Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hearty All-Purpose Bread

After a long hiatus from recipe blogging, I spent most of Sunday afternoon cooking and baking up an absolute storm in my kitchen.  I have no idea where I got the energy, but I turned out a pan of dulce de leche brownies, a killer grilled cheese sandwich, and two loaves of this hearty, rustic-style bread.  Now I'm exhausted, but I am forcing myself to get at least one of these recipes on the blog before I pass out!

For the past few days, I've been daydreaming about homemade bread.  I rarely buy bread at the store, with the exception of baguettes, so if I want bread in the house, I usually have to make it.  The last time I made homemade sandwich bread was probably a year ago, but there are a few sandwich recipes on my to-do list, so I decided it was time to bake up some bread.  Baking bread is actually a very easy task.  In fact, waiting for the dough to rise is probably the most challenging part of the entire process.  I snagged this insanely easy recipe from one of my new favorite cookbooks, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. 

As an aside, I adore this cookbook (props to my dad for the great Christmas gift!) and it's given me a lot of great ideas on cooking more from scratch.  With spring in the air, I start craving all things healthy, all things local, and all things homemade.  You might start to see some more of these types of recipes on the blog!  But if you are a frugal shopper, this cookbook will also give you price points for all of the things that you could be cooking instead of buying.  For example, according to Reese, cooking your own bread costs you less than $1 per loaf.  And that includes the cost of heating your oven.  Plus, you control the amount and quality of your ingredients, and you can be more creative.  And there's nothing like bread fresh from the oven.  Am I right? 

So I cooked up two rustic-looking loaves of bread (rustic because I barely kneaded them), with crunchy, chewy outsides, and soft insides.  The whole wheat flour gave the bread a touch of heartiness, but it still tastes like a very versatile bread.  One will go into the freezer for later use, and the other will likely be gone by the middle of the week!  If you've never baked bread before, this is a great starter recipe for everyday use. 

Hearty All-Purpose Bread
adapted from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter
makes 2 medium-sized loaves

1 teaspoon instant yeast (don't use a packet...that will contain more than needed)
3 1/2 cups of lukewarm water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour (optional; you can use all-purpose as well)
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons salt

In a large liquid measuring cup or in a medium-sized bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar.  Allow the yeast to proof for about five minutes.  It should be foaming.  If it's not, you might need to try again with new yeast.

Prepare two loaf pans by spraying them with cooking spray. 

In a large bowl, combine the flours and salt.  Pour the yeast mixture into the flours, and combine using your hands.  The dough should be shaggy.  Knead it in the bowl briefly until it comes together.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  Place the dough into the two bread pans and cover with a towel.  Let the dough rise until it reaches just about the top of the loaf pan, about two hours.  If your dough is having trouble rising (as mine usually does because I keep my apartment cool), preheat your oven to 450 to warm up the kitchen.  You can also try putting the covered loaf pans on top of the stove to warm them up.

Once the dough has risen, bake at 450 for 30 minutes.  Then remove the bread from the pans and bake directly on the oven rack for another 15 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove the bread from the oven, and snag a quick slice of warm bread.  Then allow the bread to cool. 


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