Thursday, March 3, 2011

If the Smell of Baking Bread Was a Perfume...

Bread.  Warm from the oven, little puff of steam as you pull it apart, a little bit of butter that melts as it touches the surface, that soft chewy wonderfulness as you take that first bite.  I like bread.  It is good (it is evil!).  It is addicting.  The smell of baking bread is intoxicating.  I would seriously consider wearing a perfume that was that scent, but then I would be hungry all of the time.  Instead, I will just wait until that smell is wafting through my house while I am waiting for the latest loaf of bread to be done.

I freely admit that before learning how to make bread, I found the idea incredibly intimidating. I mean, people don't make their own bread.  We buy it, all sliced up and wrapped in a plastic sleeve.  If it was easy to do, more people would do it, right?  I honestly thought it would be such a hassle and not really worth all the hard work it would take.  True, I was bothered by the number of ingredients that went into the store bread (average is about 18 - only takes about 5 to actually make bread), but I just couldn't convince myself to try and make my own. And then someone gifted me a bread machine (thanks, Aunt Connie!).  That's when the magic happened.

If you don't have a bread machine - get one!  Technically, you don't need one to make bread, but boy does it make it really, really easy.  If you have a stand-mixer, you can also use the dough hook on those for the kneading part, which is really the tedious part of making bread without a machine.  I like to use the bread machine to do the kneading and first rising of the dough, but then I take it out and do the final rise and baking in a loaf pan.  Why, do you ask, do I not just bake it in the bread machine?  Well, as wonderful as my machine is, it has a tube-shaped pan.  It makes round bread.  It's still delicious, but it's just weird.  So, I bake it outside of the machine to get the traditional loaf shape.  If you are lucky enough to have a bread machine with the loaf-shaped pan, you can just bake it right in there.

Do you want to know how easy is it to make bread?  Let's look at this basic recipe from King Arthur Flour:

Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup lukewarm milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Bread Machine Method (1 1/2-lb. or larger machine): Place all of the ingredients into the pan of your bread machine, program the machine for Basic White Bread (or equivalent), and press Start.
Yield: 1 loaf, 12 slices.

Yes, with a bread machine, you are done.  That's it!  Combine ingredients and press start.  And how many ingredients? Six.  That's it.  All basic things you probably already have in your kitchen.  It really is that easy.  And you don't have a bread machine?  It's still not that hard.  

Manual/Mixer/Food Processor Method: In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix for 2 minutes. Switch to the dough hook, and knead for 10 minutes. By hand, knead till you have a smooth, soft dough. Using a processor, process for 90 seconds.  

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and allow it to rise about 1 hour, or till it’s doubled in bulk. Shape the dough into a loaf, and place it in a greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan. Tent the dough with a proof cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for about 1 hour, or until it’s crowned 1 to 2 inches over the rim of the pan.

Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it tests done (its internal temperature will read 190°F on an instant-read thermometer). Remove the bread from the pan to cool. 

Once I figured out how to make the bread and got the original recipe down, I started just trying new ones.  And you know what?  They are just as easy.  Breads also are very accepting of ingredient substitutions.  I like to switch out the butter for olive oil.   I'll use honey instead of sugar.  I also love the King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour - I switch out half the white flour for this (you can use all white whole wheat, but you don't get the same light, chewy texture).  I've experimented with all sorts of breads (like challah - soft, sweet, wonderful as french toast) and rolls (homemade hamburger buns? yes, please!), my latest being a Cinnamon Raisin Swirl bread.  In future installments, I'll focus on my other favorite bread recipes.  Until then, get baking!

And since you can't post a food blog without some sort of photo, here is a pic from my first attempt at making homemade hamburger rolls:
Homemade Hamburger Rolls

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