18 February 2013

Making Bread

Fresh bread lends itself to many tasty applications, including garlic bread
Baking bread is one of those things that seems to daunt everyone. But it shouldn't. It's neither difficult nor as time consuming (especially if you have a mixer with a dough hook) as many seem to think. And the results (not to mention the amazing smell that fills your kitchen) are so worth it.

You don't need many--or fancy--ingredients to make good bread. And those of you not from Canada who are wondering--yes, that is bagged milk inside the pitcher.

Delicious melted-butter lake spreading in a pool of warm milk...

Ready to start mixing

My mixer came with a protective shield to keep flour from flying everywhere but I find it cumbersome to use. So I just wrap a tea towel around the bowl until loose flour is no longer an issue.

Still too sticky--needs more flour.
The right consistency: elastic and only slightly sticky

After about an hour of rising, during which you can do anything more interesting than watching dough rise.

After being punched down

Aluminum bread pans I inherited from my mom. These are the best. But you can use any metal loaf pan.

Loaves shaped and ready for their second rising, which gives you another hour or so to do something else more interesting than watching dough rise.

Fully risen and ready for the oven

You can leave the tops plain or brush with milk or egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds or whatever else catches your fancy

Golden-brown, delicious, and ready to eat.

Basic White (or Semi-White) Bread

This recipe came with my mixer and has quickly become my favourite bread recipe.

1/2 cup low-fat milk [I use 2%]
3 Tbs sugar
2 tsp salt
3 Tbs butter
2 packages [or 2 Tbs] active dry yeast [If you bake a lot it makes more sense to get your yeast in the larger jar rather than in individual packets]
1 1/2 cups warm water [105F to 115F, or in other words, warm but not so hot as to burn you]
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour [You can replace 1 1/2 to 2 cups of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour if you'd like your bread to be healthier but not too heavy.]

Place milk, sugar, salt and butter in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water in warmed mixer bowl [I hate wasting water so rather than running the faucet until the water eventually gets hot enough, I fill the mixer bowl until it starts warming up. Then I use that water to water plants. With the bowl warmed I add the yeast and the 1 1/2 cups warm water the recipe calls for.] Add lukewarm milk mixture [Another hint: if the milk mixture seems like it's still too hot you can cool it down by pouring it against the side of the mixer bowl in a thin stream instead of dumping it all at once into the yeast mixture.] Add 4 1/2 cups flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer. [At this point you might want to cover the bowl with a tea towel to keep flour from flying everywhere when you turn the mixer on. You can take the towel away once the flour has been incorporated.] Turn to speed 2 and mix about 1 minute.

Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Knead on speed 2 about 2 minutes longer or until dough is smooth and elastic. Dough will be slightly sticky to the touch.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover. Let rise in a warm place, free from draft [I use the top of my stove, as long as no burners are on; otherwise, your kitchen counter or even the top of a radiator will do], about an hour or until doubled in bulk [the time it takes depends on your yeast as well as the temperature in the room].

Punch down dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf and place in greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" metal loaf pans. Cover again and let rise again, about an hour or until doubled in bulk. Before placing the loaves in the oven you might want to add something to the top. I'm partial to sesame seeds but you might prefer poppy or sunflower seeds or chopped herbs. Just gently brush the tops of the loaves with milk or egg white (egg white works better but unless you're going to be using the rest of the egg right away I wouldn't bother) and sprinkle with your toppings of choice.

Bake at 400F for about 30 minutes. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. [The standard test to see whether bread is fully cooked is to rap on the bottom. If it sounds hollow you're good to go. I recommend using a spoon to avoid burned knuckles.] Try to resist the fresh bread long enough to let it cool down a touch before slicing and slathering with decadent amounts of butter. This bread also makes lovely toast, sandwiches, garlic bread, and (when stale) bread pudding. Raw dough is ideal to use in recipes such as Tiganopsomo (Fried bread) and Wrapped Sandwich Loaf. It also freezes well.

Makes 2 loaves

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