More often than not (OK, a majority of the time) my recipes turn out just how I want them on the first try. After-all, my mom taught me how to read and follow a recipe. I know the basic techniques for baking and cooking. Bread making has not been so easy. I’ve had many trials and logs of bread. I’ve followed the recipes and still ended up with dense loaves you could eat if you tried. I’ve had textbook yeast activation but no rise. This weekend alone I tried 3 different batches of bread with varying recipes. I was determined to make this weekend go down in history for bread making mastery. The first two attempts failed, hard. But then! THEN!! I made the bread of all breads!
I have learned a lot through this journey. What to do and what not to do. I’m ready to divulge all my secrets and mistakes to help you succeed, the first time!
First off, a little education. There are different types of flour: self-rising, all-purpose and bread flour are the basics. Let’s pretend no one came up with the horrible idea to make self-rising flour; it’s rarely successful, it’s overpriced and has limited uses making it less economical to keep on hand. All-purpose is ideal for biscuits, brownies, cakes and cookies, but bread flour has been designed especially for making bread. Bread flour has a higher gluten (or protein) content than traditional flour which reacts with the yeast to increase your rise. Yeast needs sugar and protein to grow, when yeast grows it releases carbon dioxide and ethanol which created the air bubbles and lifts your bread. Even with elbow grease to knead the dough, an all-purpose flour just won’t lift the same.
Why do you knead dough? Simply to “develop the gluten.” Gluten, the proteins in bread, need to be man-handled. Kneading the dough strengthens those proteins making them more elastic. You may have heard about the window-pane test. Once dough has been thoroughly worked you can stretch it while holding it up to the light. Well developed gluten holds together while continuing to stretch thin. You’ll be able to see the light coming through the dough without any holes forming.
Now that you know a bit more about what to look for, lets make some bread! In a glass or plastic bowl dissolve the sugar into the warm water. Use a thermometer to make sure the water is the right temperature. 110 degrees is the desired temperature to activate the yeast. Too hot and you kill the yeast, but too cold and it doesn’t activate. Now add in the yeast (note this recipe calls for more than the packets come with). Give it a stir with a plastic or wooden utensil. The alkaline properties of metals can alter yeast’s naturally acidic nature so make sure you use only glass, plastic or wood. Let the yeast mixture sit for 10-15 minutes. You’ll know its ready by the bubbles and frothy appearance.
Next, add in the salt and oil. Stir together. Begin mixing in the bread flour one cup at a time. 5 cups should easily mix, but you may need to go ahead and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to knead in the remaining cup.
You’ve reached the fun part! Kneading, kneading and more KNEADING!! This is where I failed on my first few attempts. I didn’t work my dough near enough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. I also recommend coating your hands in flour. Start kneading. Fold the dough. Roll the dough. Punch the dough. Flatten the dough. Add flour as necessary just to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands. You can do window pane tests throughout to see the change in structure, but once your dough has been worked enough it will resist tearing and bounce-back if you depress it with your finger.
This dough is ready to rise. It is not sticky to the touch but rather smooth and elastic.
Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. If you’re impatient like me you can place a damp towel in the microwave for a minute to speed up the rising.
(Left: before it started rising; Right: After 1 hour of rising, at least doubled in size)
After an hour punch the dough down 4 or 5 times. Turn the dough out on a clean work surface and cut it in half. Form the dough into loaves. Grease 2- 9″ x 5″ loaf pans and place the dough inside.
Cover again and let it rise for another 30-45 minutes or until the dough is about 1 inch above the edges of the loaf pans. Then bake the bread for 30 minutes. The bread is done when the top bounces back and the crust is golden brown.
I recommend enjoying with some apple butter or jam. 🙂 It was the perfect way to enjoy the apple butter we bought over the weekend at the farmers’ market.
Homemade White Bread
- 2 Cups Warm Water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 2/3 Cups White Sugar
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast
- 1 ½ Teaspoons Salt
- ¼ Cup Vegetable Oil
- 6 Cups Bread Flour
- Dissolve the sugar into warm water in a large bowl. Stir in the yeast and let sit for 10-15 minutes. The yeast should be frothy.
- Stir in the salt and oil.
- Add the bread flour one cup at a time.
- Turn the bread out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic.
- Place in a greased bowl, cover and let stand for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down 4 or 5 times.
- Knead dough for a few minutes and cut in half.
- Shape into loaves and place in 2 greased 9×5 inch loaf pans.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cover the dough again and allow it to rise for an additional 30-45 minutes. The dough is ready to be baked when it is about 1 inch above the top of the loaf pan.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
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