Remember a little while back (in the cheddar and sage biscuits post) when I said I had bought some yeast and wanted to use it to make some bread? So I finally did that. I was more than a little bit frightened, and while all did not go perfectly smoothly, it worked! Very cool!
I hunted online for a while for some beginner bread recipes. While I was tempted to jump in and start with crusty french loaves and sourdoughs and breads with all kinds of stuff in it (think garlic cloves, spices, onions, anything else you can dream of), I thought it best to start simply and try to figure this thing out. I found this recipe for just a basic white loaf which didn’t require me to go to the store and buy anything, so already I was a big fan.
I used my kitchenaid mixer because it makes life easier. But a lot of the recipes I read are like “it’s so easy you don’t even need a mixer!” Whatever.
Makes 1 loaf
1 package of active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
5 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 – 3 1/2 cups flour
cooking spray or other oil
First, warm the bowl by filling it with hot water, then dumping it out. Then dissolve your yeast according to the directions on the packet. Stir until yeast is completely dissolved, with no lumps. I think this is where things started to get wonky for me. I think the recipe assumes your yeast packet will call for 1 cup of warm water, but mine only called for 1/4 cup.
Now add the butter, milk, sugar, and salt to the yeast and stir until it well blended (it will look like a slightly yellow-ish tan liquid). Now add 2 CUPS of flour. No more! Not yet! Mix this very well. If the mixture is still wet, add more flour 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well before adding anymore. Now the recipe I used called for at least 2 1/2 cups of flour, so I mixed in the 2 cups of flour, then pretty quickly added another 1/4 cup thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal. But a big deal it was, my friends. My dough immediately became too dry, crumbling into a million little pieces and it WOULD NOT come together. I was so frustrated! A couple other recipes I had read in my research had said “If your dough is too wet, add more flour. If it is too dry, add more milk/water.” So that’s what I did. I ended up adding probably almost another cup of milk/water. I think the important lesson here is that if you follow the instructions and it’s not perfect, it’s not the end of the world (which I thought it was). Just add a little of this, a little of that, it will all be ok.
Once the dough has come together, you can either let your machine knead it for ten minutes or, if you’re feeling adventurous dump the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it yourself. I did the latter because sometimes it feels better to know you’ve actually put in some physical effort. You know what I mean? There are many different kneading techniques. Some say you should punch the dough down, fold it up, then punch again. Some say you can squish it in your fingers and pull and twist it. I use the good old fashioned push away from you with the base of your palm and fold. Push and fold, push and fold.
I then rinsed out my mixing bowl, coated it in a little oil, put my ball of dough in it, covered it with a dishtowel, and let it rise for an hour in a warm place. Don’t clean up your floured surface, because you’ll need it again. The recipe says that after rising for an hour, your dough should double in size, but not to stress if it’s bigger or smaller than double. This was good news, because mine had not doubled. But it did rise, so we were still on the right track here. Now punch the dough down, and spread it out into a rectangular shape: one side the length of your bread pan, the other side 1 1/2 times the length of your bread pan. Now roll that bad boy up, tucking the ends of the roll underneath (the bottom being where the seam is). Now drop it into the oiled bread pan.
Now you let it rise again, covered with a dishtowel. The recipe says an hour, but mine hadn’t really done much in that amount of time. Here’s where I thought things were going south again. After an hour of rising in the bread pan and not being where it needed to be, Jonah and I had to leave the house to go record his old a cappella group. I know, right? And then we went out to eat. So the dough sat in the pan rising away for a total of 5 1/2 or 6 hours. So I got home and I expected the bread to have exploded and that there’d be yeasty dough all over the apartment (why I suspected that, I have no idea). But no! It had risen the perfect amount!
At this point I’m starting to think that maybe I haven’t completely ruined this loaf of bread. I heated the oven to 400 degrees and baked that sucker for 30 minutes. Once you take it out of the oven, immediately remove the bread from the pan so it doesn’t continue cooking. The recipe says to let it cool all the way before eating. And check it out!
After it cooled and Jonah and I each ate a slice, I was so dang proud of myself. After thinking I had ruined it twice, it worked! And not only that, but our apartment smelled so incredibly delicious. Oh my goodness. This bread makes amazing toast, and tastes wonderful with just a little butter spread on it. And now that I’ve done it once, I feel ready to tackle the world of bread. Keep an eye out for more bread recipes coming soon!