With bread so plentiful in the markets and bakeries, one might not ever consider making it a home. Sure, many people made their own bread (and a lot of other foods) a hundred years ago. Why would anyone want to go through the time and trouble to bake homemade bread now? Because it tastes so good and you know exactly what you are eating!
We have heard from a number of people (we love hearing from the Cavalcade of Foodies, by the way!) who suggested we bake some bread. Since there seems to be an endless list of types of bread, we thought we would start with the most basic: the classic American staple white bread. This is the bread that has been made over and over again in city and country kitchens alike. Even within the world of white bread, there are so many different recipes! The one we chose was very simple – flour, yeast, salt, sugar, water, honey and oil. You can leave the honey out if you like, but it gives the bread a subtle sweetness.
Making bread at home engages you with the food you are eating. While you can use equipment to make the job easier, like a mixer or food processor, you can also work the dough with your hands. There is something very connecting about the feel of the dough in your fingers. And as the bread bakes, it fills the house with one of life’s greatest aromas! When the bread is done baking and has cooled off for a few minutes, there are few pleasures greater than putting a big spread of creamy butter on a hunk of warm bread…it makes you glad to be alive!
So while there are a lot of wonderful breads available in the markets, every once in a while it’s good to make your own. The experience will remind you that sometimes we do things not because they are fast or easy, but because they are right.
Basic White Bread
7 cups flour (use bread flour or all purpose)
2 packages yeast (I use fast acting)
2 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP salt
2 TBSP vegetable oil
1 TBSP honey
2 ¼ cups very warm water (between 120-130 degrees)
Butter for greasing bowl
Non-stick cooking spray
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Once it reaches temperature, shut it off. I find that this is a good place to place the dough after it is mixed and kneaded so that it can proof.
In a large bowl, place 3 ½ cups of flour, yeast, sugar, salt, oil and honey. Add warm water and mix together with large spoon. This mixture will be very loose. Once it is mixed, add in another three cups of flours – ONE CUP AT A TIME – and mix well after each addition. You may find by the time you add in the third cup of flour that it becomes difficult to mix with a spoon. I usually use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and then start using my hands to continue mixing. You want to make sure all the flour is incorporated. Once dough has been mixed, remove from bowl and place on a board or clean counter that has been dusted with flour. You will use your last ½ cup of flour during the kneading process.
Keep the last ½ cup of flour handy as you begin to knead the dough. The kneading process will probably take 8 to 10 minutes. As the dough picks up the flour that is on the board, add a little more flour to the board. Kneading involves pressing the dough with the ball of your hand, pulling the dough back with your fingers, folding it over and then turning the dough ball. You do this over and over (see the video). Gradually, the dough will become less sticky and more satiny and elastic.
Once you are finished kneading, shape the dough into a ball and set aside. Prepare a large bowl by coating it with butter or margarine (you could also spray with non-stick spray) and place the dough ball in the bowl upside down, so as to get some of the butter on the top of the dough – and then flip it right side up. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, and place in oven (it should still be warm) for 50 minutes to an hour (it should at least double in size).
After the dough has risen, remove from oven. Gently push down with fist and it will deflate. Remove from bowl and divide dough in half. Spray two standard size loaf pans with non-stick spray. Shape dough into loaf and place in pans. Cover with plastic wrap or towel and return to oven for a second rise – about 45 minutes to an hour.
After the dough has risen a second time (it should have risen over the edge of the loaf pan), remove from oven. Set oven to 400 degrees and when it reaches temperature, place loaf pans on center rack and bake for 25-30 minutes. Bread should be dark golden brown on top and sound hollow when you thump it with your thumb. Remove bread from oven and turn out loaves immediately from pans on to cooling racks. Allow bread to cool at least 20 minutes before slicing.