Bread: Back to Basics
The ABCs of making bread.
My wife purchased a second hand bread machine. Each night I would make a different kind of bread. And boy it was a lot of fun for the entire family. Now the bread machine is broken, so you can join me in my experimentation. The ingredients are simple: Yeast, flour, liquid, salt and sugar. After these ingredients there are many extras, but for now we are going to keep it simple.
Yeast is the most temperamental of the line-up. The temperature of your kitchen should be cozy, void of drafts. Yeasts are living organisms with billions of cells. Small quantities of sugar speed up yeast activity; too much will slow it down. Salt also slows it down. So don't salt the water for dissolving yeast.
Yeast dough is allowed to rise and fall a number of times during the dough, which improves the texture. To produce the best yeast bread, the dough must be given time to rise slowly -- the entire process taking optimally 4 - 5 hours before baking. If you use one cake of yeast to 11/2 cups of liquid and if the temperature is right, you can count about 2 hours for the first rising, one hour for the second rising, and one hour in pans.
There are two basic types of yeast: compressed and dry yeast. Compressed yeast, if bought fresh, is good for about two weeks. In a freezer it will keep two months. Dry yeast comes in a granular form. If kept in a cool place, it will keep several months. It needs greater heat and more moisture to activate. To substitute dry yeast for compressed yeast, use 2 tsps. dry to a 2/3 cake of compressed yeast. That's enough for the first lesson.
Let's get started - back to basics.
(According to Jewish law, when bread is made in a certain quantity, there is a mitzvah to "separate challah" from the dough. Click here for instructions.)
White Bread Plus
Three 5 X 9 inch loaves.
Dissolve 1 cake compressed yeast with 1 tbsp. sugar in 11/2 cups warm water. Let it stand in a warm place for about 10 minutes. Beat in:
- 1/2 cup melted margarine or shortening
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 1/2 tsps. salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 8 cups sifted flour
Flour a board lightly. Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rest for 15 minutes. Begin kneading it for 10 minutes. Do not be rough on the dough. To knead, fold and press, give a slight turn, fold and press.
Grease a bowl for dough. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth. Set the dough to rise.
When it is doubled in bulk, punch down the dough by hand. Allow it to rise only double in size, knead again, let it rise again.
Prepare for shaping the loaves. Shape them into small mounds in a baking pan and let it rise.
To bake, place the loaves in a cold oven. Turn the heat to 400°F. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 375°F. Bake for 25 minutes. Test for done-ness, remove the loaves at once from the pans and place on a rack and enjoy.
Let me know how your experimentation goes.
Oregano and Onion Bread
This fragrant bread is great plain or toasted, and it makes a delicious accompaniment to any hearty soup.
- 2 tbsps. olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (105°F to 115°F)
- 1 envelope dry yeast
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 4 1/2 cups (about) unbleached all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 tsps. salt
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Heat oil in heavy small skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool.
Pour 1 1/2 cups warm water into small bowl. Stir in yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Mix 4 cups flour and salt in large bowl. Stir in onion and any oil remaining in skillet. Add yeast mixture and oregano and mix well. Knead briefly in bowl just until dough comes together. Turn out dough onto generously floured surface. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls as necessary to keep dough from sticking, about 10 minutes.
Oil large bowl. Add dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Oil heavy large baking sheet. Punch down dough. Turn out onto floured work surface and knead briefly. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into smooth 6-inch round loaf. Place loaves on prepared baking sheet. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until double in volume, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush each loaf with some of beaten egg. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes. Transfer loaves to racks and cool. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in foil and store at room temperature.)
Makes 2 loaves.
Whole Wheat Bread
- 1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water
- 2 tbsps. molasses
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 3 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water; stir in molasses. Add salt, flour and 1 cup of the water. Mix well. Add more water if necessary so the dough is not sticky. Place in a well-greased pan. Let it rise by about 1/2 of its volume. Bake at 450°F for 45-55 minutes. If a crisper crust is desired, remove the loaf from the pan and place the loaf on an oven rack for an additional 5 minutes.
Makes one loaf.