when I know you're not, and they're just pretending good kneading is unnecessary so they can sell more cookbooks.

Knead it until it's done. Here's how you know. The dough goes through an important change, one that you'll learn to watch for, when you've kneaded it the best amount of time. That's usually about 10-12 minutes. When it suddenly becomes satiny smooth and elastic, and doesn't stick to the kneading surface any more, you're done. It's a subtle change, but it is a noticeable one. After you've made bread several times, your hands learn to feel the change so well you won't even consciously think about it. You'll just know, and you'll look up at the clock and realize that, say, 11 minutes have gone by.

OTOH? If you overknead, the dough looks different, becoming *blistered* instead of smooth. It looks a bit like a stucco finish on a house. The final bread will be edible, but a bit dry and tough and heavy-grained, not nearly as soft as it should be.

(Mini-lecture here:) I know people love bread machines. I like them for this reason: they encourage people to make homemade bread, when before, they were too shy to try it without a bread machine.

But please, just once...KNEAD IT BY HAND, PEOPLE. At least do this one time in your life. Preach preach preach! Okay. I know. I'm harping at ya. But kneading bread should be on everyone's *Life List of Stuff to Do* - even just that once.

It's NOT difficult. It IS fun. It's homey and domestic and meditative and a superb stress reliever. It only takes 10-12 minutes, and the dough KNOWS whether you kneaded by machine or by hand. If you let a bread machine do the kneading you may well notice the difference in quality. I do. If you can't tell?...Okay. I'll stop getting on your case! It's your bread. Of course. Knead by machine if you like. Me, I'm just happy anyone is interested in making bread, any way at all. It's GOOD for you! (Mini-lecture over.)


Livey said...

I can tell ya, this woman makes a great loaf of bread and awesome cinnamon rolls!

pepektheassassin said...

My mama used to make bread and cinnamon rolls! I loved to see her "spank" the bread, thought it was very funny...not violent....

Kat said...

ooh, I LOVE making homemade bread! It's been about six or seven years since i did it last... now I have something else on my "list of things to do this summer!" thanks! :)

Kirsten N. Namskau said...

This was a fantastic lesson of how to make / bake loaf, and they look really nice too. I have written down the recipe and will try

Doom said...

I have tried so hard to bake. I can cook almost anything, though meats and fish are my specialty. I almost can't roast a turkey, beef roast, or leg of lamb incorrectly. I can't miss with steak, I never mess up vegetables (usually steamed) in spite of having no interest in vegatables.

But baking rips me up. Bread to rolls to croisants, I just fail time and again. I can't even do tortillas.

Anyway, I might have to try again. You have laid it out so well. My goal is to make good bread weekly and to make my own Beef Wellington from scratch at some point.

Well, thanks for writing those instructions. Have a good day!

k said...

Livey is an excellent food appreciator! I LOVE that. She tells me exactly what's right and what's not-so-right about anything I make, and even if it's not my best effort, she doesn't mind and eats is up anyway! And she really likes most anything I fix up. I'm having a wonderful cooking run here with her.

miss assassin, I have seen instances of that *spanking* the dough that wasn't violent at all. I'm hazarding a guess here: I bet your Mama didn't get mad at her bread, right? I bet she enjoyed making it and watching her little girl watch HER. I think that's what makes the difference. Those people on TV, sometimes they're a joy to watch. Others...like I said, they may be into the bucks aspect, instead of loving their cooking. THOSE are the evil bread-beaters of the world.

kat, I went through several years of not baking after we moved into our house. We were having some marital issues back then, and it just never felt as *homey* as I wanted, in order to bless it with the fragrance of rising bread. Then, finally, it was time. That small act of bakng the first batch of loaves, back then? It was one of those small but significant turning points in my life.

kirsten, thank you! Let me know how it goes, okay? It's always exciting to me to hear another person is thinking of the Bread Baking fun. I'm guessing you may not have a *Sam's Wholesale Club* where you are in Egypt, but OTOH, I bet your stores have fresh yeast and good bread flour, which it what counts.

Doom, I'm convinced that every single cook has at least one or two things they just can't do. With me, it's pastry crusts first - I just can NOT get them flakey and nice, even using every trick in the book - and eggs. Sometimes the eggs do come out, but it's dicey. Frittata and egg foo yung I can do great, partly because it's okay to get them browned on the bottom, and they still taste great to me.

But in every other dish I like my eggs cooked through, but without any brown part. Tender but not moist. Walter can do this blind with one hand tied behind his back. Me?...If it ain't happened by now it never will. So I just shuffle along as best I can.

Croissants are truly challenging. I've never even attempted them. I have issues with cold and those super-flaky breads usually want you do mess around folding ultra-thin layers of dough around the butter, or whatever, and very very cold. I shudder to contemplate it!

Loaf bread is simple enough that I think it's appropriate for even kids to try. Over and over, talking to people who had difficulties in the past with bread, it's turned out to be the yeast. Those dang blasted grocery store yeast packs are so often just useless. You may find the problem wasn't you at all, but expired yeast.

If you go ahead and give it another try, let me know, okay? And I have a gazillion more detailed pix of the process (of course!), and I'll be more than happy to answer any questions, so give me a virtual holler any time you like.

Doom said...

I will probably be writing you in the near future. *laughs* No Sam's Club, but there is a whole food/health food store I visit regularly. And yep, I was using the store bought, either packets or jars. Tried both I think, and both failed. Though, as part of my illness, I plan to do something, get everything together, and just lose track of time. I may have had those far too long even if the store didn't. I am doing quite a bit better, so my prospects are better with your instructions and good yeast. I just love the smell and taste of fresh breads, rolls, all, and I like doing things the right way, give or take. Plus, handing out a loaf or a pan of rolls is a great way to make friends or strenghen old friendships.

As you said though, some things just might not be doable by some people. Our intellectual blind spots? God's way of saying we need each other perhaps. It does make life a little more interesting, another name for frustrating.

k said...

Doom. Boy oh boy, do I know about that losing track of time thing. I'm so glad to hear you're doing better.

That passing them out thing, with the breads? It's just great fun. Really great. I do a lot of that when we have a hurricane coming, and I call those Hurricane Baked Goods.

And I agree with your take on that needing each other bit, too. Funny how all that works out so well, isn't it?

Snog Dot said...

I can't wait to try this.

k said...

Oh, I'm so glad you saw it! Have fun with this one, snog dot. If it works out, and you'd like to try your hand at the Sin Rolls, that draft post has been hanging about looking for a home too.

prettylady said...

k the farm wife! 8-10 cups of flour makes enough bread to feed a family of 5! I go for the 4-5 cup recipes, and put half in the freezer, single solitary lady that I am. But next time I get the baking urge I shall hand loaves out to the neighbors, since I finally HAVE friendly neighbors. Life is good!

k said...

Yeah, the thing about this one is the *one egg* issue. I've no idea why throwing away $.10 worth of half an egg bothers me, but I've noticed I tend to avoid cutting any recipe after it's down to the *one egg* level.

I just found out this morning that Livey's *Meals on Wheels* candidates were thrilled with their Sin Rolls and home-baked bread last week. YAY!!! I have a whole new set of willing baking vicitms here, whee!

Those friendly, bread-loving neighbors are so great to have around, aren't they?

prettylady said...

Oh, no bread was ever injured by being too eggy. My favorite recipe uses four, plus an unconscionable amount of extra virgin olive oil. It's more of a brioche, really. Rosemary Raisin Bread. You'd be shocked at how well the rosemary and the raisins go together.

What Meals on Wheels client would not be into fresh-baked Sin Rolls? When you are tired of those, you are truly tired of life.

k said...

Hmmm. Okay. Maybe next time I want to bake not too many loaves I'll just leave the whole egg in.

The older folks are NOT scared of Sin Rolls. It's really gratifying to see people who aren't afraid of their food.

Doom said...

Well, I am no where near what you two are discussing, raisin bread and cinnamon rolls, perhaps I am on my way. I have made my first four loaves of very easy to consume bread, using your recipe, advice, and inspiration. Even my nervous little unhappy friend enjoyed. She sacrificed by holding her notions of bread propriety to a few comments, a wrinkled nose or two, and a few glances of doubt, she used my pure cream butter, and then ate like a starved thing, oh, a half a loaf in about as many minutes in spite of it not being whole wheat and my horrible lack of salted butter. Beyond, and a bit to my surprise, she actually said it was good, very good, several times. Children, they can surprise. And, two loaves just went to the soon to be parents again neighbors. Both were pleased with the offering, plus we were able to discuss some things, get caught up on our lives, doing, play, and family news, and just enjoy some company for a bit. Thanks K.

I may never be an A student, but if I am interested and willing, I give it a go and lend my hands and a little faith to the knowledge proffered. In this case, though it took a while, it worked. Hmm, I’m going to grab a slice and a sip of mint ice tea, I do believe. Thanks, again.

k said...

Oh, doom, thank you for that! I'm tickled half to death. How wonderful!

See? I KNEW you could do it!

There's nothing like fresh baked bread to bring neighbors and friends and family together for a little good old hanging out time.

Snog Dot said...

I am shipping the kids off to summer camp Saturday and for the next week I have nothing - absolutely nothing to do but try to bake bread.
Stay tuned for photos and results.

k said...

Oh, YES!!!!!!!!!! You got it. I can't WAIT!