Sunday, April 6, 2008

Homemade Bread, At Last

It really isn't fair for me to keep this recipe all to myself. It's just too good. So, at long last, here's exactly how to make fresh, warm, tasty, nutritious, delicious, preservative-free homemade bread. But first! A scary story about why I'll never go back to store-bought bread.

I purchased a loaf of bread a couple days before I decided to give this recipe a go. It sat on the top shelf of my cupboard, unnoticed, as I made several more loaves. Two months later, it was still there...and it looked fresh, felt fresh, and was free of any visible mold. Um...gross. Nothing should stay fresh that long. It's just not right.

Without further ado, bread. Recipe and pictures courtesy of The Simple Dollar.

You will need all-purpose unbleached white flour, sugar, salt, butter, milk, active dry yeast, non-stick spray, a wooden spoon, two big bowls, a clean towel, and a bread pan. (You can get away with using one bowl, but you have to be willing to stop and wash it halfway through.) First, warm your bowl. The easiest way to do this is to fill the bowl with hot water and then dump it out. (If you absolutely can't stand to waste that much water, I think it's okay to not warm the bowl.) Pour in one packet of yeast (if you're using a jar of yeast, it's 3 teaspoons) and mix according to the package directions (probably it will tell you to mix in one cup of warm water). Stir until there are no lumps. Add one quarter cup of milk. Stir. Melt a tablespoon and a half of butter in the microwave and add that to the bowl. Stir. Add one teaspoon of salt and five teaspoons of sugar. Stir. You should now have a brownish-yellowish-grayish liquidy mess. Mmmm..... Add two cups of flour. Stir until it's a gooey, clingy mess. Keep stirring and adding flour until the dough is still slightly sticky, but it doesn’t stick to your hands in any significant way. Also, it should largely clean the sides of the bowl, leaving just a thin layer of floury stuff. It’ll look something like the above. I usually end up using about three cups of flour. Flour a flat, clean surface in your kitchen. Plop the dough onto the counter and start kneading. Punch it, slap it, twist it, stretch it, whatever. Just keep it moving. Do this for ten minutes. When your ten minutes are up, shape it into a ball. Coat another large bowl with non-stick cooking spray, plop the dough in, cover it with a clean towel, and put it in the warmest spot in your kitchen. (Mine goes on top of the fridge.) Let it rise for an hour. Clean up everything (except for your floured surface), go read a book, play with your kids, take a walk. Come back in an hour. Before the rise and after the rise:

Pull the dough out of the bowl and punch it flat. Smooth it out into a vaguely rectangular shape. It should be as long as the bread pan and about one and a half times as wide. Roll it up and tuck the ends underneath. Coat your pan with non-stick spray and plunk the dough in, seam-side down. Cover it with your towel and put it away to rise for another hour. Clean up your floured area, wash your hands, play a game of cards, make your bed, put your laundry away. Come back in an hour. About ten minutes before the rise is over, come back and preheat your oven to 400F. Look how pretty the bread is, and then pop it in your oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, pull it out, remove it from the pan, and let it cool. You should let it cool at least an hour before you slice into it, and let it cool completely before you store it.

Note one: This recipe is simple to double. You get two loaves for almost exactly the same amount of time. One loaf will keep for about ten days (give or take). They respond really well to freezing--they'll last a month in the freezer and then another ten days in the cupboard.

Note two: It's a crime to put anything besides real butter on homemade bread. You've just gotten rid of countless preservatives, so go out and buy some organic sweet cream butter (or Tillamook), and indulge. If you happen to have homemade jam, apply liberally. This bread makes pretty fantastic toast.

Note three: Once you get comfortable, experiment. Use different flours. Switch the salt for garlic salt and add Italian herbs for a tasty dinner bread (side note: the first loaf I ever made had herbs in it, and Tim used it for PBJ the next day. It wasn't bad).
Finally: homemade bread is simple, delicious, cheap, and far more healthy than store brands. There is nothing to lose.

Note four: When I first started making this bread, I made two loaves at a time and used my metal bread pans. Now I'm doing one loaf at a time and using my pyrex bread pan, which is a little smaller than the metal ones. I find my bread rises higher in that one, which makes for big, beautiful sandwiches. The metal pans gave me a short, slightly wider cut. Just not as good. So choose your bread pans wisely!

The boring stuff:
Makes one loaf.
Difficulty: 2.
Prep time: 30 minutes.
Rise time: Two hours.
Bake time: 30 minutes.

No comments: