Nothing beats the smell of homemade bread filling the kitchen air. I'll admit, the thought of making homemade bread used to intimidate me like no other though. I remember my mom often making bread when I was growing up but for the longest time I felt like it was so out of my bakers league. I finally got brave enough to venture into the magical world of bread making and through some trial and error, have figured it out. These days, I make a batch of bread dough 3-4 times week. Now that I know these secrets of bread making, it's a quick easy way to make a side dish that goes with almost any meal and is guaranteed to be loved by the whole family. I'm no expert and don't usually venture beyond my basic bread dough recipe but here's how I do it and a few things I've learned along the way. My basic bread dough recipe is at the end.
- Use instant yeast. Yeast was the number one thing that caused me grief when I started making bread. Trying to "proof" the yeast without killing it is not a talent I have. Instant yeast is also sold in bulk and found at most grocery stores. I would have to buy a million little yeast packets if that's all I used. Just store the instant yeast in the refrigerator after you open it and it will last forever. Or a really long time at least. When using instant yeast, add the same amount of yeast that the recipe calls for but skip the proofing step. Just add the yeast in with the dry ingredients. Make sure you still add the water in that you would have used to proof the yeast. So quick, easy and foolproof. Just what I need. And the MVP award goes to the instant yeast!
- How to speed up the raising time. As everyone knows, a good loaf of bread has to have time to raise. Sometimes I don't have that time though. I've found a couple of different ways to speed that process up a little. One is to set your pan with raising dough on top of a pot of boiling water. If you're boiling something else for dinner, this is very convenient option. The way I do it most often though is to preheat the oven to 200 degrees. When it gets to 200, turn the heat off. Make sure you turn the heat off! Put your bread dough in the oven and let it rise. After about 20 minutes, I turn the oven back on to 350 and then let the bread bake.
- You don't need to buy an expensive bread mixer. For a long time I dreamed of owning a fancy expensive bread mixer. When we were on a poor college student budget, there was just no way to make that happen. The only thing I really wanted it for was to mix my bread dough. One day I found a bread maker at a garage sale for $5. You know, the kind that mixes and bakes it all in one machine. After making a few loaves of overly crusty bread in it, I discovered that it had a dough setting that just mixes and kneads everything but doesn't cook it. This was a life changing discovery! I wouldn't make bread nearly as much as I do if I had to make it by hand. It's just too time consuming. I use my old beat up bread machine all the time. I just dump everything in, hit start and an hour later I have a beautiful batch of bread dough waiting to be be baked. These breadmaking machines are frequently sold at garage sales and secondhand stores for super cheap. When my first one broke I found another one a a thrift store, again for only $5. Now that we are no longer poor college students, I've thought about upgrading my ghetto bread machine to a fancy bread mixer. I decided that there's really no point in spending all the extra money on it since I'm getting everything I need out of my little $5 friend.
- Yeast likes sugar, not salt. Just a little FYI that I didn't know for years. The instant yeast is much more hearty but even so, I try to not leave my yeast and salt sitting together while I'm adding in my other ingredients.
- Think outside the bread pan. I rarely bake my bread in a traditional bread pan. It's just so...boring. If I'm doing a loaf, I prefer to shape it into a log shape and cook it on my pizza stone. I cut three slits in the top, let it raise and then bake. A braided loaf is also a pretty variation. This dough is also great for things like rolls, breadsticks and fried scones. My kids get so excited when I make a batch of dough and divide it into six sections and give each of them a piece. They shape it into whatever they want and then we bake it. They love eating their creations!
- Climate effects bread dough. I'm including my basic bread dough recipe but you'll have to play with it a little and may need to adjust it depending on where you live. You don't want to add more flour then you need to but if you touch the dough and it sticks to your finger, you need more flour. Add a little at a time so you don't overdo it. If you live where somewhere that really humid, you'll need a little more flour. Even if you're baking bread on a rainy day you may find that the dough is a little stickier than normal and you will need to add a little more flour. I've also heard that higher altitudes will affect how bread dough turns out. I've not made a lot of bread in high altitudes so I'm not sure what adjustments need to be made. Don't give up if it doesn't turn out on your first try. Talk to other local bread makers and see what adjustments they've made to their recipes.
2 TBS butter
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup white sugar
3 1/2 cup flour
3 tsp yeast
I dump everything into my bread maker in the order listed and turn it on to the dough setting. It takes 1 1/2 hours to go through the whole mixing, kneading and raising process. If I'm rushed for time, I'll take it out early. Half an hour is probably the absolute soonest I take it out. Form the dough into whatever shape you'd like. This recipe makes enough dough for one regular loaf of bread or 12 rolls. Let the dough rise until doubled in size then bake at 350. A loaf of bread will bake for about 35 minutes. Bake rolls and bread sticks for about 20 minutes. Brush with butter as soon as you take them out of the oven and then enjoy!