Bread. It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s delicious, comforting, comes in a variety of types and flavours and honestly? It’s easy to make!
I know that’s hard to believe but it’s true! I used to be totally frightened of the idea of making my own bread but like anything else in life, if you do it enough times it becomes less frightening and sometimes you find that you end up enjoying it! I used to think it was a finicky and long process and that you just tried your luck on whether or not it would rise or not end up hard as a rock. I remember making one item perfectly the first time around but then saw it fail miserably the second time and I couldn’t understand why.
I’m not expert but that’s the beauty of this post! From one novice to another, I’m here to de-mystify the bread making process for you! It’s really not that hard nor does it take all that long to do!
Successful bread requires fresh ingredients. I realize now that the time when my bread failed was when either my yeast, baking soda or baking powder wasn’t fresh (the latter two used for no-knead breads). Do you know how to tell if baking soda or powder is no longer fresh? I didn’t until I read the box a couple of months ago! Apparently reading the box can actually tell you things, who knew?! It said to just add a little bit of your baking soda to some white vinegar and baking powder to some warm water, if it doesn’t fizz it’s not good. Fresh baking soda and powder will fizz like a shaken bottle of pop!
You can tell if your yeast has expired if when you proof it (by adding a packet to 1/4c warm water) it starts to “puff up” after about ten minutes. You may see what I’m talking about in the picture below.
All you knead (hee, couldn’t resist!) to make delicious bread is a few basic ingredients and some patience!
There are many basic methods for baking bread so I’m not going to go into that but, for the record, I use this basic method of mixing milk, sugar, butter and salt in a saucepan until the butter has melted and then left to cool (I stick it in the fridge to cool) for bread such as dinner rolls and other side breads!
While that’s cooling, I proof my yeast and add about 1tsp of sugar in a large bowl. I mix together my flour. If you’re making whole wheat bread you need to remember that using 100% whole wheat flour will make your bread very hard so you want to mix half whole wheat flour with half all-purpose. I decided on a whim yesterday to add some dried herbs for an herbed bread. I just added and extra tbsp of parsley, oregano and basil to the flour mix.
Once the milk mixture is warm (but NOT cool) and the yeast has proofed, add the milk mixture and egg to the yeast, whisking to combine.
Slowly, one cup at a time, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring thoroughly as you go. Once it starts to get difficult to whisk, abandon your false tool and use the best one in your baking arsenal, your hands!
One of the reasons I love baking bread is using my hands to mix and knead the dough. It’s cathartic and a great strength training exercise!
If you find that your dough is still too sticky just add a little bit of flour to it until it holds together into a shaggy dough and then turn onto a large surface.
I typically don’t flour my surface because there’s usually flour left in the bottom of my bowl that I use but if you have no flour let, just sprinkle some onto the surface of your counter to prevent sticking.
Now it’s time to knead. Do you know why it’s so important to knead your dough? It’s because the kneading process develops the gluten in the flour and introduces oxygen which allows the dough to rise (and you want it to rise or else it’ll be as hard as a brick). You can make no-knead breads but I find they take a looong time (is in, around 12 hours) in which to sit and I also find they don’t taste as light but that’s just my own opinion.
To knead, just flop out your dough onto a surface and start, well, kneading! There’s no one method to do this, I tend to alternate each hand to save on muscle strength, pushing the palm of your hand into the dough forward a bit and making sure to keep it in as much of a ball as possible.
But when do you stop kneading? Good question! I’ve recently started to really “feel” the dough to know when it’s about done. After about ten minutes you’ll start to realize that the dough has become a bit more resistant to your kneading and not as easy to push around. When you start to notice this due the finger test, stick your finger into the middle of the dough, if the indent doesn’t spring back (such as the following picture), it’s not quite done yet and you’ll want to knead for a few more minutes.
But if you stick your finger in there and it bounces back close to the top of the surface, you’re done!
All you need to do now is put it into a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with a teatowel and place in an area with little drafts and is a bit warm. I put mine in the oven and recently my Mother gave me a tip of keeping the oven on “warm” just before you put it in.
Now the hard part is over and you just need to wait for 1.5-2 hours for it to rise. I took this time to read and relax, I highly suggest that you do as well because I know you’ve earned it! You’ll know it’s done when the dough has doubled in size such as this:
At this point you have to punch down the dough to let the air escape (it’s totally fun to do!) and then you can either throw it in a loaf pan and cook it as is or you can get fancy. Yesterday I decided to get fancy and make some knotted bread that I’ve seen make an appearance on a few other food blogs lately. All I did was pinch off a bit and roll out until it was several inches long.
Then I “tied” it into a knot (very gently and you can work the dough for it to fit) and placed them on a greased pan, covered them again with a tea towel and let them rise again for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Finally I stuck them in the oven on 350F for about 15-20 minutes. Another way to know your bread is done is if you turn it over and knock on the bottom of the bread, if it sounds hollow, you’re done!
I know that it all sounds lengthy but please trust me when I say it’s not that difficult nor all that time-consuming. Not to mention when you take that first bite of warm, soft bread, knowing that you made the whole thing yourself, you’ll never want store-bought bread again!