Today’s post is for those of you who want to be bread bakers but are afraid to try to be. Compared to a lace chart, bread is so easy. I think there must be an underground movement to keep bread a secret so we can impress everyone else.
I can’t bake a cookie well enough to bring them to a party, but I can bake bread.
I’ll start with my tips and then give you the simplest recipe I have for bread. It always turns out great. And it is relatively speaking, a less than 2 hour event.
The recipe I grew up baking was from our Hungarian relatives. My father taught me how to bake it. (on another note my father and I have made progress in our relationship recently and that is a huge gift) This is not that recipe. That recipe takes 8 hours start to finish. The one below takes 90 minutes start to finish and is less fussy. Here you go:
*Kathy B’s bread tips
-Dont’ be afraid of the yeast. The yeast and some sugar is the magic of bread. I never use quick rise yeast. I use little packets of yeast granules, almost exclusively when I bake bread. I buy them in strips of 3. Out of habit I use:
Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast. Revelation: I’ve never checked the use by date. For some reason I always keep it in the refrigerator.
-Yeast loves warm weather. And a little rain. This means, when you mix the yeast with water, which is always my first step, the water has to be very very warm but not hot. So if you put your finger in the water after you’ve warmed it briefly, in a microwave, you should feel the heat but not have to pull your finger out of the water. I don’t know what this translates to in degrees. Sorry.
-Once the water is warmed, sprinkle the yeast on top of it. It doesn’t matter if you mix it first or let is sit on top of the water. Just leave it be . Let is sit for at least 5 minutes. Get your other things ready while the magic happens.
-After 5 minutes the yeast will look like it does in the first photo. Or if you’ve mixed it with the water, again, no preference by me, it will looks like slightly thickened beige brown water.
In the recipe I’m giving you, you don’t even have to do this first step. Some say salt bothers yeast, but in the Cuban bread recipe, a whole tablespoon of salt goes in to the dough and it works every time.
Basically, in bread recipes, you make the dough, get your hands good and floury, and you knead it for a period of time and then let it rest and rise. Once you see that lovely rise, you laugh at it and punch it down flat again. Then let it rise again. It likes to be knocked down.
If you have a bread dough hook on a mixer you can certainly let it do the work. I find kneading very mediative so I usually do it with my fingers and hands.
When you are done kneading, the batter will be dough. It will feel soft and warm in your hands. Don’t be afraid to stretch it and pull it.
IF you are using a recipe that needs calls for letting the dough rise more than once, you’ll know it has risen enough when you stick your finger gently on the dough, and it makes an impression and rises back up.
If for some reason, your bread is not rising, something has gone wrong. Bread wants to rise. When I let my bread dough to rise, I was taught to put a damp dishcloth over the bowl . And put it in the oven. We had a gas stove, so just the pilot light warmth is enough, you don’t turn on the oven during rising.
Okay. Heres my simplest bread recipe. It is yeasty and forms a crunchy crust which my family loves.
5 to 6 cups flour
(this means start with 5 and add more if you need to get the dough less sticky with your first kneading)
2 T. yeast (this is about 2 envelopes of yeast)
1 T salt
2 cups hot (as above, not so hot you cant touch it, but very very warm) water
Start by mixing ALL the dry ingredients and using 4 cups of flour. Pour the water over the ingredients. (again with this recipe you don’t get the yeast going separately which is the usual method wth bread) This makes it even easier for you to feel like you can do this!
Beat for 100 strokes, but whose counting? Add more flour until its kind of a mess. The dough should be coming away from the edge of the bowl and coming off your hands when you pull it off. Do this until the dough is one unified thing.
Now knead it for a full 8 minutes.
Then Leave it to rise for 15 minutes. Put a damp towel over the bowl if you want to be like me.
Punch it down after the rise. Don’t be gentle. Divide the dough in half.
Shape the dough into two roundish loaves. They will look like upside down contact lenses if the shape is correct.
Take a wet knife and cut and X on the top of the loaves. Brush the loaves with water. You can pat them with water if you don’t have a brush.
Don’t pay too much attention to the bread. It will get fussy if you get fussing over it.
Very important for this bread: Place the two loaves on an upside down cookie sheet that has a very little bit of oil on it. Like a smear of oil in the two spots you’ll place the loaves. Just a tiny tad of oil.
Then place it in a cold oven. Do not preheat. ( Do not pass GO. lol)
Place a pan of hot water (from the sink type hot water) under the rack (on to the next rack down that is) where the bread will bake. I use my corning ware casserole dish for this job.
Then place the bread on the aformentioned cookie sheet on the first rack and close the oven door.
Turn the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 45-50 minutes. The loaves will grow and rise as they bake. They will be brown and lovely. (the water in the pan below the bread creates a steam that tells that bread to rise)
I must warn you that the smell of baking bread in your house is like none other. Get your butter ready. Take a whole stick out and let it get soft and ready for that first slice.
When the bread is baked , remove it from the oven. Let it sit for 10 minutes at the least, before you slice it.
Try it. You’ll love it. This recipe is for you. Start to finish it takes less than 90 minutes.
Let me know how it goes. I’ll be at 1 800 FEAR NOT if you knead me.