Friday, January 25, 2013

How to make bread:

Before I got married, I'd never made a loaf of bread in my life. My mom had made homemade bread, but she had a bread machine, and who knows what goes on in there? So I didn't really know how bread was made.
In fact, I didn't really know how much of anything was made - except cookies and cakes and other desserts. (I make some kick-a desserts, people.)
So when I suddenly had a new job description (Dutiful and Awesome Wife) I decided to get down to business.
I started collecting cookbooks and asking friends for recipes. I even found some recipes on the internet, but that was before Pinterest helped bring light to the internet food-porn industry. Mostly, my online recipes came from {this blog.}
I learned how to cook meals. Pretty good start, if I say so myself.

But every loaf of bread that I made was flat, tough, chewy, tasteless.
It was highly unimpressive. I tried lots of recipes with the same results.
So I mostly gave up. But through the years, several women who are Dutiful and Awesome Wives have let me watch them make bread. I have learned a few things.
And even though I still can't successfully create my own starter, I do know how to use yeast. And I learned about kneading.
So, I can't really make fancy artisan bread yet (but I will someday, and your non-confusing tips are welcome in the comments!)
But I can make sandwich bread and I can make this pretty awesome "dinner bread," and I can make pizza dough.
And now the student becomes the teacher. You get to hear how dumb I was about bread, and maybe learn something and not be dumb like me.

Things about dough, which recipes assume you know, but you might not and I certainly didn't:

  • Yeast is a living thing. If you use cryogenics, and stick it in the freezer, it will last longer. When you use your yeast, you need to "wake it up" by sticking it in warm water and feeding it sugar. How warm should your water be? Like a hot bath. Warm enough that you  want to cozy up in it, but not so hot that you'll burn yourself climbing into the tub. Put your yeast into the mixing bowl with some warm water and some sugar (or honey, etc) and (this was explained to me, as though I was a child, and is probably not really true:) The yeast eats the sugar and expands, and lets out gas and that makes your bread rise. Let your water/yeast/sugar mix sit for 5 minutes until it's foamy before adding the rest of your ingredients. Salt stops your yeast from rising, so don't add the salt until the flour is mostly mixed in, to avoid direct yeast/salt interaction. 

  • Kneading makes your bread better. I did not know this. At all. You know how cake recipes often say "Don't overmix." That is not how you should treat bread. If you have a stand up mixer, let it knead your dough for you for as long as you can. It makes a difference in the final texture, and height of your bread. It makes your dough softer and more elastic. You cannot overknead your dough.  This was the most revolutionary tip for me in my bread making. I knead my pizza dough and dinner bread for 5 minutes, and my sandwich bread for 10. 

  • Crusty dough is caused by steam. There are two main ways to produce steam in a regular oven. First way, when your oven is preheating, put another dish or pan in the oven to heat also. When you put your dough in the oven, pour hot water into the dish and quickly close the oven door. The water evaporates and your bread gets a steamy crust. However, don't be dumb like me. I have burned myself like 10 times doing this, and also shattered a glass pie pan, because I heated it up and then poured cold water into it and it pretty much exploded. (Cleaning shards of hot glass out of your oven is pretty much hell.) The other way to make steam is easier, less dangerous, and has been less successful for me. Heat up a pan (like a rimmed cookie sheet) and drop a handful of icecubes on it when you put your bread in the oven. It steams and makes crusty-crust. Yay!

  • Let your bread rise in an oven. My oven is really old, so you can set the temperature to 170. I always set my bread to 170 before I start making bread dough, and then turn it off as soon as it reaches that temp. Then, I put my dough inside the oven to rise, where it's nice and warm. You can tell if your oven is too hot, by placing your hand on the inside of the door. If you can't lay your bare hand on the metal, then wait for the oven to cool. If you're cooking in your oven, let the bread rise on top of the hot oven, near a vent, or under a bright light. The heat makes your yeast fart more. (And that is a serious term for um... gas... making your bread rise.)

  • Judge your dough by how it sticks to the bowl. After your dough has been kneading in your mixer for about 3 or 4 minutes (or after you've been kneading by hand, if you're awesome.) you'll be able to tell if it needs more water or flour. If the dough sticks to the side of your bowl (at all!) sprinkle in flour until it doesn't. The sides of your mixing bowl should be nearly clean. It may stick to the bottom a bit. If there are bits or chunks of floury-mixture on the bottom of your bowl, drizzle in some water until the dough sticks to it. 

Those are my main tips, so here are my recipes. They are all very easy, and if I can make them, you can make them:

Sandwich bread: This recipe is for white sandwich bread, which I have made SIX loaves of in the last two weeks. (We eat this a lot.) I found it online for you. You should make it. It's as good as Barry Zuckercorn (and he's very good.)

Dinner Bread: I know the author calls it "French bread" but that's inaccurate. It's a soft, dense loaf of white bread. It's completely delicious with butter and honey and also delicious dipped in red sauce. I make it every time we have soup or pasta, so basically once a week or more. The recipe makes 2 loaves, but I usually split it in half and just make one. The glorious thing about this bread is that it only takes an hour from beginning to end. My one little edit? Let it knead for 5 minutes at least. It makes a difference.

Thin Crust Pizza Dough: Travis actually asked me to please stop trying to make homeamade pizza, because it always tasted like garbage. UNTIL (bum bum bummm) I found this recipe. Now we have homemade pizza every Friday, and everyone is happy and impressed with my cooking skills. Again, I recommend letting the pizza knead and rise longer than she suggests, but it's pretty good her way too. And I highly recommend this bloggers pizza sauce, too. Delish!

Please, please leave any more tips for bread making in the comments. I know there are experts out there among you, and clearly I'm still learning and can use all the help you can give me. And let me know if you make any of these recipes or have a recipe you'd recommend!

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Casey said...

Oh my gosh....THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!! Your tips are super helpful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Natalie said...

Try this artisan bread it is pretty easy and delicious!

Also thanks for the tips my sandwich bread has never been successful. (The artisan though is another story!)

The Mathews Family said...

Hi Becky,
I've been reading your blog for quite awhile. I'm Joe L's older sister. *waves*. You have downright inspired me to break out my wheat grinder and put my Bosch mixer to work. LOL! I've always been intimidated by yeast and want to avoid the trial and error process. My personality is such that if I'm not good at something right away, I want to quit! Great for me... not so great that I see it in my 7-year old. Yikes! Excuse #1 why I have never conquered my feelings for yeast. :)

We just moved to Idaho and know less then 3 people here. It's cold... I'm bored out of my brains... your bread post was perfectly timed! Thanks for the helpful tips. It's nice to have it spelled out. Wish me luck!

Polly said...

All I ever wanted in life is for one of my children to use the word cryogenics in a real sentence.

AlissaBC said...

My husband looovveeess baking bread and he uses a spray bottle to get some steam in the oven before baking and halfway through. Have you tried that method? Makes for some lovely crust. Mmmm...

P.S. Love your hilarious motherhood antics! Keep writing!

Anonymous said...

Totally using your tips :) Haven't made bread in a while but for the first couple years of marriage we made bread so much we didn't even buy it! Gotta get back to that and I love your tip about kneading, did not know that so I'm stoked to see how fluffy I can make my bread :)