Flour. Water. Salt. Yeast. These are the basic ingredients of bread dough. (It’s also the title of an excellent cookbook). When I was growing up, bread baking was part of my mom’s weekly routine. I don’t remember the first time I made my own bread dough, transformed it into a loaf, put it into the oven, counting down the minutes until it was done so I could slice off the heel, spread on the fresh butter and let it melt in my mouth. Making bread has been a constant in my home for decades, and it can be in yours as well.
The measuring of ingredients, the mixing, the kneading, the waiting for the rise, the reshaping and final rise before baking is a wonderful and relaxing process at any time, and even more so during uncertain times like these. If you are new to this, YouTube is a great resource for mixing and kneading. If you are a longtime bread baker, add this recipe to your collection. Either way, it’s easy and delicious. This recipe makes two regular loaves. Total elapsed time from start to finish is two to three hours, with most of that time devoted to the two separate rises.
5¼ to 5⅔ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup dry milk powder
1 tablespoon sugar
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups room temperature water
Mix 5¼ cups of flour, milk powder, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and stir into dry ingredients. Pour water into the mixture and stir to blend into a cohesive mass. Lightly flour your work surface with some of the remaining flour and turn dough out of the bowl. Knead the dough (YouTube has great videos on how to knead flour if you are uncertain about this step). Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and springy, about 5 to 8 minutes, scraping your work surface if the dough sticks and adding small amounts of flour as needed. Turn kneaded dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until double in bulk, about an hour. After the dough has doubled, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat gently to deflate. Divide the dough into two and shape into loaves. Place shaped loaves into well-greased bread pans and let rise again, about an hour, or until the dough rises just above the top of the pan. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Remove pans from the oven and remove the loaves from the pan, letting them cool on a wire rack. Don’t forget to slice off the heel and slather it with unsalted butter!
Tips: Since there are no preservatives, once the loaves are completely cool, store in the freezer if you don’t consume within a day. If you are planning on doing a lot of bread baking, buy instant yeast in a block (WinCo or Amazon are good options) and put the yeast in a container you can store in the freezer — it lasts for years this way. If you are short on time, mix the dough, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, bring to room temperature and continue with the recipe instructions. I don’t work for King Arthur Flour, Bob’s Red Mill or Stone Buhr, nor do I receive any compensation from them. However, these are my favorite flours as they contain no bleaching agents or other unnecessary additives.
While some people may be buying up all the flour they can, leaving store shelves empty, baking yeast can be made at home. Wild yeast lives on the skin of most fruits, vegetables and herbs and can be easily cultivated. Put fruit, such as apples or grapes, in a quart jar with 2-3 tablespoons of water. Mix until it becomes cloudy. Add an amount of flour equal to the fruit to make a loose, wet dough. Any kind will do, but white flour works best. Keep the mix warm. Twelve hours later, there should be bubbles caused by the yeast inside the mix. The paste should loosen up a day or two later. Take some of this mix and add it to 2-3 tablespoons of water. Add flour and repeat the process. This time the bubbles should appear faster. If they do, you’re ready to go. If not, try again.
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