Saturday, April 17, 2010

My homemade bread recipe

I've given this recipe to a lot of people, so I decided to do a post about it, so I can just refer to it in the future. Although it occurs to me that I haven't verified that the people to whom I've given the recipe actually like it. But whatever. It works for me, so here it is:

  • 6 cups whole wheat flour (or 5 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup white flour or any combination you desire)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon yeast (one package, if you're buying those little packages)
  • 2 1/2 cups water (about 110°, like a pretty warm bath)
  • about 2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or olive oil or whatever)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons honey (I don't like bread overly sweet, so I stick to the lower amount. I think. I don't usually measure)

Mix all the dry ingredients in a stand mixer. (I have a Kitchenaid and use the dough hook for this bread, although I usually mix the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon first. Also, I almost never proof my yeast. I've never had it fail me. If you want to proof your yeast, just add it to 1/2 cup of the warm water and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and stir well before you do anything else. It should be foaming by the time you get around to adding the liquids later. And don't forget that you've already used 1/2 cup of the water, so you'd only need 2 more cups.)

Combine the liquids and make sure they're the right temperature. I usually measure warm water first (just from the tap) and add the honey and oil, but if it's not warm enough, I'll use the microwave in small intervals. Yeast needs warmth to be happy, and extreme temperatures both hot and cold will kill it. The liquids should be warm but not hot enough to burn you.

Turn the mixer on to the lowest speed and add the liquids very slowly. I use a glass Pyrex measuring cup that has one of those little lips for pouring stuff. And I mean slowly! It should take you a few minutes to get it all in, and the liquids should incorporate slowly into the dry stuff, without creating big puddles slopping all over the place. (Of course, I've added it too fast, and it's fixable, but it's so much easier if you just add it slowly!) Then let the mixer go for about ten minutes. Keep an eye on the dough and if you want to, you can test it by turning off the mixer and touching it. It should be slightly sticky, but not sticky enough to stick to your finger. That's the perfect bread dough, in my opinion. However, if it's too sticky, you can always add a little flour as it's mixing, or even later.

After ten minutes of mixing, generously flour your counter and dump the dough out. I usually have to scrape the dough out of the bowl with a wooden spoon. If you're making bread with all white flour, the dough is often this beautiful, smooth piece of dough that plops out without any stickiness, but whole wheat flour makes a stickier mess. Don't be afraid. Get all the dough on that counter, and do some hand kneading. If it's annoyingly sticky, just keep adding a little flour, but you want it to be somewhat sticky. (I'm overusing the word "sticky" here, but I can't think of any other good words.)

Knead a few times and then place it in an oiled (or sprayed with that evil Pam stuff) bowl. Cover it with a damp towel or with plastic wrap (also oiled or sprayed) and let it rise until double, usually about an hour. Then punch it down, divide the dough into two equal parts, and form loaves. I use a rolling pin (or my hands when I'm lazy and don't want to get the rolling pin out) to form them into roughly rectangular shapes, the short side about the length of the bread pan. Then I roll them up and put them in the oiled or sprayed bread pans, seam side down. (If the dough is being difficult and won't stay in the shape you're trying to get it in, just cover it and let it rest for 15 minutes or so, and then try again.)

Cover with the same towel or plastic wrap and let rise again. And the following tip is from Deborah Madison's book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which is my original favorite cookbook (I've had others since, but it's my first love and taught me so much about cooking and baking): when the tops of the loaves are just rising above the level of the pans, turn the oven to 375°, and when the oven is finished preheating, stick them in. (Uncover them first, of course.) Bake for 40 to 45 minutes and turn them out onto a wire rack to cool right when you take them out.

Wait for 15 to 30 minutes to cut into it! I know fresh-from-the-oven bread is amazing and yummy, but it will cut so much better if you wait a little bit and it will still be warm enough to melt butter.

Now I'll confess that 1)my bread doesn't always turn out perfectly and 2)I mess around with this recipe a lot. Sometimes I add powdered milk to the dry ingredients (enough to make about 1 cup of milk). Sometimes I use brown sugar instead of honey. Sometimes I use half white, half whole wheat. I have been known to use gluten and/or dough conditioners, but I think using 1/2 to 1 cup of white flour and the rest whole wheat does the trick just as well, and I like recipes with fewer ingredients. But I've also added oats to this recipe, and it was good. I think it'd be good with the larger amount of honey and with raisins and cinnamon, but I haven't tried that yet. I've left out the oil entirely, and it still seems okay. And I've made it entirely by hand, too, with no electricity involved. Sometimes I've had whole wheat flour that didn't rise as well as it should have, but everyone ate the bread anyway (and maybe the thing to do with wheat like that is to use it with more white flour). Sometimes my bread is a little too risen and it kind of falls over when you slice it, but the kids never care. (I think that happens when I let it rise too much before I put it in the oven.)

Anyway, that's my basic bread recipe. I do recommend Deborah Madison's book for a non-threatening, short but thorough tutorial on bread-making. You could just read it while standing in the aisle at Barnes & Noble. (Is that really how you spell "thorough?" Suddenly it looks weird.)