I really enjoy baking my own bread. Home baked bread tastes better than that fluffy white airy stuff from the store, makes the house smell fabulous while it’s cooking, gives you complete control over the ingredients (hey-I can pronounce everything in it!) and, let’s face it, it gives me a feeling of satisfaction knowing I made it!
I know a lot of folks are intimidated by the idea of baking their own bread, so I thought I’d give you a little peek into the process I use. Most weeks I bake 2 loaves of bread at the beginning of the week. Now don’t go thinking I’m perfect or anything, there are plenty of weeks in there that life gets busy and I wind up buying the cheapo nothing-burger sandwich white at the grocery store. But whenever I do that Buddy always comments about how much better he likes MY bread.
But on to the process. To start with, I do use a bread machine. However I don’t like those weird little square loaves with a big hole in the bottom that it makes, so I basically use my bread machine as a bread mixer, kneader & first riser.
I use the basic white recipe from my Betty Crocker bread machine cookbook. The only changes I make are 1) I use olive oil instead of butter and 2) I occasionally use up to half whole wheat flour instead of all white–and in those cases I either add a TBS or so of vital wheat gluten or more powdered milk
To start with I measure out my ingredients. To make my life easier about every other week I just use baggies and measure out four sets of the dry ingredients (minus the yeast) and stick a note inside that lists out the wet ingredients and yeast that need to be added.
If I’m not that organized then I measure the wet ingredients for that week right into the bread hopper and a second set into a spare measuring cup, and then I measure out the dry ingredients into the hopper and the second set into a bowl (minus the yeast).
And then the dry (flour, sugar, salt, powdered milk & yeast) go in. I snap the hopper into the machine and set it to the “dough” setting, which takes 1 hr 20 minutes. After about 5 minutes I like to pop open the lid and check how it looks.
Can you see how wet this dough looks? It should be forming a ball, but instead it’s a gooey mess. Yes-I followed the directions exactly. It isn’t me messing up, it’s the weather! You see believe it or not, flour actually absorbs moisture from the air, so when you have a lot of damp weather there can be more moisture than you imagine in the flour.
From the White Lily Flour Website: “Flour will absorb moisture from the air under humid conditions and the amount of flour required during the kneading stage might vary.”
While I’m waiting for the dough to go through it’s mixing, kneading and first rise (which happens in the bread machine) I go ahead and oil both of the bread pans.
Yes. Oil. I haven’t bought non stick spray in years-I was tired of paying for it, tired of throwing the cans away to be lost in a landfill somewhere. I just used a pastry brush and a small bowl of oil for years, but then I found the cool bottle/basting brush combo you see above at the dollar store a year or so back.
When the bread machine “beeps” I take the dough out, form it into a loaf shape and plop it in the bread pan. I then place it in the oven to rise for about 40 minutes. My kitchen is very cold in the winter (gorgeous old houses have quirks-including very cruddy insulation) so usually I will turn the oven on to “warm” and as soon as it gives me that “preheat” beep, I turn it off. The residual heat is gentle enough to let the dough rise without cooking it.
Meanwhile, I just take the bread hopper (it doesn’t matter if there is a bit of the dough stuck inside-it will incorporate) and pour in the premeasured wet ingredients and then the premeasured (or bagged) dry ingredients. I grab the yeast out of the fridge and add that in, the hit go on the dough cycle again.
When the bread is done rising I like to take a serrated knife and cut a slit in the top. Yeah, just like that “split top” bread you buy in the store. I do this because as the bread cooks it gets hard on the outside first-and usually as the outside hardens and the inside continues to rise in the heat it splits SOMEWHERE-and I’d rather it split where I tell it to on the top than at the side.
Then the oven gets turned on to bake. Meanwhile, the second loaf of bread typically has to start rising while the first loaf is in the oven-so I can’t use the oven for rising! Instead I put the bread next to the vent where the heat comes out of my oven and then tent a dishcloth over it. Works like a charm!
While I’m at it and I’m already measuring and making bread, I like to take a few minutes and measure out all the ingredients for my pizza crust recipe as well. That way on Friday afternoon I just have to add the water & oil and dump it all in!