Married to the Empire

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Baking Bread

I had an email from Lisa asking if I would be willing to do a post on baking bread. I thought that was a good idea. I'm no bread expert; I'm just someone who enjoys the bread-making process. For whatever reason, people often think of baking bread from scratch as a laborious, time-intensive process, but it's really not! I have a few secret weapons that make bread baking simple for me.

Here is my favorite recipe for wheat bread, which I've adapted from the white bread recipe in the More-with-Less Cookbook. It makes 4 loaves of bread:

2 pkgs. dry yeast (I use a slightly-rounded tablespoon of bulk yeast)
1/2 cup warm water
1-1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbls. lard or shortening
3 cups warm water
5 cups all-purpose flour
6 cups whole wheat flour

First, you have to have good yeast. (That's secret weapon #1.) I'm not crazy about yeast packets because they're expensive, and sometimes the yeast gets all packed together. If you use yeast packets, I've found Fleischmann's to be a reliable brand. Kroger store brand? Not so much. Because I do a good amount of baking, I buy my yeast in bulk at Sam's Club. I can buy 2 1-lb. bags of yeast for less than $6. I just store it in the fridge once it's been opened:

Dissolve the yeast and 1-1/2 tsp. sugar in 1/2 cup of warm water. The mixture should get nice and foamy. Make sure the water is warm and not hot. Hot water will kill the yeast.

Next, combine in a large mixer bowl the 1/2 cup of sugar, salt, shortening, 3 cups of warm water, and the yeast mixture:

Add in the 5 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. This is where secret weapon #2 comes in. My Kitchenaid mixer makes mixing the dough a total breeze. Just use the dough hook. Beat together for 3 minutes:

The dough will be kind of gloppy at this stage. Next add the 6 cups of wheat flour. Knead together. If you don't have a mixer, you can do this by hand (it'll start off very sticky), but if you do have a mixer, let it do all the work for you! I'll warn you, though; if your mixer is not a heavy-duty one, it won't be able to handle this large amount of dough. The directions say to knead for 5 minutes, but only knead it until everything is well incorporated. Overkneading can result in tough bread. Your dough should be fairly elastic at this point:

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once, cover, and let rise 1/2 hour. Punch down, turn over, and let rise again until double:

At this point, I whip out secret weapon #3: my marble pastry board. This is by no means a necessity to making bread, but dough is easier to work with when it's on a cool surface, like marble. But really, your kitchen counter, well-sprinkled with flour, is fine.

Knead the dough, but don't overknead it! Usually at this stage, my dough doesn't need to be kneaded much at all. Also, don't incorporate too much extra flour. If your dough isn't sticky, it doesn't need extra flour! Too much flour can result in tough bread.

Divide your dough into fourths. (This is where secret weapon #4, my pastry cutter, comes in. It makes for easy, uniform dough division. But again, not necessary.)

Form into loaves and place in greased 9"x5" loaf pans:

Don't worry about your loaves looking perfect or fitting just right. You're going to cover them with a damp cloth and let them rise until doubled. They'll rise to fit the pans nicely:

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Four loaf pans just fit in my oven:

When done, remove from pans and cool on racks:

You can brush the tops with butter, but I never do. I just slice and serve:

Because there are only 2 people in my household, 4 loaves of bread are a lot. I typically package it up in bread bags and stick some of it in the freezer. At least 1 loaf usually makes its way to friends. And at Christmas, this bread makes great gifts. Everyone gives cookies and sweets at that time of year, so a loaf of fresh bread is a nice change.


Lisa said...

Thanks! I can't wait to give it a try.

Mary said...

My mom just handed her marble slab down to me. I thought it was only good for making fondant at Christmas. It WOULD be great for kneading bread. Thanks for sharing!

*carrie* said...

Anne Marie,

Thanks for writing this post. I was just thinking this very morning that I need to start making bread again. I have the first 2 "secret weapons" but not the other two.

Do you use this bread for sandwiches and toast, etc.? In other words, I'm wondering if you buy any other kinds of bread.

Ewokgirl said...

I use this bread for everything. Steven isn't crazy about it for sandwiches, though. Right now, it's the only bread we have in the house.

This bread makes amazing French toast, btw.