Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Baking Bread - It's Not Just for the Pioneers

There's nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the oven.  The aroma wafting around your apartment will make your mouth, and your neighbor's mouth, water.  There are some pretty decent packaged breads and a handful of bakeries around here that also make a tasty loaf, but I decided I wanted to bake me some bread and one Saturday morning I got to it. 

I pulled my recipe from Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everybody" - a veritable encyclopedia of vegetarian recipes and helpful tips.  But even if you don't eat all veggie, it's still a great resource for anyone who likes to make food.  If you don't believe me, check it out from the library first.  (Did you know you can do that?)  It won't be long before you're off to the store to get your own copy because you kept spilling flour all over the library copy.......

Anyway!  Baking bread is pretty simple.  But it takes time, patience, and an attention to details.  I have a hard time with baking because I'm not a fan of the details.  I don't like to measure my ingredients and I often make last-minute substitutions when cooking (all recipes taste better with a splash of wine, right?).  But armed with a full pot of coffee, I thought I could do it.  Oh did I mention that this recipe is also the starter for homemade cinnamon rolls?  Now get to baking!

1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 cup warm milk
1 tbls honey*
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
3-4 cups bread flour

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the warm water with the yeast package.  Add the sugar and let the mixture sit until it gets foamy, about 10 minutes.  It's called "proofing" the yeast.  If the mixture doesn't foam up after 10 minutes or so, then the yeast is bad and you'll have to start over with a new package. 

In a large bowl, combine the milk, remaining water (1 cup), honey, oil and salt, and then stir in your proofed yeast.  Using a wooden spoon, or the paddle attachment of your fancy Kitchen Aid mixer, stir in the flours one cup at a time until you have a shaggy dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl.  It should look a little something like this:

it's pretty, right?
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and put the flour that you didn't use in the previous step near your dough.  Now comes the kneading process.  Knead the remaining flour into the dough a little at a time until it is smooth and tacky, but not wet.  If you don't use all of the flour, that's totally fine.  You knead the dough by grabbing the portion furthest away from you and pulling it over the bulk of the dough, basically folding it in half.  Then press the grabbed portion into the dough, pressing away from you.  Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat for about 5-8 minutes.  Your dough should now look something like this:

notice all of the flour?  it's a fun but messy task.
Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn the dough around in the bowl to make sure it's coated with oil as well.  Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and set it in a warm spot in your kitchen to rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Quick Tip: If your bread is not rising but your yeast proofed, then your kitchen may be too cold.  Turn on your oven for 10 minutes, then turn it off and place the bowl with the dough inside the oven.  That should get 'er going.  If it still doesn't rise, the water or milk may have been too hot and you'll have to try again.

Press down on the dough to deflate it, then divide into two equal pieces.  Form those pieces into two balls, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes.
Quick Tip: If you only want to make one loaf and want to save half of this recipe for, say, CINNAMON ROLLS, then place one of the dough balls in a well-oiled bowl, cover, and refrigerate.  The dough will keep there until the next morning.  Just take it out and allow it some time to come to room temperature.  Then let it rise again, according to the rest of these instructions.

Oil your bread pan(s).  Flatten your rested dough into a pan-shaped rectangle.  Roll up the rectangle tightly and press the seam together.  Place the dough seam-side down in the pan and allow it to rise for another 35 minutes, or until the dough rises just above the top of the pan.  In the interest of full disclosure, my dough never reached the top of my bread pan but I baked it anyway.  Still turned out pretty good!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Bake until the bread is browned on top and pulls away from the side of the pan.  It should take 40-45 minutes.  Turn the bread out onto a cooling rack and tap the bottom.  It should sound hollow. 

tasty bread in a messy kitchen!

Very important step!  You MUST try a slice of your homemade bread right away.  Bread is never as tasty as it is warm from the oven and coated with butter.  (Another great topping from my college days: peanut butter and honey.)  This bread is light, sweet, and delightful.  Congratulations -- you just made your own homemade bread!  You now have some serious bragging rights. 

*Food Tip: If you have to measure honey, first spray the measuring cup or spoon with some cooking spray.  Then when you want to pour the honey into your mixture, it comes out nice and clean without any annoying stickiness left.


  1. Thanks for the honey tip, honey!

  2. I've been making bread lately (made Focaccia bread on Friday night) and have been excited about the results. I will try this one.
    PS: I love Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everybody" and I am not a Vegetarian. Listen to Christine, check out the book.