Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Slow is Good - A Primer on Baking Bread

I posted this over at my healthy eating blog but thought some of you might enjoy this since I usually to a recipe each week - Enjoy!

I'm at work today, earning my daily bread so I will leave you with a little lesson in making your own.  The tasty variety.  While picking up a loaf of bread not all that long ago I paid attention  to the price. It has gone up significantly in the last year, as have most other foods.

I use up to a loaf a week, sandwiches for lunch, french toast, a base for stew, toasted and smeared with roasted garlic alongside roasted veggies or pasta.  I eat primal a few days a week to keep my overall sugar and carbs down, but I still have some bread days.  I tried to do the low carb thing once and was ready to take hostages at a Dunkin Donuts by day 3.  I'm fine with salads and roasted veggies with my meat, but I missed toast with my bacon and eggs.

But everything in moderation.  Still, thinking as to the cost, I wondered - how much does it cost to bake a loaf versus buy. Using the best quality flour (I love King Arthur for bread, White Lily for biscuits, pancakes, and waffles) and getting your yeast in bulk you can bake a loaf of bread (baking two at a time in the oven to reduce fuel cost) for a little more than a dollar.   If you buy cheaper an/or bulk flours, you'll save even more. Artisan bread in the store cost up to  $4-5. For myself, baking two loaves (freezing one) rather than buying a loaf of the fancy bread saves me over a couple hundred dollars a year).  That's just one person.  When I married a "sandwich guy" that doubled my savings and it was SO much better.
But if you won't eat it you won't save anything. My bread was good, but my best friend who is also my book editor makes the best bread in the world, a sweet white bread that makes up awesome sandwiches and toast. One day, she showed me how to make it and unlike her "I love you but if you share this they will never find the body" brownie cookie recipe, this one I can share. (late day low light didn't make for the best pictures but you get the idea).

Anyway - to get started. . .

You will need:
6 cups flour
2/3 cup white sugar
2 cups warm water
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons butter (NOT margarine)
2 teaspoons salt.
A big bowl, a board for kneading and a little extra flour to coat the board and your hands.


Measure out six cups of flour. (King Arthur bread flour was used).  Flours are different, and some brands may require less or more than the recipe calls for, some, for products like biscuits,  give a taller, more tender product (using soft wheat). I am just telling you what I've had good luck with, but you may have excellent luck with another brand that is less expensive. It's something you just learn over time. I'm also allergic to malt and malted barley flour is added to a lot of cheap grocery store flours.  For my whole grain breads, as I do both, I use Bob's Red Mill.

In a very big bowl dissolve 2/3 cup white sugar in 2 cups warm water (110 degrees F. or 45 C.).  If you don't have a thermometer, test it on the inside of your wrist like you would baby formula.  If it's too HOT it will kill the yeast and your bread won't rise (door stop anyone?).  If it's too COLD you have the equivalent of yeast "shrinkage".
Stir in 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast and allow to proof until the yeast resembles a creamy foam.  (8 minutes normally)

While the 8 minutes wind down, melt 1 and 1/2 Tablespoon butter in the microwave and set aside.  When the yeast is ready, mix 2 teaspoons salt and that butter into the yeast.

Add flour, a cup at a time,  stirring with a wooden spoon.  When almost all of the flour is added the batter will look stringy like thick elastic and want to slide off the spoon. Add the rest of the flour (but gradually, so you use only what you need) until it's too thick to stir.

Remove the dough to a clean floured board or surface and knead it by pushing with the palm of clean, dry hands.  After each push, bring the dough back towards you, gather up the sides and push again watching that you don't poke holes in it with your fingers.

 Add flour to the board to keep it from sticking but not too much, or the dough will be dry.

The more you knead, the finer texture your bread will have, but you also don't want to overwork it.

Knead it till it's becoming silky smooth and doesn't stick to your hands.  If it's "shaggy" looking, doesn't hold a shape or tears,  it's NOT ready.

Almost there.
If you're not sure, shape it into a ball, and let it sit 15 minutes.  If it holds its shape without starting to spread out like a pancake it's probably ready.

Place in a well oiled BIG bowl and turn to coat both sidesCover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place free from drafts until doubled, about an hour. You want a temperature of about 75 degrees F.  If the house is chilled, I'll turn the oven on for just a few seconds, then turn it off, to get it a little warm and put the bread inside. watching though that it's not too hot or your bread will becoarsee textured. In the summer, just put your oven light on and put it in there.
You can also let it raise in the sun, on the counter. but don't let it get more than 80 degrees.

Now go find something to do. It's quiet, you've got an hour. Go commune with nature. .
Or check on your emergency supplies in the garage.
When it is doubled in size, remove dough from its resting place,  perfect
Now, punch down the dough with a fist andshape and place into 2 well oiled loaf pans. We actually got a third, smaller loaf out of these out of this batch , but remember, it will rise during baking so don't overstuff your bread pan. You definitely should get two well sized loaves out of this recipe..
Time for some fun with that third loaf.
We added some crushed red pepper, cracked black pepper and Parmesan and slightly kneaded it in. You also could do fresh or dried herbs or garlic. Then, a little bit more fresh shaved Parmesan was sprinkled on top after we brushed all of the tops with another Tablespoon (or as needed) of melted butter before that final raise.

Allow to rise for 1 hour, until double and about an inch above the pans. (OK, these weren't all exactly the same size, Yeungling may have been involved).
Bake  at 350 degrees  F. (175  C. for my Canadian friends) for 30 minutes.  For the most part, the crust should be dry, very firm, and a deep golden brown. If the crust is  pale, give it a few more minutes. You can also  use a thermometer. Bread is done baking at 190°F. Just stick a cooking thermometer in the bottom of the loaf to gets its temperature.

Remove from oven and remove from the pans as soon as possible.  (Letting it cool in the pan may result in the bottom of the bread being a bit soggy).
The pepper Parmesan bread was perfect  with dinner that night.
The remainder, as I said, world's best sandwich bread and toast (especially with Amish Bacon from Beef Mart)

Thanks, Stephanie, for the recipe and baking lesson at your lovely country home. I hope you all try it, the kneading takes a little practice but it's fun, relaxing, and the bigger your family, the more money you will save over 20 ingredient store bought bread. If the room or the water are too cold or hot and it doesn't rise like expected bake it anyway, it will make great bread pudding or croutons. If it doesn't rise AT ALL, well, there's not much you can do but launch it at a hippie with a trebuchet or bury it.  But with these hints, hopefully, that won't happen.

Some other household tips:  This has no preservatives.  If you're not going to use it in three days, keep it in the fridge.  For small households, the bread itself freezes well in a plastic bag sealed tight .  When you remove it to thaw,  let it thaw in the bag without opening. Opening the bag while it thaws adds moisture to the bread you do not want.

Enjoy - and happy baking!


  1. Mom's aunt used to make the best cinnamon raisin bread ever. Mom wishes she had the confidence to try it. She says she knows she will get discouraged by that kneading part. We say go for it and give it a try.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Woos - Lightning, Misty, and Timber

  2. My mouth is watering. Adding the Parm ... oh.... yeah!!!!!!!!!

  3. That sounds terrific! My ghostwriter said she used to make bread years ago when the four siblings were growing up. But that was a long long time ago! (The youngest sibling is almost 31 now!) She says nothing beats the taste of home made bread!

  4. the bread of the mama looks like the wood pieces in your photos... and you sadly need an axe or special tools to eat it LOL

    1. Mom has had her failures - she once made corn pudding (sort of a cross between a souffle and cornbread) and she mistakenly doubled the liquid. It cooked and it cooked and it cooked and it never did firm up at all, and was like corn gruel only burned around the edges. I remember Dad poking it after about 2 hours in the oven and proclaiming "It's ALIVE!" She ended up giving it to the squirrels. Abby Lab

  5. There's nothing better than fresh bread. I can almost smell it from the photos. Thanks so much for the share. 🍞


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