There are a few things I believe every home cook should know how to make. You should know how to cook and egg. Whatever your preference is you should know how to cook it. You should have one great cookie recipe. And then you should know how to make a loaf of bread. There are far fewer things as good as the smell of fresh baked bread.
The world of bread baking is vast. There are more types of bread than maybe any other single food. The ways to cook it are also equally extensive. However nothing is simpler. Bread may also be one of the oldest prepared foods of our species. Historians and been able to go as far back as 30,000 years and still found evidence of man making bread. Bread not only is a staple in most diets it also has cultural and religious significance. Breaking bread with someone is a sign of camaraderie. In the church it can be communion and is an instruction from Christ.
With so much heft behind something as simple as bread everyone should know how to make it.
Bread is nothing more than flour, yeast, and water. Now as you get deeper into types of bread it can become more complex but even the simplest of loaves baked at home is delicious. To do it right however takes knowing a secret. That secret? Patience. You can’t rush bread.
Mixing the ingredients is simple enough. It might take more elbow grease if you don’t have an electric mixer but still combine your ingredients and knead. Then it goes in a bowl and you let it rise. The secrets of the taste of bread are all about the rise time and how your proof your yeast. Then it’s a matter of maybe a second rise and then shaping, and then maybe another rise. All in all your time in the kitchen is minimal but the dough specifically the yeast is doing all the work.
The biggest tip I can offer is this. Buy good quality yeast. I love Bob’s Red Mill Active Dry Yeast. Yes it’s a big bag. STOP buying the packets. Your best should be measured. Put the rest of it in a jar or a container you can put in your fridge. Yup, your fridge! Then just get it out when you need it, measure what you need and put the rest back in the fridge. It keeps a REALLY long time. However once you get hooked on making your own bread I don’t think you will worry about how long it keeps but how often you need to buy more.
Whenever I have had doughs not rise it’s been because of the yeast. I have had many not work and it’s always either I am rushing things or the packet I was using was a dud. Once I switched to Bob’s I haven’t had a single flop.
Now you may be thinking, I don’t eat much if any bread. Neither do I. Well, to be fair I don’t eat loves of while bread often. However, in preparing for Thanksgiving I knew that for my stuffing I wanted a homemade bread. The recipe I used was from a cookbook called “The Farm” and in it he has a recipe called Grandmas Bread. It’s 1 ½ teaspoons of yeast in a cup of warm milk. Whisk it together to devolve it. Put that in your mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of room temp water, a tablespoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of salt. To that you add your 2 cups of bread flour. (You can use all-purpose but I like bread flour for this.) With the dough hook you mix all that together till combine. Then you add a tablespoon of softened shortening and another cup of bread flour. You mix that for about 5 or 6 minutes. If that’s a bit hard on your machine you can turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it by hand once it’s come together.
Then you put it in a greased bowl and let it rise a least an hour. (I find I also have the best luck with the rise if I cover it in plastic wrap.) Then punch down the dough and let it rise another hour. Then turn the dough out and form it into a ball, cover with the piece of plastic and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then shape into a loaf and put it into your loaf pan. Let it rise another hour. Then into a preheated oven of 400ºF for 30-40 minutes.
I found when I didn’t rush anything the loaf cam out better than any I had done before. The house was full of the smell of fresh baked bread and it couldn’t have turned out any better. The time in the kitchen was maybe 20-30 minutes all in all. The rise time was maybe 3 hours or so. Start to finish was about 4 hours.
There is something deeply satisfying to the soul to make your own bread. When making challah the Jewish wife is supposed to pray for her children and family while kneading the dough. Sort of a “folding in the love for her family”. What we all still kind of giggle at was there was a Christmas when I was young that my dad made the challah. We kept hearing this slamming of the dough on to the counter as he was kneading it. We all wondered what the heck those prayers were all about.
So for this holiday of coming together and feasting with friends and family think about adding the ultimate symbol of who were are and our time of communing with each other by incorporating fresh baked bread into your Thanksgiving meal.