Let’s take the “oaf” out of the LOAF and make it a wonderful learning experience for you. Bread making can be an art for anyone. From the bare basics through the most advanced baking, there is a tier suitable for even the most inexperienced bread maker. If you have an oven, you pretty much can make a loaf, and even then, there are newer (or older) methods of “baking” bread. Making a loaf of bread definitely has advanced through the ages. Through cultural diversity, there is a world of bread baking out there, and we can make it, too!
We’ll explore the different ways of making breads, and the different ways of baking them. With technological development, bread making has become easier and more time-efficient. Whether you fashion your loaf using a bread machine, mixer, food processor, or even the old-fashioned way (by hand), there is nothing like a homemade loaf of bread.
As the methods of bread making vary, so do the ingredients. Leavening agents have also developed over the years, or rather the understanding of them. Sweetening agents (also known as "feeders") are extremely diverse. One can choose honey, a variety of sugars and artificial sweeteners, and (depending on the type of bread being made) even fruits can provide sweetness to your loaf. There are many types and grains of flours to choose from, as well, and even salts. Using different types and styles of ingredients allows even the most inexperienced baker to experience a variety of breads.
But enough of that… let’s get started. Since the holidays are upon us, what better way to add some homemade goodness than to make a loaf of bread. You can use it to enhance your holiday meal or make a couple and give them as gifts! Yummy! Think of it… even if you’ve never baked a loaf of bread before, you can succeed!
Let’s begin with a traditional “old-fashioned” white loaf of bread. You will need the following ingredients to begin:
For the “sponge”:
1 1/8 c warm milk
3 T granulated sugar
1 1/2 t yeast
3 T butter, melted and cooled
For the bread:
3 c bread flour
1 t salt
extra bread flour (for kneading)
This recipe is really basic, and pretty fun, too. Pull up your shirt sleeves and let’s get started!
The warm water or milk should be about 120° F. When you heat up the milk, be careful not to scald or burn it. If you would rather not deal with milk, use 1 1/8 c warmed water (same temperature) and ¼ powdered milk. Do not continue if you overheat the liquid until it has cooled to the right temperature. If you do… you could kill the yeast.
Add the sugar. Stir the liquid and sugar until it dissolves. Add the melted butter. Add the yeast. (Packages of yeast are usually found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores. One packet [one of the three on a strip] usually equals 1 ½ t yeast.) Be sure to check the expiration date on the yeast. Yeast is a “live culture” and does become inactive. The quality and/or height of your finished loaf depends on a good, active live yeast. After stirring in the yeast, you will see a tan frothy foam begin to form!* *(see note) Yay! You’ve activated the yeast. The yeast is “feeding” on the sugar.
You’ve created a sponge! No… don’t use it to clean up the kitchen! Instead, it “sponges” up the flour, absorbing it all…
**However, if after 5 minutes, there has not been a “foaming” incident, scrap the mixture and try again. Be sure to re-check the expiration date and the temperature of your liquid. If it is too cold, it will not bring the yeast to life. If it is too hot, it will kill your yeast.
Now, you let it rest for about 20 minutes. This is called “proofing.” There is a much more scientific aspect to this, but I will explain that in a more scientific writing phase…
While you are proofing the yeast…In another bowl, place 2 c of the flour. Mix in the salt. Salt is very important in a yeast bread recipe. Salt stops the yeast from overreacting. We are not using an excessive amount of salt in this recipe, so you are pretty safe from over-salinating yourself. Take out your loaf pan and grease the pan (making sure to get all the corners) with shortening. (Or, spray it with cooking spray.)
When the yeast is proofed, slowly pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredient bowl. Mix this with a wooden spoon. It will become tough to mix. Slowly add the remaining flour, mixing thoroughly after each addition. If it becomes too tough to mix with a spoon… dig in! Put your hands in the mix and mix away. The dough begin to form a ball.
Sprinkle some flour on a clean cutting board and put your ball of dough on the floured board. Sprinkle a little more flour on the dough, now “rock” it. Flatten the dough with the heels of your hands, pushing it and stretching it. Now, fold a quarter of the dough over the middle, turn the dough a quarter turn, adding a little more flour (enough to prevent sticking to your hands… some will stick, but we don’t want a lot…) and push again. Repeat the process! You are now kneading (pronounced like “needing”) the dough. Keep it up for about 10 minutes. The dough should be forming a nice round ball that is smooth and “elastic.” (It will bounce back to shape if pinched!)
Beware! DON’T THROW THE BALL!!! Grease (with shortening or cooking spray) a large bowl. Place the dough ball in the bowl. Take the ball and turn it over again (coating the entire ball with the shortening). Cover it with plastic wrap (greased or sprayed with cooking spray). And… we’re going to do the “cheater” method today!
Put the bowl in the fridge. We are going to let it rise in the refrigerator, giving us and the dough a break (this is quite a bit for your first time out…), and we will shape and bake it tomorrow!
Come back tomorrow, so we can share our loaf together! Oaf! Whew! Get ready to roll up your sleeves again! I might even have pictures!
Toodles for now... lisa